Substance abuse and addiction impacts millions of individuals on a daily basis, disrupting health, daily behaviors, and social interactions. Having a clear definition of these problems is a major key to recognizing when you or someone you know needs help.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes, substance abuse refers to using legal or illegal drugs inappropriately. For example, people might turn to taking substances inappropriately as a way of dealing with high levels of stress or other negative emotions, rather than looking to more positive coping mechanisms such as meditation or spending time with friends. In addition to trying to get emotional pleasure, some individuals abuse substances because the substances make them feel better physically.
The NIDA points out that substance abuse includes the using prescription drugs in ways that a medical professional did not prescribe, as well as using someone else’s prescription. There are several rationales behind this inclusion: First, altering dosages or the way a person takes the drug can affect the reactions the individual has, potentially leading to poor recovery, serious side effects, or even fatal reactions. Secondly, everyone’s health and biological status is unique. Some individuals may need more or less of a drug, or require a different substance for the same condition, because of this variance.
Substance abuse and substance addiction are not synonymous; a person can abuse a substance but not be addicted to it. Addiction occurs “when a person cannot control the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences.” Brain scans prove that brain functioning of individuals who suffer addiction is different from that of non-addicted individuals. The differences are most noticeable in the brain’s inhibition and reward centers, which affect decision making, judgment, memory, learning, and behavior control. They are notable because an addict who wants or needs to recover isn’t merely fighting a weak will; he or she is also fighting biology.
Most people who become addicted to substances follow distinct stages or steps, including experimentation, regular use, substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. In the first stages, individuals frequently use the substances because of peer pressure or curiosity, and the use of the substances has brought them physical or psychological pleasure.
By the time they reach the third stage of substance abuse, however, the repeated exposure to the substance leads to hypersensitization of their neurobehavioral system. They get more pleasure each time they take the drug. They eventually experience incentive salience, wherein their body’s reward system has become associated with the drug and they want the drug much more. They begin to lose control over how much or how often they take the drug, and they start to experience negative consequences. Incentive salience drives them toward a pattern of continued use, even as these negative consequences become more severe or occur more often.
Lastly, the addicted individual’s subconscious desire for the substance is so overpowering that it is a major influence on their conscious behavior. At this point, the addicted person is both psychologically and physically dependent on the substance, and if they don’t take the substance anymore, they’ll experience symptoms of withdrawal.
One of the simplest answers to substance abuse is to look to friends and family members who can be good, positive role models, keep you accountable, and offer consistent encouragement. It is best if these individuals can be nearby, but the most important thing is their ability to provide a listening ear and solid advice when you need it. Technologies such as Skype and Facebook can help you feel connected even when you’re physically separated.
Although some people have wonderful friends and family members to lean on during recovery, there are many instances when family or other social difficulties are part of the underlying addiction issue. When this is the case, consider looking at programs through your local religious institutions. You also can find support groups by contacting your doctor, or by submitting an anonymous information request to local clinics, hospitals, and counseling centers. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are a good bet, and are found throughout the entire country, although others like Women of Sobriety and Secular Organizations for Sobriety might be a better fit, depending on your philosophies and needs.
When substance abuse is progressing or already has progressed to the point where your health and everyday living are in serious jeopardy, treatment centers might be the best solution. Most treatment centers operate with complete confidentiality and provide flexible counseling and support options for a customized program; many are designed to let individuals meet their work, school, or other obligations while recovering. A good place to find a treatment facility near you is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
If you or a loved one need more formalized substance abuse treatment, one of the major concerns you’ll likely have is how to pay for care. Traditional routes include borrowing money from friends or family, getting a regular bank loan, and liquidating assets. However, you also should check to see if the treatment facilities you’re considering offer rehabilitation program financing. This option enables you to take out a healthcare loan directly from the treatment center or an affiliated lender.
Some companies also specialize in offering loans specifically to those with substance abuse and addiction concerns, although they might not be partnered with a particular facility. These choices can be better in that they usually offer better interest rates and leave your savings, home, or retirement accounts in decent shape. Alternately, your insurance or Medicaid might provide coverage, although there likely would be restrictions. Some people also are turning to crowdfunding platforms to raise money to get the help they need.
No matter what type of addiction you suffer from, and no matter what payment options you decide to utilize, most experts agree that recovery is easier the sooner treatment starts. Contact someone you trust, a medical professional, or a licensed treatment center near you today.