Everything you need to know about drug or substance abuse and finding the right addiction treatment.
The Basketball Diaries was a 1995 movie adaptation of an autobiography written by real-life poet and memoirist Jim Carroll. It starred a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, tackling Carroll’s descent from a promising high school basketball player to a drug addict who had to steal, rob, and even sell his body just so he could get his hands on heroin. He eventually landed in jail for assault, robbery, resisting arrest, and possession of illegal drugs.
Fortunately for Carroll, his jail time allowed him to rid himself of his drug addiction and get a new perspective on life. This helped him become the successful artist that many of us have come to know.
What this movie tells us, as well as other top films about drug addiction that Hollywood has produced over the years, is that doing drugs will get you in trouble, no matter your status in life. That sometimes, even if you might have eluded the law, you will still pay the price in one way or another.
The question is, why is drug addiction still one of the top problems of society? And, just like what Carroll’s life story showed, is there really hope and a new life waiting for drug addicts who get the chance to reform?
Drug Addiction: Common and Medical Definition
In layman’s terms, drug addiction is simply the inability of a person to stop taking drugs because it satisfies a need – to alleviate physical pain, to relax the mind, or to calm the emotions.
Medically, drug addiction is defined as a condition that is characterized by an immense desire to keep on taking a drug or substance that a person has become accustomed to. Habituation is formed through repeated consumption, for the reason that the drug produces a particular effect, which is usually a change in a person’s mental state.
It goes on to cite a specific behavior that accompanies the addiction: “a compulsion to obtain the drug, a tendency to increase the dose, a psychological or physical dependence, and detrimental consequences for the individual and society.”
And it doesn’t have to be illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, or crystal meth that people can get addicted to. Prescription drugs have also been abused.
A number of celebrities have put a human face on this unfortunate situation. These stars constantly needed to take medicines to relieve their various pains and ailments due to their hectic and stressful lives. From Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson and Prince, they ultimately paid the price for their excessive physical dependence on perfectly legal medicines.
How the condition progresses is an oft-repeated story:
Persons may be prescribed a drug to help treat a medical condition or they try a substance because their friends are doing it. They then find that taking the drug or substance has a “great” effect on them especially when they raise the dosage. Finally, they reach the point where they think they cannot function normally without the substance.
From simple drug use, it escalates to drug abuse until it becomes a drug addiction.
Famous people aren’t the only ones who experience drug abuse and addiction. The problem is also not limited to a certain age group or to a specific segment in society, but cuts through several demographics.
What has happened to people who died from drug overdose, although truly tragic and unfortunate, has one positive result. Authorities and experts now recognize that the condition cannot be categorized simply as drug abuse and addiction but a type of medical condition known as substance use disorder.
Recognizing Substance Use Disorder
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) characterizes substance use disorder as a “moderate or severe dependence on certain drugs or prescription medications.” SAMHSA also notes that just like drug abuse, substance use disorder can happen to anyone from all walks of life and as young as 12 years old, as its 2014 survey has revealed.
Unlike drug addiction wherein a person suffers from cyclical episodes of relapse and remission and can’t stop taking drugs even though they may want to, substance use disorder (also known as drug use disorder) is characterized by dependency on the drug but without compulsive use behavior. This means a person will be able to cease taking the drug when circumstances force them to do so.
This was evident in the case of Elvis who started using prescription drugs in the early 1960s so he could cope with a work schedule that was nothing short of punishing. He took “uppers” in the morning and “downers” at night, which included sleeping pills and painkillers that allowed him to relax at day’s end.
In the 1970s, Elvis had become dependent on these drugs. His death in 1977 was attributed to heart attack, but the toxicology report indicated that a combination of drugs, which included codeine and phenobarbital, contributed to the singer’s death. He was 42.
Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use Disorder
Just like in a typical illness, people suffering from drug use disorder may be identified by drastic changes that they exhibit in three primary areas: physical, behavioral, and social.
- Physical appearance starts to deteriorate
- Suddenly losing or gaining weight
- Eyes become bloodshot, and pupils abnormally dilated
- Abnormal body odor and bad breath
- Speech is slurred
- Involuntary body shaking
- Attitude or personality suddenly changes
- Prone to mood swings, irritable
- Quick to anger
- Frequent absences in school or work
- Frequently getting into fights, arguments, and accidents
- Becoming secretive or suspicious
- Fearful, anxious, and paranoid
- Irregular eating and sleeping patterns
- Hangs out with a new group of people, at a totally different place
- Frequently short on cash
- Gets into conflict with family and friends
Types of Substance Use Disorder
Substance use disorder comes in different types depending on the substance that a person has become dependent on, including alcohol and tobacco. But for the purpose of this paper, we will be discussing the following:
1. Stimulant Use Disorder (SUD)
A stimulant increases the energy and alertness of users as well as their blood pressure, respiration rate, and heart rate. Users feel a sense of confidence mixed with happiness. Stimulants are used in medicine to treat obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, and depression. People who feel a lot of stress and pressure are the most prone to taking this kind of drug.
SAMHSA notes that in 2014, about 913,000 Americans aged 12 and older had SUD as a direct result of using cocaine, while a further 476,000 people used other types of stimulants such as amphetamines and methamphetamines.
2. Opioid/Opiate Use Disorder (OUD)
Opioids and opiates are basically pain relievers. Opioid addiction caused the death of more than 28,000 people in 2014 alone. This is most likely due to the fact that aside from easing pain, opioids also cause a euphoric feeling. Over time however, the effect decreases, driving users to consume more and more opioid medications at a single time.
The most popular but illegal opiate is heroin, while legal opioids include oxycodone and hydrocodone. Other side effects of these drugs are constipation, nausea, drowsiness, and confusion.
3. Cannabis Abuse Disorder (CUD)
While marijuana use (either for medical or recreational purposes) may have already been legalized in several states, cannabis is still a form of drug that can have detrimental effects if abused. Even when taken in moderation, marijuana can give its user a distorted perception, makes thinking and problem solving harder, and causes motor coordination loss.
