When you’re suffering from addiction, it’s common to feel immense shame and lose hope about ever getting sober. However, as much as the disease tells you that you are worthless or that you’ll never get better, the truth is that you absolutely deserve recovery, and treatment can work. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can begin living a life that is no longer controlled by addiction.
Why Urgency Matters
According to 2018 data from the Substance Use and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 19.3 million adults had a substance use disorder (SUD) that year. Of those, 9.2 million suffered from a co-occurring mental health disorder, as well. Unfortunately, though millions of people in the United States suffer from addiction and mental illness, only a small portion receives the treatment they need. SAMHSA reports that of all individuals ages 12 and older who had an SUD in 2018, about 90% received no treatment at all, and more than half of all individuals who suffered from a mental illness the same year also received no treatment.1
Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that is marked by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. As with any other persistent health condition, such as cancer or heart disease, early intervention is ideal. As a substance use disorder (SUD) progresses in severity, it may be more difficult to treat, and the treatment interventions may need to be more intensive. The Surgeon General states that there are varying degrees of SUDs and that while outpatient sessions may be adequate for a mild SUD, a more severe SUD may require residential treatment.2
Without treatment, addiction has the potential to result in a range of serious physical harms and mental health disturbances. These issues are likely to worsen as the addiction goes unaddressed and the individual prioritizes drug use over their own health.
Unfortunately, many people wait until they experience a health crisis, such as an overdose, to enter treatment. However, the Surgeon General states that waiting until a crisis point to offer treatment is “not good medicine” and recommends that screening for addiction be integrated into general medicine appointments. This could allow a person’s primary physician, for example, to identify a substance abuse problem and refer them to treatment before a crisis such as an overdose occurs.2
Some people operate under the assumption that a person must hit “rock bottom” before they can turn their lives around. This is an outdated myth. When we look at addiction like other progressive diseases, we can see that it’s better to treat it early.3 We wouldn’t wait to treat cancer until it got to Stage 4. We shouldn’t wait until a person narrowly survives an overdose or loses their home to initiate care. Also considering that a person could experience serious consequences such as jail or not survive their next overdose, waiting for a mythical “rock bottom” may be extremely risky. This does not mean you shouldn’t let a loved one feel the consequences of their substance use, though. Experiencing the consequences, such as losing a job, may make them more inclined to seek the treatment they need.
Should a loved one agree to treatment, urgency is important. It’s common for addicted people to change their minds about getting help, especially as withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. 4 Getting them into a program promptly may save you the heartache of having them say yes, only to say no hours or days later. Try to have a program in place prior to asking your loved one to enter treatment and, if you know that withdrawal symptoms will be uncomfortable and/or dangerous, find an option that includes medical detoxification and 24/7 support from staff. Assure your loved one they’ll be comfortable in safe hands.
Is It Time for Rehab?
In today’s society, substance abuse can often go unnoticed or be trivialized. For example, binge drinking is often seen as an accepted form of fun, especially among younger adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people under 21 who drink alcohol report binge drinking large amounts of alcohol, and 1 in 6 adults binge drinks an estimated 4 times per month (consuming an average of 7 drinks per binge).5 Because alcohol use and binge drinking is so normalized, it may be difficult to see when a person’s alcohol use has progressed to the point where it is no longer in their control.
The decriminalization of marijuana has led to more acceptance of its use both medically and recreationally. This is especially true among younger, more impressionable demographics. The International Journal of Drug Policy reported on a study of youths wherein 10% who didn’t currently use marijuana said they would try it if it were legal, and 18% of youths who have used it said they would use it more often under the same circumstances.6 With rapidly changing laws, the use of marijuana is becoming more and more commonplace and accepted.
People often see prescription drugs in a different light than illicit drugs, too. Although this is changing due to the opioid epidemic, there’s still a prevailing notion among many that their doctor wouldn’t prescribe them a medication that wasn’t safe or is addictive. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, teens in particular are prone to believing that medications are safer than illicit drugs for many reasons, such as that they can get them from friends/family members instead of on the street (at least initially) and that information on their effects is readily available on package inserts for the drugs and online.7 Teens may view taking a pill here and there as a safer way to have fun than experimenting with illicit drugs when, in reality, these drugs can be just as dangerous in many cases, and many, such as opioids, have a strong addictive potential.
Signs that you or a loved one has lost control when it comes to substance use include the following:8
- Using more drugs than intended or for longer.
- Spending a lot of time in obtaining, using, or recovering from drugs.
- Craving or strongly desiring drugs.
- Unsuccessful in attempts to quit or cut down on drug use.
- Prioritizing drug use over obligations at home, work, or school.
- Using drugs in situations when it’s physically hazardous.
- Continuing drug use despite recurring interpersonal conflicts caused or made worse by the drug use.
- Giving up important activities (social, professional, etc.) in favor of drug use.
- Continuing drug use even when it causes or worsens physical or mental health problems.
- Needing increasing doses to achieve the same effect (tolerance).
- Feeling withdrawal symptoms when the drug begins to wear off.
If you identify with some or all of the above criteria for a substance use disorder, or you notice these in a loved one, it may time for rehab.
Treatment doesn’t always have to be inpatient rehabilitation—for example, someone who only meets 2-3 of the criteria above may have a mild SUD and do well with outpatient treatment—however, for a severe disorder, an intensive option that includes at least several hours of treatment per day may help to provide a solid foundation for recovery. Many people begin treatment in an inpatient environment and step down to outpatient services as they meet treatment goals. As a person moves along the continuum of care, they gain increasing freedom while still receiving some degree of treatment and maintaining a sober support network.9
Hurdles to Overcome
Sometimes, there are complications that prevent individuals who need treatment from getting it right away. These barriers may include:
- Cost/lack of insurance.
- Childcare concerns.
- Travel to a facility.
- Shortage of beds/waiting list at the desired program (e.g., state-funded facilities).
Generally, there are ways to overcome these challenges and get immediate help. Oftentimes, treatment centers will work with you on financial arrangements (such as loans, sliding scales, or scholarships). In other instances, free or low-cost programs may be available. If there is a waiting list for a particular facility, it’s often wise to choose an alternative (a reference from the full facility may be possible). If childcare is a concern, you may be able to find programs that offer daycare services, or you may be able to arrange a family member watch your child for the time you’re in inpatient care. Many programs offer regular family visits, so it is unlikely you will have to go the entire time without seeing family.
Don’t let the perceived barriers to treatment keep you from seeking help for yourself or a loved one. When addiction goes untreated, the consequences can be extreme. We’re here to help. You can call us at any hour at 972-848-0221 to speak with one of our Admissions Navigators about ways that we can help you access the lifesaving care you need.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. (2018). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2018.
- Surgeon General. (n.d.). EARLY INTERVENTION, TREATMENT, AND MANAGEMENT OF SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 34. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12- 3952. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999.
- Uehara, T. (2011). Psychiatric Disorders – Trends and Developments. InTech.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking.
- Joseph J. Palamar, Danielle C. Ompad, Eva Petkova. (2014). Correlates of intentions to use cannabis among US high school seniors in the case of cannabis legalization. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(3), 424-435.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medication.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2016 Nov. CHAPTER 4, EARLY INTERVENTION, TREATMENT, AND MANAGEMENT OF SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS.