It can be difficult to acknowledge that you or someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Admitting that there is a problem, however, is the first and most important step in seeking substance abuse treatment. With the right support, treatment and tools, you can overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol, achieve sobriety, and reclaim your life.
The Cost of Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Drug and alcohol abuse presents a high cost to the individual and the community they belong to. For the individual, this includes the money spent maintaining the addiction and the loss of important relationships. Substance abuse is a public health concern and costs the United States $740 billion per year in health care expenses, lost productivity and earnings, crime, and accidents.1
Perhaps the most heartbreaking is the toll that drug and alcohol addiction can take on an individual person. Misuse and abuse of these substances can cause an assortment of health complications that may continue to persist even after successful substance abuse treatment. In fact, approximately 40 million illnesses and injuries each year are caused by substance abuse. Substance abuse can cause neurological damage, as well as severe illnesses such as HIV or hepatitis, and it can lead a person to commit acts that result in bodily injury and even death.
Prescription drug abuse is the intentional misuse of prescription medications for the purposes of getting high. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 7 million people in the United States took psychotherapeutic drugs like stimulants for nonmedical purposes in 2010.
A person under the influence of drugs and alcohol often behaves in ways that are out of character. Many substances lower people’s inhibitions, leading them to do and say things they normally would not do while sober. For example, a man who loves his wife may commit adultery while drunk. This can result in the loss of relationships cherished by the person.The addiction can also lead a person to enter unhealthy relationships that are physically, emotionally, and mentally harmful.
Lastly, substance abuse can lead to financial and legal trouble. Not only is the person spending money to maintain his or her addiction, but he or she may also need to spend money to dealwith the legal consequences that arise because ofaddiction. The person may be arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example, and must pay bail to be released from jail and hire an attorney to defend him or her in court.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 23.5 million people over the age of 12 needed substance abuse treatment in 2009.
Signs and Symptoms of Abuse
As noted previously, it can be difficult to acknowledge a drug or alcohol problem in yourself or a loved one. Many people with addictions try to downplay or hide their consumption of alcohol or drugs. There are many reasons for this including denying that their consumption is a problem, codependent relationships with other addicts, and feeling embarrassed about their addictions. It is often up to friends, family members, and coworkers to recognize the signs of addiction and encourage the person to seek substance abuse treatment.
Each substance affects people differently, but there are some signs of addiction that are fairly universal:
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms after the person suddenly stops using the substance
- Feeling as though he or she must consume the substance to deal with the stresses of daily life
- Increased tolerance levels requiring the person to consume more of the substance to achieve the same effect
- Uncharacteristic or irrational behavior such as angry or violent outbursts
- Dramatic changes in appearance like weight loss, hair loss, or skin problems
- Loss of interestin previously enjoyable activities
- Loss of important relationships
- Lying to cover up consumption patterns
- Impairedperformance at work, home, or school
- Incessantly borrowing money or stealing money
- Legal, medical, or personal problems associated with consumption of substance
There is usually also physical evidence of drug and alcohol consumption. This includes needles, burnt spoons, empty prescription bottles, bongs, and alcohol bottles. The person may also show physical signs of substance abuse such as bloody noses, dilated pupils, and needle marks. It is important to discuss the symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction with a trained professional.
Approximately 23% of admissions to publicly funded treatment centers were for alcohol abuse. Marijuana and heroin accounted for 17% and 14% respectively. People between the ages of 25 and 29 represented the highest percentage of those needing treatment.
How Is It Treated?
Although addiction to some substances may require specialized treatment, alcohol and drug abuse programs follow the same basic pattern. After being admitted into the substance abuse treatment program, you typically go through an assessment. The addiction specialist will collect information about the type of substance you abuse, how long you have used it, your medical history, previous treatments, and any other information needed to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. A physical examination may be conducted and lab work ordered to check for any co-occurring medical conditions.
“To obtain and maintain sobriety, your system must be cleansed of the substance.”
After the assessment is completed and a treatment plan is developed, you will go through a detoxification program. This is a required step in substance abuse treatment. To obtain and maintain sobriety, your system must be cleansed of the substance. Otherwise, residual drugs or alcohol can cause cravings for the substance and instigate a relapse back into the addiction.
For the most part, the body can cleanse itself on its own, however, your may experience withdrawal symptoms. The specific symptoms experienced will vary depending on the substance you abuse but may include nausea, vomiting, headaches, tremors, sweating, insomnia, anxiety, and body aches and pains. Typically, medication is administered to help mitigate these symptoms. For example, beta-blockers may be given to reduce tremors related to alcohol withdrawal.
You may be prescribed complementary therapies that assist with the detoxification process and/or to treat co-occurring conditions. For instance, many people who have abused drugs and alcohol for a long period of time suffer from malnutrition. If this is your situation, you may be put on a special diet to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to heal. Other therapies may include alternative treatments like acupuncture and herbal remedies.
After detoxification ends, you move onto the next stage of substance abuse treatment. This stage focuses on treating your psychological addiction to the substance and helping you learn the skills needed to live a sober life, which typically involves behavioral therapy and counseling.