People suffering from CUD will have developed a tolerance for the substance, which would cause them to crave for more. They also exhibit withdrawal symptoms within a week after they stop taking cannabis, and these include sleeplessness, anger, depression, nervousness, and restlessness.
Contributing Factors to Drug Addiction
Going back to The Basketball Diaries, the movie showed how anyone can easily fall prey to the lure of drug addiction given a set of circumstances. In the main character’s case, it was simply a matter of his friends doing it, so why not?
Additionally, there was a more compelling reason that pushed him into full-blown addiction, and that was the death of one of his friends due to leukemia. It also didn’t help that his mother only believed in dishing out tough love as a way to set her son onto the right path. Obviously it didn’t work, and in the end, it was she who had him arrested.
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, because in real life, it sometimes doesn’t take anything more than simple peer pressure to set young people onto the path of drug addiction. Genes, family, society, and mental health can make a person vulnerable to substance abuse, but there are other risk factors that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored:
The story of Bobbi Kristina Brown should be a clear example of how a family’s history of drug addiction can lead the child toward the same path.
Daughter to music legend Whitney Houston and singer Bobby Brown, Bobbi died on July 26, 2015 at the young age of 22. She was found unconscious in her bathtub and was placed in a medically induced coma for six months. She never regained consciousness.
The official cause of Bobbi’s death was pneumonia, but the medical examiner said she had a mixture of marijuana, alcohol, morphine, and other drugs that caused her to pass out and drown in her tub.
Eerily, her famous mother died under similar circumstances three years before, drowned in a foot of water in a hotel bathtub. The autopsy revealed Whitney had heart disease, but cocaine use was also cited as a contributing factor to her death. It was well known in the industry that she had been battling drug addiction for years.
These can be anything from abuse, neglect, and an unstable or dangerous environment to domestic violence that can lead to depression and anxiety. As a way of coping, a person can turn to drugs to bring on a sense of calm, fight off panic attacks, or even improve concentration at work or in school.
In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, it was found that participants who we were exposed to trauma as children had a high risk for substance use later in life. Moreover, the extent of lifetime substance use coincided with the level of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse they experienced in their childhood.
Drug Use at a Young Age
Referring to the SAMHSA survey done in 2014, it revealed that Americans as young as age 12 had used marijuana during the past month, part of the 22.2 million people who did so. It also reported an average age of 18.5 for first-time users of the drug during the same survey period.
While it’s not a guarantee that those young individuals would turn out to be addicted to drugs, the possibility that they will suffer from drug use disorder later on is much higher than those who did not try any marijuana or any other drugs at a young age.
How did these 12-year-olds and 18-year-olds start with marijuana? Most of the time, it’s because of peer pressure, the desire to socially connect and to fit into a group. Take note that this is true not only with marijuana but with smoking and drinking as well.
Addiction and the Brain
So now, the question asked at the beginning of this article bears repeating: Why is drug addiction still one of the problems of society?
Indeed, given the high-profile cases and the numerous and equally well-documented instances of ordinary folks falling victim to drug abuse, why do people continue to take these substances? Don’t they have the willpower to say, “Enough is enough!” if they really want to quit and become clean?
Unfortunately, that bit about using willpower to quit drugs has been proven to be nothing but a myth.
This is how addiction affects the brain:
A brain that is exposed to drugs on a frequent and prolonged basis will undergo a major change. It will come to a point where the brain will regard the taking of the abused drugs as another form of survival behavior on the same level as eating or drinking.
As you may have noticed already, most of the substances that are usually abused produce a feeling of euphoria or happiness because they trigger the production of dopamine in the brain. This hormone is responsible for our feelings of pleasure.
The brain then remembers the pleasure brought about by this substance, and just like eating, drinking, or having sex, will want the individual to repeat the act until it is considered a regular and necessary part of bodily functions.While this indeed brings about pleasure, the changes in the brain that drug addiction causes results in clouding the thinking process. Users may not even be able to think clearly, control their behavior, exercise good judgment, or feel normal without the substance. An uncontrollable craving can consume them that they forsake other aspects of their life such as family, career, and health.
And so there is no more willpower to stop taking the substance because the mind has become so much occupied with this craving, of seeing to it that it gets the pleasure derived from the substance. Instead of thinking of ways to quit, the brain will look for ways to rationalize the addiction. At this point, outside help (from family and friends) is the only way to get a person into addiction rehabilitation.
Drug Abuse Statistics
Unfortunately, despite the spirited campaigns to not do drugs, these numbers from the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey – while on a generally downward trend – still paint a sad picture of the state of drug use in the country, especially among teens and young adults.
The annual national survey covers drug and alcohol use and related attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from 360 public and private schools. A total of 43,703 students took part in the 2017 survey. Of that sample, the survey found that:
- About 50 percent of teens have misused prescription drugs and used illicit drugs at least once
- 7.5 percent of teens admitted that they had smoked marijuana at age 12
- 7.7 percent of 12th graders have used amphetamines for non-medical reasons
- 33 percent of teenagers have obtained prescriptions of their own
- 0.8 percent of 8th graders, 2.9 percent of 10th graders, and 5.9 percent of 12th graders use marijuana daily
- 2 percent of 12th graders misuse prescription/over-the-counter drugs. This statistic has been on a steady decline since 2002 when it was at 9.6 percent
- The most misused prescription/OTC drugs among 12th graders are Ritalin, sedatives, cough/cold medicine, opioids aside from heroin, tranquilizers, and Adderall (5.5 percent).
- The most used illicit drugs among students in the 12th grade are marijuana, alcohol, LSD, cocaine, Ecstasy/Molly, inhalants, and heroin.
