Deep in the throes of addiction is one of the hardest places to be. Addictions are complicated and require more than the typical and insensitive “just stop using” approach. This can be one of the most frustrating and invalidating things to hear and does nothing to help the person struggling.
We understand, and we know how that feels. While you may be at a point where you are discouraged and don’t think you can be helped, we know you can recover and live the life you’ve always dreamed. It’s never too late to decide you want to make a change in your life and start working towards new goals.
What Is An Addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “...a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
In essence, addiction is a brain condition that occurs when an individual regularly uses a substance until it turns into compulsive behavior. The person initially repeats using the substance because they find its effects pleasurable. Eventually, however, this habit comes to interfere with—and can even destroy—one’s work, health, and relationships.
In diagnosing someone with the condition, doctors may use the term “substance use disorder” or SUD. When a person’s habit develops into an addiction, they are no longer able to quit the substance “cold turkey” even if they want to. While they may have made the choice to try a substance initially, once they are addicted, it is no longer a choice. They are not weak or giving in, but sick and dependent on the substance.
Addiction And Mental Health
Addiction is an ongoing and often cyclical disease. When someone has a substance use disorder, cravings for the substance grow stronger and more frequent until that person loses control over them entirely. They continue to use the substance regardless of the problems and harm it may cause to their health, well being, and loved ones.
Substance use often heightens stress and anxiety which, in turn, causes the individual to use once again in order to find relief. This use can then lead to guilt, shame and other mental, relational, and professional problems, triggering the urge to indulge in the substance yet again.
However, regardless of the substance or even how long they’ve been using it, the sooner addiction is addressed, the better. No matter how far down the road someone is, if their heart is still beating, it is never too late for them to turn around.
How Big Of A Problem Is Substance Use?
Substance use disorders are a major problem in the US and the world. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a SUD in 2017.
The number of those struggling has only increased since this study was done, as people are starting to use drugs earlier and earlier in life. According to the CDC, 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2018.
Common Substance Types
There is no limit to what a person can become addicted to, but there are certain substances that, when regularly used, most often result in addiction.
Alcohol use disorder is sometimes more difficult to recognize as an addiction as it is both legal and widely accepted.
The same can be said for cannabis, or marijuana. The legality and acceptance of cannabis is gaining ground, so more studies are being done to learn the extent of cannabis addiction.
Depressants reduce or slow down the stimulation of the brain and central nervous system leading to a calmer, more relaxed state.
Opiates and Opioids
Opiates and narcotics can be prescribed by a doctor as pain killers or purchased and used illicitly and are highly addictive.
Some common painkillers that can be abused include percocet and morphine, and the most common illicit versions of these drugs include heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl.
Stimulants, ranging from prescription Adderall to home-cooked methamphetamine, activate the brain and nervous system. Tolerance for stimulants builds up quickly, leading users to have to increase the amount they take in order to feel the same effects as they did when they first used it.
Most of these substances may have a purpose in treating and managing certain mental and physical conditions. But it is important to be extremely careful when taking them. Whether prescribed or experimental use, many substances are incredibly easy to misuse and abuse.
Who Can Develop An Addiction?
Substance use disorders are widespread and nondiscriminatory, affecting all types of people regardless of age, race, gender, or background. While no one is untouchable, there are certain demographics and factors that put some people at a higher risk than others.
Early Use Is Especially Dangerous
Teenagers make up a large portion of the population in the United States that use drugs. Teens are more likely to experiment, experience and give in to peer pressure, and act recklessly, which translates to their likelihood of drug use.
In young adult ages, drug use is still prevalent. College students and young professionals may take “party drugs” or regularly use drugs to help them focus in order to keep up with the demands of their work and/or social life.
Drug use and/or experimentation earlier in life is more likely to progress to a long-term substance use disorder as the brain is in critical developmental stages when it becomes dependent upon the substance.
While addiction is most prevalent in teens and early adulthood, it affects people of all ages—including seniors.
