Drugs, Alcohol, and Behavioral Health Q & A

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Q: Do people who are addicted to drugs just have poor willpower?

A: Drug addiction is not a choice but a disease. Taking a drug the first time or first few times may involve a conscious decision, but the drug eventually creates changes in the mind and body of an addict that affect his or her ability to resist. The psychological desire and physical craving for the substance eventually override the person’s self-control.

Q: If someone goes through treatment and relapses, is getting additional treatment a lost cause?

relapseA: Addiction is a chronic disease. Recovery is an ongoing process that involves daily management of that disease. Neither relapses nor multiple episodes of treatment are uncommon. Relapsing does not mean that the addict cannot achieve a lasting recovery; it’s just an indication that treatment needs to be managed more closely. Perhaps a different type of treatment or additional therapy needs to be implemented. As long as an individual is willing and ready to work toward a substance-free life, there is hope for long-term recovery.

Q: Does the brain go back to normal after an addict stops taking drugs?

A: Drug-induced changes in the structure and function of the brain may be long lasting. The degree of damage to the brain and the potential for that damage to be reversed depend on the specific drug (or drugs) that an individual has taken. In general, the longer a person has abused a drug, the more the drug has altered the brain. It’s also possible that a persistent alteration in the brain is a factor in relapses that occur after a lengthy period of abstinence. Although undergoing treatment for chemical dependency may not reverse all of the physical effects of using the drug, many positive changes are likely.

Q: How long does the treatment process last?

A: According to research studies, three months is the minimum duration for most substance abusers to stop or at least substantially reduce drug use. Treatment success does, however, depend on many factors unique to each individual. Those factors include:

  • Length of time the individual has been abusing drugs
  • Type of drug(s) used
  • Existence of mental health issues
  • Existence of physical health issues
  • Use of multiple substances
  • Available support system
  • The individual’s level of motivation to achieve long-term recovery

Q: If I go into treatment, will I have to participate in group sessions?

A: Group counseling sessions may or may not be a part of a specific treatment program. If group therapy is offered, it may be either mandatory or optional. Group sessions can be instrumental in achieving recovery more quickly and are often beneficial for maintaining sobriety. One advantage is the opportunity to interact with people who are experiencing similar challenges. They can offer camaraderie, support, perspective, and helpful tips for handling obstacles. Others on the path to recovery can help keep you focused on following your program, as they may readily recognize the signs that a group member is about to relapse.

Q: How bad are the withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking drugs?

A: Withdrawal is more difficult with some drugs than others. The symptoms can also be more intense for long-time addicts whose brains and bodies have become deeply dependent on the drugs. Possible symptoms include depression, restlessness, sleeplessness, and anxiety. Medications are often prescribed for individuals going through withdrawal, and they can decrease or eliminate many of the typical symptoms.

Q: Why do some substance abuse treatment programs want to do a mental health screening?

drugsA: Addiction is itself a mental disorder. Often, it coexists with some form of mental illness. To ensure that a recommended treatment for substance abuse does not cause another disorder to worsen, many treatment centers recommend or require a mental health assessment. Being aware of a co-occurring mental health issue is also vitally important when medications will be prescribed, as they may exacerbate an underlying condition.

Q: Once I’ve gone through detox, am I in recovery?

A: Recovery from drug or alcohol abuse involves stopping the drug use and ongoing abstinence from the drug. Detoxification is the first step, but a lasting recovery usually requires behavior changes beyond merely stopping drug use. Also important are replacing negative habits with healthy ones, learning new coping skills for stressful experiences, and developing new ways of relating to family and friends.

Q: How do treatment centers make sure that patients don’t use drugs while they’re in treatment?

A: Treatment facilities typically do periodic drug testing to make sure patients are not using while in the program. Knowing they will be randomly checked for drug use is sometimes enough to keep substance abusers from relapsing. If the tests show that a patient has used drugs, the staff can quickly address the situation and, if necessary, modify the treatment plan to reduce the likelihood of future relapses.

Q: After successfully completing a substance abuse treatment program, is the individual cured?

A: Addiction is a chronic disorder. As is the case with other chronic health problems, the goal is long-term successful management of the disorder. Research has shown that prolonged abstinence from drugs can lead to a partial recovery from some of the effects on the body and brain. However, there are many factors at play in creating the addition, and ongoing management of some of those may be necessary for maintaining a successful recovery.

Q: How do patients in treatment programs handle continuing cravings for their drug of choice?

addiction-assessmentA: Treatment programs involve multiple approaches, many of which are designed to decrease the psychological and physical needs for the substance that was abused. Medications can help the brain wean itself off the drug and create a generalized calming effect on the mind and body.

Q: I’ve heard that I’ll have to give up friends and activities that I enjoy if I’m going to stay sober. Is that true?

A: In order to continue to abstain, it may be necessary to avoid friends, places, and activities that encourage you to abuse drugs and alcohol. As you learn new coping mechanisms and discover activities that improve your self-confidence and promote positive behaviors, your previous lifestyle is likely to become less enticing.