Meanwhile, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed a startling fact about heroin consumption: Nearly all people who consumed heroin also used at least one other drug. Most heroin users used at least three other drugs. Additionally, here’s how more likely people who are addicted to other substances will be addicted to heroin:
- Alcohol – 2x
- Marijuana – 3x
- Cocaine – 15x
- Prescription Opioid Painkillers – 40x
And speaking of prescription drugs, here’s how the overall picture in the country looks like:
- An estimated 52 million people in the United States who are older than 12 have misused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
- 75 percent of the prescription drugs in the world are consumed in America
- 2 percent of misused prescription drugs came from a friend or relative
Drug Abuse and Mental Illness
Since it has already been scientifically established how drug addiction – or even just the misuse of drugs – can have a negative effect on the brain, is it accurate to think that substance abuse can cause mental illness? Or is it the other way around – that mental illness can cause a person to turn to drugs?
How Drug Abuse and Mental Illness Are Connected
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), mental health disorder patients account for the consumption of 44 percent of cocaine, 38 percent of alcohol, and 40 percent of cigarettes. This can be explained by the fact that mental health patients turn to these substances to treat or mitigate the symptoms of their illness.
How are substance abuse and mental health linked?
Patients suffering from panic attacks may take benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium to calm themselves or to ward off the attack before it starts. Then there are those who have low energy and zero motivation who find the drive to get things done with the help of crystal meth, cocaine, or Adderall. And who can deny the well-documented effect of marijuana on those with depression, not to mention physical pain?
Sadly, it’s also been established that these substances, while they are able to alleviate the immediate effects of mental health issues, don’t actually help cure the underlying cause of the problem. Instead, they create a slew of other mental health problem symptoms while the person is under the influence of the substance. These can include depression, delusion, and paranoia. Worse, the initial problem may become more severe as a direct effect of these substances.
Being dependent on substances as a way to cope with mental health issues can actually create problems that activate mental health symptoms. Additionally, it can also create more symptoms such as paranoia, depression, and delusion. Even when the effects of the substances have worn off, the person may still experience their symptoms. This has now become a case of co-occurring disorder.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) terms this case of one person having two disorders or illnesses at the same time or one immediately occurring after the other as “comorbidity.” It can also be referred to as dual diagnosis.
According to NIDA, nearly half of the people – adolescents included – who experience mental illness during their lives will also experience substance use disorder and vice versa. National surveys on drug use show that more than 60 percent of adolescents who are already being treated for SUD also exhibit symptoms of mental illness.
Here are the types of mental health issues that have shown higher rates of comorbidity with SUD, according to NIDA:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
Patients suffering from schizophrenia, in particular, have been observed to be more prone to substance use disorders (tobacco, drugs, and alcohol) compared to the general public.
Schizophrenia belongs under the category termed serious mental illness (SMI). The Department of Health and Human Services describes SMI among people 18 years and above as having a diagnosable emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder that causes “serious functional impairment.” This impairment considerably limits or interferes with or one or more major life activities.
SMI also includes major depression and bipolar disorder, as well as other mental health issues that seriously impair an individual. NIDA says about 1 in 4 persons who suffer from SMI also has an SUD.
Health Consequences of Drug Abuse
The effects of drug abuse or substance use disorder have never been positive, especially in the long-term. It’s not just mental issues that can become a direct consequence of abusing or misusing drugs – a person’s overall health is also at stake.
Serious illnesses like heart and lung diseases and cancer become big possibilities in persons with drug addiction. Abused substances have components that are damaging to a person’s body, especially when taken in large amounts and over an extended period of time. And even when the individual manages to stop taking the substance and goes “clean” from thereon, the physical effects of drugs may have become irreversible.
To give you an idea of how drug addiction can wreak havoc on your body, here is a list of specific abused substances and what they can do to your health:
The brain is most vulnerable to alcohol, with the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus getting affected the most. This is the reason why people who are drunk could not think straight (have difficulty solving problems or making decisions), have a hard time remembering things, and maintain control of their motor skills. Alcohol abuse can lead to liver damage, heart disease, cancer, depression, and destructive behavior.
From 2006 to 2010, 88,000 deaths were attributed to excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A kind of stimulant that is used to treat medical cases, amphetamines tended to be abused because of the “high” they bring to users. They are even crushed so they can be injected or snorted for a stronger and more immediate effect.
An overdose can cause the blood pressure to shoot up to dangerous levels, chest pain, psychosis, fainting spells, stroke, or heart attack. Those who have been taking amphetamines for a long period of time may experience hallucinations, paranoia, respiratory problems, and convulsions.
Cocaine gives a feeling of euphoria, energy, mental alertness, and hypersensitivity to stimuli almost immediately after being taken. But these effects wear off in just a few minutes, or at most in an hour. The reason its user will usually binge on it is to experience again and again the “high” it brings.
Addiction, which is what almost always happens with cocaine use, results in cardiovascular and neurological disorders that can lead to strokes, seizures, and death. Cocaine binge-using has led to a fatal overdose in several instances.
A kind of opioid drug that is illegal and highly addictive, heroin gives a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. Because its user will develop some immunity to its effect over time, there is a tendency to take larger and larger amounts of the substance to get its original effect, thereby increasing the risk of overdose. In fact, NIDA has noted that the deaths due to heroin overdose have multiplied by five times in the period between 2001 to 2013.
Long-term heroin use also causes severe constipation, body malaise, malnutrition, sleeping problems, and dental issues such as swollen gums and damaged teeth.
These are volatile substances that are usually found in certain household products like spray paints, oven cleaners, synthetic rubber contact cement, gasoline, and aerosols. The fact that they are easily obtained contributes to the risk they pose, especially to children and teens. These inhalants alter the mind and are extremely toxic, doing damage to the brain, lungs, kidneys, and heart when sniffed long and frequently.
The most commonly used illegal drug in the United States (although several states have already legalized it for both medical and recreational purposes), marijuana causes long-time users to have difficulty learning and remembering new things. Users may also have problems with coordination and in focusing their attention. Worse, they can be more at risk of mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia.
