Substance Use Disorder and addiction are becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. This is evident in the current opioid epidemic and mental health crisis, among other examples. People turn to substances and addictive activities for many reasons: anxiety, escapism, or perhaps actual physiological addiction which has developed due to chronic use. But in doing so, they may bring about negative consequences into their lives and the lives of those around them. At Community Access Network, we have great compassion and sympathy for those who are living through Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and addictive behaviors. We want to help you understand how these lifestyles and behaviors develop and how people can change their ways in order to become free from an activity or substance that’s holding them back from full wellness. However, if discussion on this topic could cause an unhealthy or negative reaction, please exit this blog post now.
What Are Substance Use Disorder and Addiction?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences. People with SUD have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where the person’s ability to function in day to day life becomes impaired. People keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems. The most severe SUDs are sometimes called addictions.”
Scientific evidence suggests that SUD and addiction both affect brain chemistry, hijacking the neural pathways and causing cravings for positive chemical stimulation. One of the most common neurotransmitters involved in this process is dopamine, the chemical responsible for causing us to feel happy or joyful. Additionally, certain substances can cause an imbalance of other chemicals in the brain that lead to stimulation, depression and even hallucination. When the brain reacts to the effects of drugs, alcohol or activities like gambling, it may begin to fixate on these activities or substances, causing an individual to act out through continued seeking of the pleasurable experiences they bring. These behaviors can lead to lapses in judgment, impaired movement or decision making skills and an intense desire to have more stimulation from the chosen substance or source.
Substances and Symptoms
There are many forms of substances and addictive behaviors that an individual may become involved in, and more are being added in recent years as their effects are being discovered. Some of these include:
- Nicotine addiction from tobacco products
- Alcohol dependence
- Opioids (i.e. heroin or prescription drugs)
- Cocaine, methamphetamines
- PCP and LSD
Scientists are also becoming aware of the fact that people can become addicted to or dependent on everyday activities and substances, such as food, sexual activity, shopping and even screen-based activities such as video games. Additionally, many addictive activities often combine with previously existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or personality disorders.
If an individual’s condition of dependency on a substance or activity becomes serious enough, it may be considered an addiction, and many people are so affected by it that they don’t realize they have a problem that is affecting their well-being and the well-being of others. This is why it’s often said that a person’s first step to recovering from addiction or SUD is admitting that they have a problem that needs a healthy solution.
Some of the symptoms of SUD and addiction include:
- Pursuing the stimulation of a substance or an activity for extended amounts of time to the exclusion and disruption of other regular daily activities
- Continuing in a pattern of behavior in spite of risky situations and evidence of dangerous consequences
- Changes in personality and behaviors, such as lying, fighting and theft, in order to hide or get away with indulging in stimulation
- Tolerance to a substance or activity that requires the individual to do more to seek the same level of stimulation
- Withdrawal symptoms (such as sadness, depression, anxiety, intense cravings and even bodily tics or uncontrollable movements) when the individual stops using a substance or doing an activity for a certain period of time
- Inability to cope with being without the substance or activity for an extended length of time
- Being willing to give up or damage relationships, social standing, employment status, etc. in order to continue being stimulated
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms or is acting in a way that suggests them, it’s time to contact your doctor and investigate options for recovery.
Many factors can influence an individual’s risk for becoming addicted to a substance, including genetics, gender, personality, environmental/relational factors (i.e. trauma or abuse) and social expectations. However, just as there is no definitive factor that can by itself cause SUD or addiction, there is no one way to go about recovering from the trauma caused by these activities.
Treatment Options for SUD and Addiction
Many people do want to end their use or addiction, but don’t know how. Or they can’t physically or mentally overcome the challenges required to do so by themselves. A common belief among people with SUD or under the influence of addiction is that they can never be free from the thing that’s damaging their well-being. However, through various techniques, practices, medications and therapies (depending on the individual’s need), recovery is possible. The brain is a flexible organ, and just as it created a way for SUD or addiction to exist, it can also heal itself over time and return to a state in which it no longer requires addictive stimulation. Some methods of recovery include:
- Hospitalization: Some detoxification processes require advanced medical procedures and treatments, especially in the case of overdoses.
- Rehabilitation programs: Specialized instructors lead individuals with SUD or addictive behaviors through structured and regimented activities and lessons. These activities help them come to terms with their situation and learn techniques to cope with their emotions, their potentially traumatic pasts and the consequences of their actions.
- Controlled medication use: Some disorders may be healed through the use of specialized chemical treatment.
- Counseling and behavioral therapy: A licensed counselor or psychotherapist can provide outpatient services that guide an affected individual through a series of thought processes, and provide practical tools to help them cope and recover.
- Support and help-share groups: Finding a group of like-minded individuals and/or an accountability team (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery programs or Celebrate Recovery) can help the individual understand that they’re not alone in their fight to overcome SUD/addiction and that someone is willing and able to take the journey, share a burden or share a way that they were able to overcome their condition.
We Can Help!
At Community Access Network, we have connections and access to programs in the community that can help overcome SUD and addiction, such as Central Virginia Hope Initiative and Central Virginia Addiction and Recovery Resources. We are willing and able to help people along a path or recovery that leads them to a more fulfilling and healthy life. Contact us today for more information.