After a period of time, the focus of the recovery process will turn to helping you transition back into everyday life. This may include following an aftercare plan and participation in a self-help or peer-support group like Alcoholics Anonymous. The person may be referred to other services as need be. If an individual needs further treatment for a medical condition, for instance, he or she may be referred to a clinic or physician.
Depending on the addiction, you may be prescribed additional medication to prevent a relapse back into the addiction. For example, Antabuse may be prescribed to an alcoholic to prevent alcohol consumption. This medication causes the immediate development of symptoms similar to a severe hangover whenever the person consumes alcohol.
Deciding Which Program Is Right for You
Alcohol and drug abuse programs are offered on an outpatient and inpatient basis. Inpatient treatment requires you to check into a rehab center and remain there for the duration of the treatment program. You have no access to alcohol or drugs and contact with the outside world may be limited. This type of program is good for people that may be in dangerous situations or who want to focus exclusively on their treatment.
Alcohol and Drug Information
Alcohol and drug abuse are defined as patterns of drinking or using drugs (prescription and illicit) that result in harm to your health, well-being, relationships, and productivity. But a person who abuses drugs and alcohol is not necessarily addicted. Still, abusing these substances is a risk factor for developing an addiction because continuous abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Read More
Outpatient treatment allows you to go through the rehabilitation process while at home. You check in with your addiction specialist on a daily basis to provide progress updates and obtain medications. This substance abuse treatment option is best for people who want to maintain employment and who have a strong support network that will help them stay on track.
Which option is best for you will depend on whether or not the addiction specialist thinks it is safe enough for you to go through the detoxification process on your own. Some substances can cause serious medical complications during the withdrawal stage. The addiction specialist may feel medically supervised detoxification is best in this type of situation.
Another factor that may influence which treatment option is best for you is if you have a support network in place that can help you avoid relapse. One of the major disadvantages to outpatient treatment is that access to drugs and alcohol is not limited, which may make it harder to avoid temptation.
Finding a Treatment Center to Meet Your Needs
The types of services offered by substance abuse help centers vary. Some offer limited services, while others can be considered luxury rehab facilities. Although you want to enter substance abuse treatment as soon as possible, it is important to take some time to choose the treatment center that is right for you. The right facility will help you achieve sobriety while the wrong one may not produce the desired results. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you find the best treatment facility.
- How far do you have to travel to get to the treatment facility?
- Do you require special accommodations for a disability?
- What type of services does the facility offer?
- How long would you be required to stay at the center if you elect for inpatient treatment?
- Are friends and family allowed to visit?
- What is the fee for services? What payment methods does the center accept?
- Do you prefer a facility that caters to your religious beliefs?
- What programs are required as part of your treatment?
- Does the center offer referrals to other services after treatment?
- Will the center help you transition to an addiction support group?
It is essential to thoroughly research the rehab facility before beginning treatment. While most facilities are reputable and provide assistance, there are some facilities that have a poor track record or use unproven methods of treatment. Use the Internet to find reviews of the center and learn about the quality of care you can expect to receive. It is normal for any business to have a few negative reviews, however, it is best to avoid treatment facilities that do not have a clear track record of success.
You should also check the reputation of the treatment specialist. If the person provides medical or mental health services, they should be licensed. This can usually be checked online at the licensing website of the state where the person is practicing. However, you may need to call the state department that handles this type of licensing for information about a doctor or clinician.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the difference between substance abuse and substance addiction?
A. Substance abuse is the misuse of drugs or alcohol. This includes uncontrolled consumption of alcohol and using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Substance addiction is the physical and psychological compulsion to consume drugs or alcohol despite the consequences associated with doing so. A person who abuses drugs or alcohol is not necessarily addicted to them. However, it is a risk factor in the development of an addiction.
Q. How long does substance abuse treatment last?
A. This varies from person to person and program to program. However, the longer a person stays in a treatment program, the more successful they will be in attaining and maintaining a sober lifestyle. The NIDA finds that treatment programs lasting significantly longer than 90 days is best for achieving and maintaining a positive outcome.
Q. Are there treatment programs available for older adults?
A. Although substance abuse and addiction is usually associated with young people, prescription drug abuse is a growing problem among adults over the age of 65. There are a number of reasons for this including increased drug availability and different cultural norms. While there are currently no programs that specifically target this age group, a substance abuse treatment program can be just as effective for older adults as it is for younger addicts. The biggest challenge, however, is recognizing a drug abuse problem in an older adult, which can often go unnoticed and, consequently, untreated.
Q. How are people with mental disorders and substance abuse problems treated?
A. In a large number of cases, people who have a drug or alcohol abuse problem also have a mental disorder. Oftentimes, substance abuse arises from attempts to self-medicate. An addiction specialist will typically assess the person for coexisting conditions and treat the conditions and the addictions simultaneously.
Q. Am I required to join a 12-step program after treatment?
A. Unless you are directed to do so by a court order, you are not required to join a 12-step program after substance abuse treatment. However, it is highly recommended that you do so. A 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous can provide much needed support after professional treatment. In addition to providing community-level social support, 12-step programs often offer continuing education and socialization opportunities that can help you maintain your sobriety.
It is possible to overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol. It all starts with making the decision to become sober.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Trends and Statistics.