Physically, long-term marijuana use may lead to increased heart rate, lung diseases, and in rare cases, Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, which is characterized by severe and recurrent bouts of nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
This synthetic drug (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) first became popular in nightclubs before it reached a wider range of people. Taken as a capsule or tablet, swallowed in liquid form, or snorted as a powder, it causes euphoria and increased energy that lasts for 3 to 6 hours.
Users often take a second dose as the effects of the first dose start to fade. High doses of MDMA will impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, which can damage the kidney or liver and even cause death.
Tobacco is listed as one of the five most addictive drugs in the world because of its nicotine component. Both a sedative and a stimulant depending on its dosage, nicotine causes the release of adrenaline and dopamine, giving the user a pleasurable sensation, which often leads to the addiction.
Taken in large doses (such as several packs of cigarettes a day) and for an extended period, nicotine can cause the buildup of plaque in the user’s arteries, leading to cardiovascular diseases. And because its smoke reaches the lungs, it can cause emphysema, bronchial disorders, and cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says direct tobacco use kills more than 6 million every year while almost 900,000 become victims of second-hand smoke.
What makes these drugs dangerous is the fact that people tend to think that they are safe even when misused because they were prescribed by a physician. Nothing is further from the truth, as what was discussed at the start of this article about celebrities like Elvis Presley overdosing on prescription drugs.
Using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons and administered incorrectly (like being crushed so they can be injected or snorted) usually leads to addiction, and worse, negative physical effects such as vomiting, impaired breathing, coma, and death.
Diagnosing Drug Addiction
Contrary to popular belief, not all drug addicts come from dysfunctional families. It has been pointed out that a person’s predisposition to do drugs and get hooked is attributable to a family history of doing drugs as well as to certain environmental factors. However, it’s not always a foregone conclusion that just because a person grew up in a chaotic family or social setting means they will end up as a drug addict. Conversely, growing up in a loving family living in a nice neighborhood is not always a guarantee that a person will not do drugs and become a dependent.
It bears repeating that drug or alcohol addiction is a disease, and it can affect any person no matter their ethnicity, gender, economic background, or religion. Families should therefore not treat the member going through it as an object of shame, something that needs to be hidden from the public eye.
On the other hand, the addiction should not be allowed to continue further by providing the person with the resources to further indulge in it.
Indeed, the family’s role to get the cure for the member’s addiction is the most vital, and it all starts with recognizing the fact that there is a problem. And that usually starts with a family member or a close friend who notices a change in behavior of the user. It can be subtle at first, but as the addiction progresses, there will be telltale signs that everything is not the way it used to be.
It is at this point – when the user is still able to think clearly – that the family consults a doctor who can get a clear idea of how far the addiction has gone. A general practitioner will be able to tell when a person is addicted to nicotine. For more powerful substances, however, the person will need to be referred to a specialist.
Of course, even before a doctor or specialist comes into the picture, the family member suspected of being a drug dependent can do their own self-assessment. This is done by answering a questionnaire that can be obtained online or from a local addiction center. The questions usually can be answered by “yes” or “no” and the person will be asked to rate a specific experience on a sliding scale.
While the self-assessment will not replace the evaluation of a medical professional, it can be done in the privacy of the person’s home and usually gives a good indication if the person is indeed hooked on drugs.
Here are a few sample questions that can be found on a self-assessment test for substance abuse:
- In order to get through the day, do you need to consume drugs or alcohol?
- Have you been hospitalized or got medical attention due to drug or alcohol use?
- Is your drug or alcohol consumption affecting your schooling, work, or relationship at home?
- Are you always thinking of when you will be taking drugs or alcohol again?
- Has your personal relationship been affected by your drug or alcohol consumption?
- Have you undergone bouts of forgetfulness after taking drugs or alcohol?
- When you don’t take drugs or alcohol for some time, do you have withdrawal symptoms?
- Have you gone to great lengths just to acquire drugs or alcohol?
Substance Dependence Criteria
The American Psychiatric Association has laid down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that contain the following criteria for drug dependence. Meeting at least three items in the criteria would indicate that a person is suffering from drug addiction, which the DSM 5th Edition refers to as substance use disorder.
- The person has developed a tolerance to the substance, compelling them to take more of it just to experience its original effect.
- The person experiences physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking the substance. These withdrawal symptoms prove to be so unpleasant that the person will go back to taking the substance so that they won’t experience the withdrawal.
- The person takes the substance in higher and higher doses.
- There have been several instances of the person quitting or at least taking the substance less frequently.
- The person’s waking moments are more and more spent to acquire and use the substance, or to recover from its effects.
- The person neglects their social life, work, and even hobbies.
- The person continues to take the substance even though they know and experience its negative side effects that affect them physically and mentally.
Getting Support and Counseling
Drug addiction has been one of the major problems that societies from around the world have been dealing with for hundreds of years. In the early years, the condition was regarded as a criminal offense and something that no morally upright individual will do. The usual treatment for it was either imprisonment, prayers as prescribed by the church, or commitment to an asylum.
There are those who think drug addiction should not be classified as a disease because it’s the result of a person choosing to do drugs, and they would be right – to a certain extent. Because yes, it is indeed a choice to try drugs, for the first time.
As several research studies have proven, there are people who are more prone to addiction than others because of genes, which means there is already a family history of drug addiction. In these cases, once a drug is introduced to a person’s system, the brain’s chemistry starts to change and regards the substance as something that needs to be taken regularly. When this happens, the person no longer has a choice or control.
Drug Addiction: 5 Common Myths
At this point and beyond, users will need help from friends, loved ones, and professionals to be able to stop. These people, in turn, will need to be more sensitive to the changes in the drug addict’s personality and behavior so they can act accordingly. They will also need to make sure they don’t fall for these common myths about drug addiction:
Myth: A person can refrain from using drugs if they really want to.
Fact: As mentioned earlier, people who are more susceptible to drug addiction because of genes and other factors experience changes in their brain once the drug is introduced in their system, creating an irresistible craving and compulsion.
Myth: Since it’s the brain that’s affected, then it’s a hopeless case.
