Substance use may begin for a variety of reasons – curiosity, pressure from friends, or an effort to manage unwanted emotions – but some people who use alcohol or drugs become addicted to these substances. The point at which substance use becomes addictive or problematic varies according to the individual. Regardless of how much or how little, or how frequent or infrequent the use, any substance use that is negatively impacting a person’s life is cause for concern. Drugs and alcohol can severely impact judgment and level of functioning; sometimes, people may not realize they have a problem, but concerned family or friends can see the negative impacts that substance abuse has caused.
Many factors can influence whether or not you become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Helpguide lists the following influences:
- Family history of addiction
- Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders
- Drug use at an early age
- Certain methods of administration, such as smoking or injection
Signs of Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is characterized by the inability to stop taking a substance despite wishing to quit, or urges to use the substance that seem beyond your control. A person who is addicted may think about drugs or alcohol frequently, may have attempted to cut down on usage but was unable to, and may use the addictive substance to manage unwanted emotions like anger or sadness. Someone who is addicted to one substance may then begin using other substances or using certain drugs to stop the effects of others. Addiction invades every area of life, negatively impacting relationships with friends and family, and impeding functioning at work or school.
The following warning signs can indicate that an addiction might be in play:
- You’ve built up a tolerance to the addictive substance.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance.
- You feel powerless over your substance use or feel that you’ve lost control.
- Your life revolves around acquiring and using drugs or alcohol.
- You’ve stopped doing things you used to enjoy, such as participating in hobbies or sports.
- Your substance abuse is hurting you, but you continue using anyway.
A concerned family member or friend may notice the following:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Appetite or sleep disturbances
- Weight fluctuations
- A decline in attendance at school or work
- Unexplained financial problems
- Changes in friends or hobbies
Common Barriers to Treatment
People dealing with addiction may avoid treatment because they are not ready to stop using drugs or alcohol or because the process of “detox” can be unpleasant. NIDA defines detoxification as the process by which all drugs are removed from a person’s system, and the body adjusts to functioning without the drug. This can cause withdrawal symptoms, both emotional and physical, that can be painful. Treatment facilities are very experienced in this process and can help the individual through the process as easily and painlessly as possible. Some facilities use medications during the detox process to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Fear that an employer, or family and friends, will discover the addiction problem is a common fear that prevents those who need help from asking for it. Healthcare professionals are required by HHS information on Health Information Privacy (HIPAA) to keep your information confidential. Your employer, family members, or friends cannot find out that you are in addiction treatment from your doctor, counselor, or any other member of your treatment team unless you give written permission for your information to be shared.
Some people attempt to quit using addictive substances on their own. It can be extremely difficult to recover from addiction without help,
according to NIDA, because of changes that occur in the brain when a person becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs. Areas of the brain dealing with reward and impulse control are affected, making it extremely difficult to fight the urges to use the craved substance. While rehabilitation can be challenging, there are many sources of help you can turn to.
Rehabilitation does not have to be financially burdensome. Treatment for substance abuse may be covered by your health insurance plan. Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, health insurance companies are required to charge similar copays and deductibles for addiction treatment as they do for other health problems. The Affordable Care Act lists substance use disorder services as an essential health benefit, meaning they must be covered under all individual and group health plans.
An article published by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids estimated that the number of people seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction would double after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The law allowed 4 million people to become eligible for addiction rehabilitation services. According to SAMHSA, 22.5 million people in the US needed treatment for a drug or alcohol use problem in 2014. Only 2.6 million people received treatment at a facility specializing in addiction rehabilitation. With more comprehensive coverage now available through health insurance, hopefully that gap will close.
How to Find Treatment
It is important that those seeking treatment for addiction receive the correct care for their unique situation. A treatment program must be created for each specific person. This may involve inpatient, or residential, treatment or outpatient treatment at varying levels of intensity. NIDA provides resources detailing treatments that are supported by research.
Various types of counseling and care are available for cases of substance abuse and addiction. Individual counseling can assist in breaking unhealthy patterns of behavior and developing new coping skills. Medication is also sometimes used to help the person in treatment remain sober; however, the use of medications must always be monitored by medical professionals and assessed on an individual basis. NIDA reports that taking medication to treat other mental health issues, such as depression, can lessen the need felt for illicit drugs. Other medications can help with symptoms of withdrawal and ease cravings.
A doctor can be a starting point from which to find specialized treatment. Some doctors provide drug abuse screening or treatment, and some doctors may refer you to another physician. You can also find addiction specialists and contact them independently. NIDA reports that there are 3,500 board-certified physicians in the US who specialize in addiction. Various online databases exist to help you find a specialist in your area, including the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a database of specialized treatment facilities.
Some people with substance abuse disorders experience relapse; rates of relapse for addiction are similar to those of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, according to NIDA. Rather than indicating that treatment has failed, experiencing a relapse simply means that you need to reenter treatment or try a different approach. Long-term treatment of addiction can be very successful, and there are many different approaches to recovery that may work for you.