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As we’ve seen in the last three decades in the United States, substance abuse of drugs or alcohol can indelibly alter a person’s life, especially if left to fester. This is a problem that does not appear to be stopping any time soon. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, every year since 1999 more Americans have died from drug overdoses than the previous year, with 70,200 deaths occurring in 2017 alone.
Now, opioid overdoses kill more people under the age of 35 than car accidents.
A glance at the grim statistics or a stroll through the Tenderloin district in San Francisco clearly illustrates that we are in the midst of a crisis with substance use disorders that is only getting worse. For this reason, it is critical that you are aware of the signs of addiction and know the steps to take for treating substance abuse. Armed with this knowledge, you can either prevent a habit from becoming an addiction or act decisively to cut addictive behavior before it worsens. Read along so that you can be prepared for this perilous fight.
What is Addiction?
Even to this day, addiction is a multifaceted condition whose study often yields more questions than it does answers. At its essence, substance addiction is a brain disease characterized by compulsive substance abuse despite negative ramifications. People who suffer from extreme substance abuse tend to be consumed by the need to find and use the substance—to the detriment of all other activities. Eventually, the pursuit of the high or the drunkenness becomes paramount in their life.
Over time, substance abuse changes a person, rewiring their brain and creating both a mental and physical dependence on the drug to function normally. Brain imaging studies have shown that long-term substance abuse alters the brain, especially in the areas that impact:
A 2007 study, titled Imaging the Addicted Human Brain concluded that:
Brain imaging techniques enable researchers to observe drug effects while they are occurring in the brain and compare brain structure, function, and metabolism in drug-abusing and non-abusing individuals. The results to date have firmly established that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, causing significant derangements in many areas, including pathways affecting reward and cognition.
Recognize the Signs of Substance Abuse
If you wish to treat substance abuse, you have to be aware of the most common symptoms and signs of regular abuse. Although there may be signs that are unique to a specific substance, generally speaking, we can discuss the more common signs of addition by splitting them into one of three categories: psychological, physical, and social signs.
Psychological signs include:
- Attempting to stop but being unable to do so – In most cases of substance abuse, a person will make an attempt, or multiple attempts, to stop using drugs or alcohol, but find themselves unable to maintain sobriety despite their best efforts. Many people struggle to overcome the intense cravings or withdrawal symptoms that result from forced sobriety. Some individuals will even go through an inpatient drug rehab program and relapse shortly after due to intense cravings.
- Using substances to handle problems – A person who suffers from addiction will often feel a compulsion to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for squashing problems, stress, depression, etc. It is a form of continued self-medication that tends to cause more negative effects than positive ones.
- Increased risk-taking – An addict will take risks or make poor decisions to get their hands on the substance, or engage in risky behavior while on the substances such as:
- Driving under the influence
- Getting into fights
- General lawlessness
- Engaging in unsafe sex
- Continuing to abuse substances despite health issues – A person keeps using the substance even though they suffer from adverse health problems that are direct results of the abuse.
- Fixation – Substance users spend an ever-increasing amount of time and energy on finding and then using the substance. All other pursuits fall by the wayside, becoming less meaningful or important.
Physical signs include:
- Physical dependence – The regular presence of any addictive substance will, over time, force the body to adapt to its effects. This results in an alteration in the production and release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, leading to a person becoming dependent on the substance to feel normal. Forced sobriety results in physical or psychological anguish in the form of cravings and withdrawals.
- Increased tolerance – As the body adapts to the substance, a person will need to take increasingly larger doses to yield the same high.
- Withdrawal symptoms – The severity and symptoms of withdrawal naturally depend on the substance and the seriousness of addiction. Typically, however, a person who has built up a dependence on the drug will feel a host of unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Extreme discomfort
- Muscle aches
- Changes in appetite – Depending on the substance, certain drugs result in either a decrease or increase in a person’s appetite. Cocaine, ecstasy, tobacco, and MDMA, for example, act as appetite suppressants, whereas marijuana and alcohol tend to make the user hungry.
- Insomnia – Many substances act as stimulants, which inevitably disrupt sleep cycles and patterns. A person on a bender may go multiple nights with little to no sleep in pursuit of substance use.
- Appearance changes – Naturally, substances tend to not only change a person’s body and outward appearance, but the obsession becomes more important than personal hygiene, working out and exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping.
The social signs include:
- Financial difficulties – Substance abuse is not a cheap habit, especially for illicit drugs. As tolerance grows, a person needs to buy larger quantities of the drug or buy it more frequently. Typically, heavy substance abuse negatively affects a person’s work life, leading to dismissal, which only compounds money issues.
- Abandoning old hobbies or passions – As addiction worsens, a person may stop doing the things that once brought them pleasure, since those things no longer bring as much joy as the substance. Further, the substances might affect them in such a way that they can no longer handle the activity, especially if it is something physically strenuous.
- Ruined relationships – Substance abuse tends to lead to broken relationships, whether friends, family, or romantic partners due to the innate selfishness that is intrinsic to addiction.
- Social isolation – Quite often, people who have a drug abuse problem will attempt to keep it a secret. In order to avoid confrontation, they will socially isolate.