Fact: The disease is difficult to cure, not impossible. Especially today when there are different kinds of treatment such as medication, therapy, and even exercise that can wean a person from their drug dependency.
Myth: You need to wait for the worst before doing something.
Fact: As with most diseases, undergoing treatment at the early stages will give a person a better chance at success as compared to allowing the condition to progress to the point of no return.
Myth: Drug addicts should want help before they can be helped.
Fact: With the brain-addled, a drug dependent can’t think clearly about what’s good for them, and so it’s the responsibility of the people around them to help them, whether or not they want help. Once the treatment starts to achieve its desired effect, the person who may have resisted at the outset may begin to appreciate and welcome it.
Myth: Drug abuse treatment should be given up if it fails.
Fact: Drug addiction is a complex case that is not easily treated. Even when the person shows improvement or even being cured, there is always the possibility of a setback or relapse that takes the whole process back to square one. People should never give up on a drug addict, but instead, need to have a stronger resolve to see things through by rethinking the approach to treatment.
The Importance of Counseling
As a mental health issue, drug addiction can be treated by a combination of medication and therapy, with the latter offered either as individual counseling or group counseling. These two methods of therapy can complement each other to achieve the most positive result.
Group counseling happens in a peer setting. People having similar health issues are encouraged to talk about their experiences, with a licensed therapist acting as facilitator. The idea is for the members of the group to draw inspiration and strength from each other.
Individual counseling involves one-on-one sessions between the patient and a trained therapist. It is usually recommended for persons who don’t show any positive improvement in mood even though they have been getting help and support from friends and family. Those who make rash actions that endanger themselves and the people around them, and exhibit aggression to themselves and others, may also benefit from individual sessions.
Individual counseling is one of the most preferred methods of alcohol abuse and drug abuse treatment because of the following reasons:
- It’s more private and confidential
- The process is focused on the individual and their specific issues
- Allows more one-on-one opportunities with the therapist
- Flexible schedule for the patient’s convenience
- Helps the person build trust and a healthy relationship with others gradually so that they will not be overwhelmed
Addiction Treatment for Students
Students, especially those attending high school and college, need special attention when it comes to addiction treatment and recovery.
Teens and young adults face a lot of challenges in school, such as the stress to live up to their parents’ expectations, adjusting to life away from home, peer pressure to drink alcohol and try illicit drugs for fun, and a host of academic requirements and extracurricular activities. Many students try to cope with all of these using alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.
Stress and anxiety, particularly during exam periods, can make students turn to stimulants in the belief that these would help them improve their performance in school. Substance use can quickly turn to abuse however, especially when students have developed a psychological dependence on their drug of choice.
More than 1 million 12- to 17-year-olds had a substance use disorder as of 2016, according to SAMHSA. For the same year, around one in five young adults aged 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month.
Substance misuse among students can have long-term adverse effects. In addition to a higher risk of overdose, it can also affect a young person’s mental and physical health, relationships with family and friends, and academic performance. Continued substance misuse has been associated with chronic absenteeism, impaired cognitive development, behavioral issues in class, and dropping out of school.
It can be difficult for students under stress who have grown to rely on substances to recognize that their habit has become a disorder. The stigma that often comes with being labeled a “drug addict” can also discourage young people to come forward and seek help.
If you observe the symptoms of a substance abuse disorder in yourself, know that there are people who genuinely care for your overall well-being. Don’t be afraid to talk to others – like your school’s guidance counselor or peer counselors – about the challenges you’re facing and substance use. There are addiction treatment programs and support groups tailored for students like you.
When and Where to Seek Help
Finding out that you, a friend, or a family member is suffering from substance use disorder is one of those punch-in-the-gut moments. Parents especially will have a harder time accepting the fact that their child has gone astray. They can also be overwhelmed with guilt feelings and blame themselves for what has happened to their child.
In these trying moments, it is best to have a clear mind and again, to accept the fact that bad things happen even in the best of places or situations.
Substance abuse, especially if it’s been going on for some time, is something that is not usually fixed with home medication. Those who have become addicted will need the professional help and care that only an addiction treatment facility can offer. At this point, a crucial question may be dawning on you: How do I get my child into drug rehab?
Before you can even attempt to answer that, it’s important that you know from where exactly you need to seek help. There are different addiction centers that cater to specific cases of patients, and finding the most appropriate one for your child will greatly help in getting them cured.
Everything actually depends on your child’s needs and wants because there are facilities that would be the perfect fit and therefore the most conducive to recovery. So it’s best to ask around first, go online, and consult professionals to insure you get the best option for your child.
If you’re the one suffering from substance use disorder, you may feel reluctant to seek help outside your immediate circle of family and friends for fear of the stigma usually attached to drug addiction. It can’t be denied that despite a lot of efforts to paint drug addicts in a different light, there are still those who look down on them as an embarrassment, or worse, a menace.
You need to realize that that attitude reflects upon society, not you, and that worrying about what other people might think will never be of help to you or your loved ones.
So better to blot out your concerns about other people and focus on the most important thing for you at the moment: getting help and treatment. The support you will get from your family and friends goes side by side with professional help that treatment facilities can provide.
Realize as well that what you’re going through is not a hopeless case. There are millions of others suffering from substance abuse disorder. You are not alone. It’s no surprise then that many drug addiction treatment methods have been designed to address substance abuse and dependency problems, because treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
You may want to check out the 12 steps of addiction recovery that has been helping people like you since 1935. Its basic premise is that recovery starts when the person finally admits that they are powerless over their addiction and will need the assistance of a “higher power” to overcome their condition.
Addiction Treatment Success Stories
Two of the most famous names who have undergone addiction rehabilitation and gotten a new lease on life were legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and actor Robert Downey Jr., who landed No. 3 in Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors in 2017.
Regarded as a football god by his countrymen, Maradona battled substance abuse even in his heyday, and was forced by his family to check into rehab in 2004. By then, his cardiac capacity was down to 35 percent, which meant he could have a heart attack anytime. He suffered massive withdrawal symptoms but made it through and has been clean ever since.