Q: How do I know whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is the best for me?

A: The nature and severity of your addiction, your lifestyle and job situation, your health status, and your level of motivation are some of the factors that help determine the best type of treatment for a successful recovery. Drug abuse resources include hotlines that help addicts and their families sort through the many issues that will affect your decision.

Q: What do people get from using drugs? What’s the attraction?

A: Most of the drugs that users tend to abuse stimulate the reward system in the brain by flooding the pathways with the neurotransmitter dopamine. The areas of the brain that are stimulated by dopamine are responsible for emotion, motivation, and a sense of pleasure. When the system is stimulated to excess, which happens when a person takes drugs, the result is euphoria. It’s a powerful reward for taking the drug, which leads the user to use the drug more often.

Q: What protects some people from becoming drug addicts?

A: People have risk factors that can lead to addiction and protective factors that reduce the risk for becoming a substance abuser. Research indicates that genetics are responsible for 40 to 60 percent of the risk for addiction. Those with mental disorders have a higher risk of abusing drugs than the general population, as do adolescents. “Research indicates that genetics are responsible for 40 to 60 percent of the risk for addiction.”In general, using drugs at a young age increases the potential for abusing them. The way drugs are taken has an effect on the likelihood of abuse, as well. Injecting or smoking drugs puts them into the user’s system very quickly, but they wear off almost as fast. That can lead to a desire to take more of the drugs to repeat the high, which often leads to a cycle of addiction.

Q: Can I overcome addiction with a group like Alcoholics Anonymous instead of treatment?

A: While some people have had success with a self-help group alone, it can be more effective to first seek professional treatment. It’s especially important if there are underlying mental or physical disorders that might complicate the detox and rehab processes. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous can, however, be an effective complement to inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Q: My best friend has a drug problem. How can I make him stop?

A: Unfortunately, you cannot force someone to overcome an addiction. You can, with the help of a trained professional, conduct an intervention. During an intervention, people who care about the substance abuser confront him or her with information about the effects of the addict’s behavior on them. In the end, however, it is up to the individual to choose whether to follow a treatment program or continue using drugs.

Q: I’m ready to get treatment for my drug addiction, but I don’t want anyone to know I’m entering a treatment facility. Is it possible to keep it a secret?

A: Treatment centers are available across the United States, so it’s possible to enter a facility at a considerable distance from your home town. In addition, privacy policies ensure that information about your treatment is kept confidential. It can be helpful to have your family involved in the treatment process, but it’s not required in most programs.

Q: Family members have told me I have a drinking problem, but I don’t think I do. How can I find out who’s right?

A: A counselor trained in the area of addiction recovery can conduct an assessment to help determine whether you are addicted to alcohol. Together, you and the counselor can decide whether you have an issue that could benefit from treatment.

Q: What is a dual diagnosis treatment program?

A: These programs involve the simultaneous treatment of a mental disorder and an addiction. Treating both issues increases the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Q: What is an aftercare plan?

A: When a patient has completed the rehab process, it’s important to establish a plan for maintaining recovery. An aftercare plan outlines an approach that addresses potential pitfalls and provides alternatives for handling them should they arise. It also offers proactive steps the patient can take to promote long-term recovery.

Q: What is detox?

A: Detox is short for (detoxification). It involves removing the substance to which an individual has become addicted. Detox is handled in a controlled environment, and medication may be administered to lessen the side effects of withdrawal.

Q: What is a behavioral addiction?

A: Behavioral addictions involve a dependency on a voluntary behavior. Similar to an addiction to a chemical substance, a behavioral addiction begins with the desire to increase pleasure, relieve stress, and/or escape from discomfort. When engaging in a certain behavior achieves the desired effect, the addict is encouraged to repeat the experience. When the desire becomes a compulsion that drives an individual to engage in the behavior despite negative side effects such as financial problems, shame, withdrawal from others, neglect of responsibilities, or a breakdown of close relationships, the individual has become addicted. Behavioral addictions include:

Q: What’s the difference between someone with a high sex drive and a sex addict?

A: People with a sexual addiction use sexually based activities and fantasies as a way of coping with stress, emotional conflicts, or intimacy issues. Seeking sex isn’t a matter of gratifying a physical urge for the addict; it’s a compulsion to achieve a level of arousal in order to avoid painful situations in the addict’s life. Sexual addiction shares similarities with cocaine, compulsive gambling, and amphetamines in the effects it has on the brain. Chemical dependency often co-occurs with sexual addiction.

Q: What part does denial play in addiction treatment?

A: As long as an addict is in denial about his or her dependency on a substance or behavior, he or she is unlikely to seek treatment. Denial assures the addict that there is no problem. They, therefore, feel there is no need to take steps to stop using the substance or engaging in the behavior. The first step in getting treatment is moving beyond denial and recognizing that a problem exists.

Q: What is addiction recovery?

A: Recovery is a comprehensive term that describes the process of turning away from a focus on obtaining and using a substance or engaging in addictive behaviors and then turning toward a more balanced and productive life. Recovery does not represent an end point, as it is an ongoing process.

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