There are many reasons why people decide to drink and use drugs. But the increasing use of drugs and drinking can come with serious risk and devastating consequences.
Substance abuse affects an estimated 25 million Americans. In terms of people who are affected indirectly such as families of abusers and those injured or killed by intoxicated drivers, an additional 40 million people are affected. The monetary cost to society and the economy because of reduced productivity, property damage, accidents, and health care are astounding. Alcoholism (heavy drinking) afflicts 16 million adults and almost 300,000 children annually. An estimated 21.6 million Americans (age 12 and older) are addicted to other drugs such as sedative-hypnotics or barbiturates, opiates, sedatives, hallucinogens and psychostimulants.
What’s the difference between regular use and addiction?
For many individuals, consuming low or infrequent doses of substances is not uncommon. Sometimes individuals use substances experimentally or casually. If this is the case, serious negative effects should not occur.
If using substances starts to have a negative effect on life, it’s a sign of possible addiction. There are many symptoms and warning signs of substance abuse and dependence including:
According to the American Psychiatric Association, addictive disorders are caused by 10 classes of substances which include (with common examples):
The specific causes of substance abuse are unclear, though they seem to be a combination of hereditary, environmental and social factors.
Substance Use, Mental Health and Treatment
People with depression or other mental health problems are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and drug use. Some may choose to drink alcohol or take drugs to alleviate stress or emotional pain, but doing so often can develop or worsen mental health conditions.
People who use alcohol or other drugs should get checked for depression, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. It’s also helpful to screen for the severity of substance abuse problems. Getting help through education, support groups, or counseling can help get people back on the right track.
Treatment of substance abuse might explore abstinence (staying off alcohol or drugs completely) but often include a variety of therapies. Therapy should explore underlying thoughts and motivations for addictive behaviors and include building self-efficacy and coping with stress. Self-help groups can be effective in helping to establish a support network. In some cases medications such as disulfiram (Antabuse) or methadone may be used with some success to support recovery. Some people find that individual or group support is enough to help, while others need detox or residential treatment.
Tips for friends and family
If you believe someone you know may have substance use issues, there are ways you can help. As previously explained, there are signs and symptoms to watch out for.
Remember your friend or family member may be having a hard time right now. You need to be as supportive and understanding as you can. By letting the person know you care about his well-being, he will be more willing to get the help he needs.
There are a few tips you should remember:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Phone: 877-SAMHSA-7 (877-726-4727)
American Psychiatric Association. “Understanding Mental Disorders.” Washington, DC (2015) http://www.psychiatry.org/mental-health/understanding-mental-disorders
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf
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