In an interview in 2014, Maradona admitted that his substance abuse prevented him from unleashing his full potential on the pitch. And that was back when he was literally toying with his opponents and establishing his legendary career!
Downey Jr., on the other hand, couldn’t get his Hollywood career going because of his substance abuse that went as far back as the early 1990s. To be fair, he was willing to enter rehabs for abuse treatment, but he just couldn’t kick the habit. That went on until 2001 when finally, the relapses ceased altogether.
However, the stigma of being a former drug addict stayed with him, until good friend and director Jon Favreau successfully lobbied with Marvel Studios in 2008 that Downey Jr. alone would make the perfect Tony Stark, Iron Man’s alter ego. The rest, as they say, was history.
It’s worth mentioning that not all famous people who went into rehab got the happily-ever-after ending, as there were also the unfortunate stories of those who couldn’t avoid a relapse and totally ruined their career. These should not, however, deter you from your decision to seek rehabilitation. In fact, it should inspire you more to succeed where celebrities have failed.
Treatment Facilities: What to Expect
Once you have decided and are totally committed to treating substance abuse, the next move is to find the right treatment facility for you.
Fortunately, there are now numerous drug addiction treatment centers that cater to specific needs and wants of patients, and provide the services of addiction intervention specialists. Drug rehab programming can also be optimized for individual needs.
What’s even better is that even when you’re short on cash, you can still get professional treatment as there are now free inpatient drug rehab centers—certainly a big help for those with little or no money. With the support of friends and family and the appropriate rehab facility, there’s no reason you can get yourself on the road to smart recovery.
If this is your first time to enter a treatment facility, you and your loved ones will most likely have questions on how the treatment goes in the rehab center. Rest assured that addiction centers have formulated effective treatment approaches to help you, including behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.
Here’s what a typical day at addiction treatment centers looks like:
- Rise early for possible yoga or meditation sessions (depending on the program) so you can start your day with a relaxed mind. This is followed by a healthy breakfast.
- Group session comes next, facilitated by a counselor or therapist. Expect to discuss the reason, the people, and the environment that led you on the path of substance abuse. It will also help you discover certain behavioral patterns that you need to change or common abuse triggers that should be avoided once you have finished treatment.
- After a healthy lunch, you will undergo a series of therapeutic sessions, which make up the heart of your treatment. Usually, there are three kinds:
- One-on-One – this often uses the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) method that focuses on how you respond to different triggers that perpetuates your substance abuse. The therapist will then suggest healthier responses. Because it’s just you and the specialist, you will find it easier to reveal your personality as well as the things that concern you and cause you anxiety. In return, the therapist will come up with suggestions on what you can do to address these issues.
- Group – designed to foster camaraderie, fellowship, and trust among individuals sharing the same concerns. Sharing personal stories about their drug addiction often leads to emotional healing, as each one begins to understand the other’s difficulties.
- Family – its aim is to help resolve issues within the family that may have contributed to the patient’s turning to drugs. It also recognizes the crucial role of loved ones to make sure the patient does not return to addiction after the treatment is finished.
In addition to these, specialized sessions may also be offered, depending on the need of the person such as managing anger, stress, or grief. Coping techniques are then offered that will effectively replace the need of the individual to turn to drugs or alcohol.
The treatment center may also invite guest speakers who have gone through the condition themselves and come out as better persons, thereby showing the patient that there is always hope for those who won’t give up the fight.
- Free time follows these sessions, and the patient can do recreational activities offered at the facility such as ping pong, volleyball, soccer, basketball, and sometimes, even a swim at the pool (if they have one, of course). You can also opt to just read a book, write, or meditate.
- In the evening after dinner, there might be a short group session, after which it should be bedtime at the appropriate hour since the program also aims to develop or rediscover healthy habits.
Medications, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Options
Advances in science and medicine, specifically in drug testing and the treatment of drug addiction, have come to a point where a program can be designed to suit the needs of a particular patient, thereby optimizing its positive effect. What remains consistent in all cases is that the first phase of drug abuse treatment involves detoxification and medically managed withdrawal.
Getting rid of drugs from a person’s system is not as simple as merely stopping oneself from taking the abused substance anymore and letting the body (and the mind) adjust. This is especially true for those who have been life-long drug addicts. There will be withdrawal symptoms or physiological effects of suddenly stopping the use of drug, and it can potentially be dangerous to the patient.
Additionally, detoxification by itself will not help in solving the behavioral, social, and psychological problems that are associated with drug or alcohol abuse. This is why there is indeed a need for the person to consider different treatment options such as checking in to rehab.
If it’s going to be an outpatient type of substance abuse treatment, patients need to undergo regular therapy and counseling under a licensed professional to maintain sober living and decrease the likelihood of them going back to doing drugs.
Medications for Addiction
To reiterate, addictive drugs become so because of their ability to affect the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, giving the user a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Such is the effect of heroin and morphine, as well as painkillers such as OxyContin, that people who just needed to get away from stress take them and immediately get hooked.
In 2014 alone, an estimated 4.3 million people were users of narcotics (drugs like opiates or opioids that are used for pain treatment) even though these were not prescribed to them.
Countering a drug addiction with a different set of drugs, while not a perfect science, has made a lot of strides in recent years, thanks to a clearer understanding of how specific parts of the brain are affected by different substances. It’s still a long way off before a vaccine against addiction or cravings is developed, but new treatment medications are constantly being tested.
Let’s get one thing clear: Medications for addiction treatment are not without risk, which is why their administration is overseen by a qualified doctor. They also form part of the bigger treatment process that involves therapy and counseling. Basically, they are definitely way less dangerous compared with the substances to which the patient is addicted. Most important of all, they make the withdrawal symptoms less painful.
Here are some of the more popular medications now in use to combat addiction:
- Methadone/Buprenorphine – these are synthetic opiates that have similar effects to heroin, codeine, oxycodone, and morphine, but not as harmful. They are used to as replacement for those more dangerous drugs.