- Denial – Even severe addicts are often in denial of how serious their drug addiction is. Many falsely believe that they could quit if they wanted to or do not understand how their actions impact others around them.
- Legal problems – Drug abuse regularly results in run-ins with the law due to poor decision making while either being on the substance or attempting to attain the illicit substance.
Stage an Intervention
If you spot the signs of addiction in someone you love, it is critical that you act before things get worse. Intervention services may be necessary in order to help your loved one see how vital it is for them to seek help. For anyone at this stage, consider the following tips when planning an intervention:
- Hire an interventionist – Enlist the help of someone who has previous experience and success in staging interventions. This can be a professional interventionist, a drug counselor, or a pastor. Whomever you choose, they can help guide the session to its optimal conclusion.
- Gather a small team – Interventions should be intimate affairs consisting of only people who are very close to the addict.
- Pick the right setting – The time and place of the intervention matter. Ideally, pick a location that is not at the addict’s home and a time when they are sober. Choosing a formal location and the proper time will ensure the highest chance of successfully getting through to them.
- Stay on message – Everyone should have a pre-rehearsed message that does not blame the person or name-call, but highlights the impact the addict’s substance abuse has had on them.
- Prepare for the next steps – If successful, you should have different options for treatment programs ready.
Go Through Detoxification
In order to treat substance abuse, a person needs to free themselves of physical dependence to the particular substance. This involves the detoxification process, which consists of three steps: evaluation, stabilization, guiding the patient into a treatment facility.
In stage one, a patient will meet with a medical professional for a physical and psychological evaluation. The medical professional will study the following:
- The seriousness of the addiction
- The presence of co-occurring disorders
- Underlying health issues
- Whether any pharmacological assistance is necessary
Once this is done, the medical professional will recommend the next course of action and determine whether the patient should detox in an inpatient or outpatient drug facility.
Stabilization is the portion of alcohol or drug detox that most people think of when they hear the word rehab. At this stage, the goal is to help wean a person off dependence and weather the storm of withdrawals. This should occur under close medical supervision at a rehab facility such as Beach House Recovery. Depending on the patient’s financial situation, they will select one of the following treatment options:
- Outpatient Treatment – A patient goes through stabilization at a medical facility and then can come home after, leaving them free to uphold their work or family obligations. The patient will have a recovery program that includes one-on-one and group therapy sessions throughout the week. Patients that choose outpatient programs will also be encouraged to join aftercare programs such as AA.
- Inpatient Treatment – This is also known as a residential treatment facility. With inpatient drug treatment, a patient will undergo stabilization and then remain at the facility, in a drug-free environment, for a period of 1 to 3 months. There they will have regular one-on-one and group therapy, therapeutic activates, addiction education, and relapse prevention courses. Although this is the more expensive of the two options, it has shown higher rates of success in comparison.
Regardless of whichever option your loved one winds up selecting, rest assured that they will have plenty of support for the stabilization period. Withdrawals can be very uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous, so it is highly recommended that they never attempt a detox at home.
Guiding the Patient into Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
Once a person is free from their physical dependence to a substance, the real work can begin. This is the most crucial stage of the detox process since it is here that the substance user will learn how to fight cravings and deal with stressors and triggers in a healthy manner. This is the time where the root psychological issues can be dealt with. Whether a person selects inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment, it is vital that they enroll in aftercare programs once the initial course has concluded.
If you wish to treat substance abuse, it is not something that can simply be eradicated like a treatable disease. Rather, it requires regular treatment and supervision for the duration of a person’s lifetime. There are no quick fixes and simply having a stint in rehab will do little to change the problem if a person neglects to maintain a vigilant agenda via aftercare programs.
A 2009 study found, “The results indicate that continuing care interventions were more likely to produce positive treatment effects when they had a longer planned duration, and made more active efforts to deliver treatment to patients.”
Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or groups like AA and twelve-step programs are vital aftercare tools that can help a substance user strengthen their recovery and preserve their sobriety. The moment a person thinks that they have their drug or alcohol addiction under control, is when alarm bells should be indicating that a relapse is looming. Treating substance abuse involves regular discussion, group support, and acknowledgment that addiction is a lifelong disease.
One, of course, that is entirely treatable.
Treating Your Substance Abuse
If you or a loved one sees the signs of substance abuse, it is critical that you get help immediately. Stage an intervention, enroll in a substance abuse treatment center, and then continue with aftercare. The road towards recovery can be fraught with pain and setbacks, but with a strong support system and attentiveness, it is always a road worth walking. For further questions on our substance abuse treatment programs and how to achieve long-term recovery, please call our Florida rehab center today.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose Death Rates. (2019). https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
- Molina, B. USA Today. Americans more likely to die of opioid overdose than car crash, council report says. (2019). https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/01/14/odds-dying-opioid-overdose-higher-than-car-crash-analysis-finds/2567996002/
- Fowler, J. NCBI. Imaging the Addicted Human Brain (2007). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851068/
- McKay, J. NCBI. Continuing Care Research: What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Going. (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670779/