Substance abuse, or addiction, can be defined as the overuse of any substance (i.e., legal or not) to the point of dependency or dangerous behavior. Many professionals measure the level of substance abuse in comparison to the consequences the user experiences as a result of their amount or frequency of use.
Continued use overtime can lead to an increase in health consequences, dependency, or even death. The individual fixates on obtaining a “high” in an effort to abstain from the experience of withdrawal symptoms; which can mean different things for different substances. Withdrawal consists of either (or both) mental or physical side effects.
For example, withdrawal from marijuana may cause the user to experience insomnia, aggressiveness and/or depression. A reduction in heroin use can cause very intense effects such as nausea, diarrhea, cold sweats and other various flu-like symptoms. The intensity of the drug is often congruent to the intensity of the withdrawal, so many people who abuse substances end up developing an addiction which makes it nearly impossible to stop on their own.
Substance abuse can be diagnosed in a few different ways. A physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist may conduct an interview with the patient, and ask the patient about drug of choice, frequency of practice, and problematic occurrences associated with the drug use. Blood tests may also be ordered, as well as a physical. The primary care provider may then refer the patient to a specialist if it is necessary, and follow the protocol of addiction treatment if a positive diagnosis is reached. Sometimes the patient will choose to not seek professional help for their issues with substance abuse, and that is when a self-diagnosis is necessary. If that is the case, one might choose to find a support group (such as 12-step, narcotics anonymous, or alcoholics anonymous) in their area.
Substance abuse may vary from person to person. As so, different treatment methods have been established. The abrupt and complete cessation of a drug could be dangerous. Many experience heart palpitations, seizures, or tremors, so a medical detox in a hospital will be necessary in order to avoid the strong withdrawal symptoms that could be experienced.
An alcoholic can be prescribed a medication such as Antabuse, a drug that will make them sick if alcohol is consumed. Someone suffering from a dependency on opiates may need to utilize replacement therapy in order to get them and keep them off of drugs, so they may choose to seek out Methadone or Suboxone treatment. After the patient is safely detoxed off of their drug of choice, it is a wise next step to enter a treatment facility and to receive at least 30 days of rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation can be a very helpful choice of treatment. Many people in recovery find success when they are surrounded by their peers and being treated by professionals in an around-the-clock care environment. After leaving a rehab, the patient will be referred to a social support group and/or individual psychotherapy. Twelve-step is a common referral source that addicts attend. It is recommended in early sobriety to attend ninety meetings within ninety days and to find a home group. A home group is a meeting the addict attends regularly and feels a sense of comfort from. The familiarity of the group and enjoying the time spent at those particular tables encourages the addict to return back to meetings. The addict is expected to find a sponsor following the 90 day period. A sponsor is a person of the same gender who has at least one year of recovery under their belt, and their job is to communicate with the patient daily to encourage their success with sobriety. Most people working a program have more success when they have the accountability of a sponsor to help them through the journey of recovery. Service work is another treasured method of long-term treatment for addicts. Service work is encouraged for recovering addicts because of the increase in self-esteem from serving others, and those who devote time to serving are less likely to suffer from depression.
Addiction and substance abuse are epidemics that are growing quickly and reaching record highs. If there is more information and more resources provided to suffering addicts, perhaps this problem can begin to deteriorate. It is a complicated illness to treat, but the best thing a person can do is take active steps to seek help to being their road to recovery.