- Disulfiram – a kind of medicine that causes discomfort when a person takes drugs. It specifically acts on alcohol, making the body have a hard time processing it, which leads to an ill feeling akin to a bad hangover.
- Vaccines – produced with specific substances in mind (for example, heroin vaccine), they prevent a person from experiencing the pleasure that a drug gives them. The downside is that vaccines won’t prevent the person from taking a different kind of drug that gives a similar pleasurable feeling.
- Naltrexone – applicable for addiction to either opiates or alcohol, this popular medication for addiction blocks certain opiate receptors in the brain, thereby reducing the cravings.
- Naloxone – categorized as a “pure opioid antagonist,” this medication does not block the brain’s opioid receptors, but instead reverses the effects of narcotics. As this can increase the withdrawal symptoms if administered alone, it is often paired with buprenorphine.
- Mirtazapine – while not exactly an addiction medication, it is used in the treatment as an appetite stimulant since most patients undergoing withdrawal symptoms and detoxification typically lose the drive to eat.
Treatment Programs: Private vs. State-Funded
Like getting an education, where you have a choice of enrolling in a private or a public school, going to a drug rehab center to get treatment for addiction is also a choice between private and state-funded centers. Both can provide good quality care and positive results.
This kind of rehab program is funded by the government, usually at state level, and provides treatment to those who don’t have the financial capability or the insurance to seek help from private centers. There is limited funding for each individual, and certain qualifications must be met first before the person is accepted into the program.
Usually, there will be a long waiting list, and once you are accepted, you can expect a relatively short stay so that the center can accommodate others. While it will try its best to assist you in your quest to be rid of drugs for good, the program simply doesn’t have enough resources and manpower to see you through a longer process.
On the other hand, private drug rehab centers will usually have on offer different treatment options and programs that suit a patient’s needs and wants. Of course, this entails costs that the patients themselves or their families must shoulder, but the outcome may well be worth it.
Unlike state-funded programs, there is usually no waiting list for private rehab centers, and you can check in whenever you need to. You can also determine how long you can stay for treatment and the kind of therapy or program that you would like to have, which can be any of the following:
- Treatment for co-occurring mental and drug use disorders – it’s not only the substance use disorder that will be addressed, but the mental health disorder as well, which may have been the cause or the result of the addiction.
- Executive drug rehab – aimed at professionals and corporate executives, the program aims to develop further the patient’s skills in communication and stress management in addition to treating the addiction.
- Faith-based treatment approaches – these will revolve around the individual’s religious beliefs and practices.
- Mind-body-spirit connection – this is a holistic program that includes meditation, yoga, massage, and tai chi among others.
- Gender exclusive – for those who may feel uncomfortable getting treatment alongside members of the opposite sex, there are programs just for men or for women.
- LGBT – exclusive to members of this community, the program aims to provide a most comfortable environment where individuals can freely express themselves.
- Upscale program – for those who can afford it, this offers luxurious amenities such as spa treatments and private lodging to make the treatment process endurable.
Private centers also offer organic food and chef-catered meals, as well as recreational facilities where patients can work out and indulge in their favorite sports. They will also have private rooms and different settings and locations.
Types of Treatment Programs
While individual programs and treatment approaches are continuously evolving and being developed, they generally fall into three categories: long-term residential treatment, short-term residential treatment, and outpatient treatment.
Long-Term Residential Treatment
Best characterized by the therapeutic community model, this type of treatment cares for its patients 24 hours a day, usually in a non-hospital setting and for a period of 6 to 12 months. Its aim is to help the individual become a productive member of society once again, with focus on personal accountability and responsibility.
Patients are made to confront their distorted beliefs and destructive behavior and then helped to discover for themselves a better alternative of interacting with others. The treatment program can be designed to fit specific needs of patients such as teenagers, homeless persons, women, people with serious mental illnesses, and those in the criminal justice system.
Short-Term Residential Treatment
Equally providing intensive treatment but on a relatively shorter amount of time, this program uses a modified 12-step approach. The typical program lasts from 3 to 6 weeks and is hospital-based, followed by an outpatient therapy period that includes participating in self-help group sessions.
The outpatient stage in the treatment is crucial for the prevention of relapse that is all-too-possible when people in recovery leave the hospital.
Ideal for those who would want to get treatment for their substance abuse but cannot stop going to work or school, this kind of program is offered by outpatient drug treatment centers that provide their service a few times per week in a predetermined number of hours.
The program is flexible and is most effective for those who have mild symptoms, are stable, and definitely willing to undergo the process. The treatment can be held in the office of a doctor or psychologist, in a community clinic, or even via phone (to a certain degree).
What to Look for in a Treatment Program
Perhaps the starkest difference between a state-funded alcohol and drug rehab center and a private treatment facility is the capability of the latter to offer individualized care and customized treatment plans. As mentioned above, government rehab centers don’t have enough financial and human resources to offer the same kind of service that private facilities can.
But even private treatment centers are not created equal, and there will be those that are a cut above the rest. When looking for a private rehab center, it’s important to make sure that the organization has enough facilities and capable staff to create an inpatient or outpatient program that is specific to your needs.
Because there are now literally thousands of alcohol and drug rehab centers across the country, it can be an overwhelming task to pinpoint the best one for you. Knowing what to look for in an inpatient drug rehab center can be of tremendous help.
Additionally, asking the following questions before making the final decision will point you to the right center:
- Can this rehab facility help me get what I want?
While the ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to make the individual become clean, sometimes there are shorter (and more achievable) goals that are just as important and urgently needed. It can be as simple as making sure the patient is able to continue attending meetings for a period of time, or taking medications for addictions. It can also be the completion of a 28-day program, or staying sober after returning home. Determining what goal you want to achieve and asking the potential rehab center if they can be of help should help you decide.
- Does it offer short- or long-term programs?
Some centers only have 28-day treatment plans, which may not be enough depending on the extent of the addiction. Make sure you get proper diagnosis so it can be determined if you will need a longer treatment program.
