Treatment for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a powerful detrimental force for millions of people in the U.S., and there are a range of different substances of abuse. These include opioid pain medications like OxyContin and Vicodin; illicit opioids like heroin; alcohol; marijuana and synthetic marijuana; hallucinogens; inhalants; sedatives, hypnotics, and antianxiety medications; and stimulants. While some of these substances, such as prescription medications, can be of enormous benefit when used appropriately, and some such as alcohol are a common part of social gatherings, substance abuse of any sort can be dangerous and life-altering.

Substances of abuse work by altering the balance of certain chemicals in a user’s brain. For example, certain substances can increase the brain’s supply of dopamine, a neurotransmitter typically associated with pleasurable feelings. These pleasurable feelings can cause a person to return again and again to the substance of abuse until he or she has developed a substance use disorder, which is a dangerous disorder that often requires a person to seek the help of an experienced clinical team at a comprehensive substance abuse treatment center.

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Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), alcohol and illicit drugs cost $36 billion in healthcare costs alone, and $417 billion in healthcare, lost work productivity, and crime every year. Furthermore, substance abuse can be deadly. In 2013, more than 37,000 people lost their lives to overdose from prescription and illicit drugs.

Causes and Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Researchers have identified a number of risk factors for substance abuse, including:

Genetic: Substance use disorders typically run in families. In fact, in some cases genetic influences can account for up to 60% of the variance in heritability of substance use disorders. For certain substances, children of people with the disorder can be at a three to four times higher risk for substance abuse.

Environmental: In addition to genetic factors, environmental factors can also affect a person’s chance of developing a substance use disorder. Cultural attitudes towards substance use, availability of drugs and alcohol, and being around others who also use substances can all affect a person’s risk.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse or a substance use disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Spending time with others who abuse substances
  • Limited ability to cope with stress
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Having poor impulse control
  • Strong desire for novel experiences

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

Although the signs and symptoms of substance abuse vary depending on an individual’s personality, length and severity of use, and the substance a person is abusing, the following signs and symptoms may suggest a person meets criteria for a substance use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining substances, using substances, or recovering from substance use
  • Using more drugs or using drugs over a longer period of time than a person originally intends to
  • Continuing to use substances despite knowing of psychological or physical problems in one’s life that are caused or worsened by substance use
  • Slurred speech
  • Falling behind on major obligations as a result of substance use
  • Having a persistent desire to reduce substance use, but being unable to follow through
  • Continuing to abuse substances despite suffering negative consequences
  • Using substances even when doing so may be physically hazardous, such as when one is driving or at work

Physical symptoms:

  • Withdrawal, or a series of unpleasant symptoms that occur when a person abstains from using substances
  • Excessive energy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Tolerance, or needing more of a substance in order to feel intoxicated
  • Loss of coordination
  • Involuntary eye movements or difficulty focusing on certain objects
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor judgment
  • Having cravings to use substances
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty maintaining attention

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Choosing to use substances instead of keeping up with important social or recreational activities
  • Emotional fluctuations
  • Experiencing significant interpersonal problems as a result of substance use
  • Gregariousness
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance use disorders can have severe negative effects on a person’s life. Some of these negative effects include:

  • Homelessness
  • Being the victim of violence
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Relational strain
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Committing criminal acts
  • Depressed mood
  • Impaired performance at work
  • Social withdrawal
  • Legal involvement or incarceration
  • Permanent memory impairment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Loss of job or demotion
  • Organ damage
  • Coma
  • Death, either from suicide or overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Unfortunately, people with substance use disorders often also meet criteria for other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal: When a person who has been using substances for a long period of time attempts to abstain from use, he or she may experience a number of painful symptoms. Though these symptoms differ based on which substance a person has been using, some of the more common effects of substance withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Transient hallucinations
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Aches and pains
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Seizures

Effects of overdose: In the course of abusing substances, it is possible for a person to take more of a substance than his or her body can safely metabolize or excrete. When this happens, he or she will experience an overdose, which is a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition. Signs and symptoms of overdose are different depending on which substance a person is using, but they can include the following:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Rapid or slow heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dilated or pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish tint in lips and fingers
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Why Consider Treatment for Substance Abuse

There are few mental disorders that can affect a person as profoundly as a substance use disorder. If left untreated, a substance use disorder can have severe negative effects across almost all areas of a person’s life. Substance abuse can strain relationships, causing difficulty in friendships, romantic relationships, and work relationships. It is also all but impossible to maintain one’s performance at work when one is abusing substances, which could result in job loss, long-term unemployment, and financial issues. Substance abuse also can affect a person’s body, causing organ damage, cognitive impairment, seizures, and changes in brain chemistry. And with virtually all substances, there is the ever-present risk of a fatal overdose. As severe and life-altering as these consequences can be, however, it is possible for a person to minimize his or her risk by seeking prompt, effective treatment at a comprehensive substance abuse treatment center.

For many people, residential treatment is an excellent option. Residential treatment has the unique benefit of allowing individuals to spend an extended period of time living in a controlled, substance-free environment while being supported by a caring and experienced treatment team and working towards sobriety alongside others with the same goal. It is a place of respite where a person can begin the first few weeks of his or her journey to sobriety without the risk of relapsing. During residential treatment, an individual can take advantage of individual therapy, groups, and activities designed to support the individual and teach him or her the skills needed for a life of freedom from substance abuse.

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