Other Risk Factors
Researchers are discovering that some people are born with a genetic predisposition to addiction. Biological influences and a family history of addiction can put someone at a higher risk of developing an addiction, but it does not have to be a guarantee.
Environment and a person’s surroundings are also a factor. We often participate in the same activities as those around us, such as our family and friends. If someone is constantly surrounded by or watching other people use substances, they are more likely to participate.
Additionally, mental health struggles, stress, and trauma are all factors that can push someone to drug use and make them more likely to develop a substance use disorder. This is why it is important to confront these underlying problems, identify triggers, and learn how to cope in healthy ways.
There isn’t just a single root cause of substance use disorders. They aren’t always that simple. Addiction is rarely an isolated problem. It’s almost always accompanied by one or more mental health struggles, or behavior or personality disorders.
Getting diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is called a dual diagnosis.
Trauma, depression, and other mental health disorders often co-occur with substance use disorders. The presence of once can encourage the development or reinforce the presence of the other. Poor mental health can increase an individual's risk of developing a substance use disorder, as they may turn to them to cope with their condition. On the other hand, regular substance use can lead to a decline in mental wellbeing, and, thus, the development of disorders.
Is Addiction Treatable?
Yes, addiction is treatable! Many people who have struggled with addiction have completely stopped using substances and continue fulfilling lives after addiction. The same can be true for you!
While it is ultimately up to the individual to create a successful and lasting change in their lives, it’s important to reach out. Utilizing your support system and professional help provides a better chance both of recovery and long-term sobriety.
While at this moment you may feel alone and hopeless, there is help available. You are not broken, weak-willed, or morally bankrupt. You are a human being with a mental disorder who needs help. With dedication and willingness, you can recover.
What If Someone I Love Is Recovering From Addiction?
Addictions are considered a family disease because of the dysfunctional family systems that develop when one member is addicted. Almost all family members of an addicted person also need to be a part of treatment.
Everyone close to someone who suffers from substance abuse likely needs help to heal from what has happened. They also need to learn how to support recovering individuals in the process.
It’s heart wrenching to see the destruction that addiction can cause. As much as you may want to help fight the battle for them, it is ultimately up to the individual.
Your support and love can help them to and through the recovery process. Therapists and other professionals can help family members learn how to help the person struggling without enabling them.
How Can I Help?
If you have a loved one who is battling a substance use disorder, it is not your responsibility to fight the battle for them, but your support and intervention can help.
While your love may be unconditional, the help you provide shouldn’t always be. It is important to set boundaries and to avoid enabling the person struggling with a substance use disorder.
Some ways you can help include showing your support include:
Listening actively and without judgment
Creating a substance-free environment and joining them in activities away from any substances
Talking about their behavior when they’re sober
Encouraging them to seek professional help, and offer help finding the right therapist or getting there
Recovering from addiction does not come with an easy, one-time fix. It will require work, time, and most likely a few setbacks. Being a support system can feel burdensome at times. Even helpers sometimes need help. Talk to a professional to help manage expectations and boundaries.
How Do You Treat Addictions?
Treatment for addiction will vary among different individuals, but an integrated approach made up of multiple treatments and therapy types is most successful. Addiction causes harm to more than just the physical body. It affects the brain, relationships, work life, housing, self-esteem, and more.
Therefore, it only makes sense that people would benefit from several combined treatments in order to successfully recover. Counselors specializing in addiction and trauma can guide someone on the right path to sobriety.
Call Inner Balance Counseling Today
At Inner Balance Counseling, we know addictions wreak havoc in people's lives. It can even be a struggle to get through daily life.
It will take work and commitment, but living a life without addiction is possible. Many people recover and go on to live the lives they truly want, no longer shackled by the chains of addiction.
We, here at Inner Balance, help people learn how to integrate back into day-to-day life, repair relationships, and cope with a loved one who is struggling with addiction. We use a combination of relapse prevention, DBT, CBT and EMDR to help people heal their past and feel confident in their future.