- Does its program address the physical craving for the substance?
Remember that a person recovering from addiction will have severe cravings that can be overwhelming and leave them in a horrid state. A good rehab center will have tried-and-true methods that are effective in alleviating the cravings.
- Do they teach life skills that will be needed for a sober life?
An ideal drug rehab center will not only focus on the problem at hand, but will also have the foresight to provide patients the skills they will need after they leave the treatment program, such as as coping mechanisms and stress management skills so that they will not turn to drugs again.
- Will you be comfortable (for yourself or for your loved one) with the steps of the program?
Yes, you wouldn’t want to experience additional stress and trauma from a program that is supposed to cure you or your loved one. Each step in the process must be clearly explained, and if you have doubts, that can be a warning sign that the particular center is not for you.
Costs and Payment Options
With state-funded and private alcohol and drug rehab centers available, getting treatment for drug addiction has become accessible to all, no matter your status in life. It’s true that one has more comprehensive programs than the other, but the more important thing is that the disorder is addressed, however basic the method is.
Of course, given the chance, it is often more preferable to get treatment from a private rehab center. And the good news is that many of these provide a lot of options to those who may be thinking they don’t have the money to pay for addiction treatment.
One way to pay for an addiction treatment program is through insurance, although the amount covered depends on the insurer and the health provider. Insurance that may cover drug addiction includes the following:
- Private insurance
- State-financed health insurance
- Military insurance
Even if you don’t have any kind of insurance, again, there are free as well as low-cost rehab centers. You can also look into financing options to get a more comprehensive and effective treatment. This may practically be taking on debt, but think of sober living and consequent productivity as investments that will pay off over time.
To give you a better idea of how much getting free of drugs will cost you, here are some estimates culled from studies and different facilities:
- Detox programs: Expect to pay $1,000 to $1,500 for outpatient detox programs. For inpatient treatment, alcohol or drug detox is included in the program’s cost. The amount also depends on the type of addiction.
- Inpatient rehab: A 30-day program usually costs around $6,000, but it can go up to $20,000 if you’re checked into the more popular centers. For a two-month or three-month inpatient treatment program, the amount is usually from $12,000 to $60,000.
- Outpatient rehab: Less expensive than inpatient drug or alcohol rehab, it usually deals with less severe addiction cases, and commands about $5,000 for a 90-day program. The cost depends on how often and how long the patient goes to the center.
The Role of Support Groups
Ever wonder why home teams in any sport always have a better chance at winning the game than visiting teams? Home-court advantage.
In the National Basketball Association (NBA), that translates to teams winning 60 percent of their regular season games and 64.9 percent in the playoffs. When asked about their success at home, most (if not all) players would say it’s because “they feed off their home crowd’s energy.” In short: moral support.
Going through alcohol rehab or treatment for drug addiction has a higher stake: your life. You definitely need all the moral support you can get. Support from family and friends is always a given, but when you are checked into inpatient rehab, they won’t be there to give you that extra energy.
For this reason, treatment centers always include in their programs the chance for you to find a meaningful support group. That means building connections with people in the center, not just among the staff, but most importantly, with other patients who can certainly relate to what you’re going through.
And even after treatment, having a personal support network is equally important because it is your safety net when you face familiar concerns and issues that drove you to addiction before. Unlike previously when you had to deal with your problems alone, this time there are people who will motivate you to overcome your crisis so that you won’t think of turning once again to drugs.
Mind you, your personal support group need not always be your family or friends. They can be just an acquaintance or even a total stranger who has the skills to lend credible support to you. These may include a counselor or therapist, a religious community leader such as a priest, rabbi, imam, or minister. Sometimes, merely connecting with people who have the same hobby or play the same sports can be just as effective.
So what can a support group do for you? Here are three of the most important benefits:
- It provides you with a better set of friends compared to those you have had before who might have contributed or even encouraged your drug addiction.
- These people are genuinely concerned about your well-being and will listen when you need to talk about the hardships you are facing.
- They will exert peer pressure, but the healthy kind. Instead of telling you to do drugs to alleviate your concerns, they will provide healthy alternatives so you can continue to stay clean.
The Road to Recovery
The recovery process doesn’t end with the conclusion of a substance abuse treatment program. There is always the possibility for relapse due to drug abuse triggers that, if not managed correctly, can indeed lead the individual back to addiction.
It is therefore quite important for people in recovery to get the full support of their immediate family. They also need to resolve conflicts that may have contributed to the individual’s addiction through family therapy.
A family therapy session is usually presided over by a licensed professional. The therapist talks to every family member to get a good picture of the situation in the home, including how each one looks at the drug addiction, when it started, and how the whole family is coping.
The therapist will then device a plan aimed at improving communication within the family and how they can work together to help the recovering member cope with stress that led them to the addiction in the first place.
Staying drug-free after treatment takes a lot of effort and commitment. You can continue with counseling or attending group therapy. You can also get support from family and friends to make sure you continue to stay away from drugs.
But even when all of these things are in place, there’s always the possibility for relapse. This however doesn’t mean the treatment failed, or you and your loved ones failed. Relapse is a normal occurrence during the recovery process. The important thing is for you do everything to get back on the right path again, even if it means going back to rehab. Just remember Robert Downey Jr.’s story for inspiration.
To help you keep off drugs after treatment, here are some ideas to try:
- Keep yourself busy by going back to work or joining a club or doing volunteer work so you will have less time thinking about drugs.
- Renew your faith by talking to your religious leader, or by simply meditating.
- Ask for help if you think you won’t be able to resist the lure of drugs again. It can be from your family or support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
- Stay away from those substances. Avoiding them in the first place is half the battle won.
- Take inspiration from others who were able to kick the habit with finality. Or even from recovery and addiction movies that, while primarily a source of entertainment, can also provide a different kind of perspective to your situation and that you can identify with.
With a strong resolve, continuous support, and a renewed positive outlook in life, you can definitely come out the winner in this battle. Don’t waste the opportunity.
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