Substance Abuse

When we talk about substance abuse, the conversation is often focused on facts and figures, like those found in a nationwide study released in 2010 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to the survey, illegal drug use rose by 9% from 2008 to 2009, due mainly to prescription drugs, methamphetamine and ecstasy. Meanwhile, nearly 90% of individuals needing treatment for drug addiction aren’t getting it.

While it’s important to understand the magnitude of the drug problem in the U.S., there is also a very human side to substance abuse. Whether its illegal drugs, prescription medications or alcohol, each individual who battles substance abuse is a person who has family, friends, hopes and dreams that aren’t represented in the numbers and statistics of addiction.

No one thinks substance abuse will happen to them, but the millions in recovery know it can and does happen to all types of people: professionals and blue collar workers, parents and children, rich and poor, urban or rural dwellers. The problem of substance abuse is actually far more widespread than most people acknowledge. In fact, some suggest we’re a nation of addicts, each addicted to some substance or behavior.

What is Addiction?

Do you find yourself questioning whether you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem? Maybe you sense there’s an issue or a friend or family member has pointed out a problem, but you want clinical, unemotional proof.

The DSM IV—the diagnostic manual that determines what does and doesn’t constitute an official addiction—defines addiction as being powerless to say “no” to a particular substance or behavior despite long-term pain or other negative consequences.

Drug addiction involves compulsively seeking to use a substance regardless of the potentially negative social, psychological and physical consequences. Other factors, including personality and genetic makeup, can also affect the likelihood of future substance abuse. More than half of those battling an addiction also have a mental disorder that is contributing to their addiction. Whether it’s depression, trauma, PTSD, anxiety or bipolar disorder, these co-occurring disorders often contribute to or even drive the person’s substance abuse. No matter what’s behind the substance abuse, though, it’s clear that physical addiction occurs when repeated drug use alters the brain’s reward pathways.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction can vary according to the type of drug used, but some of the more common ones include:

  • A need for regular use
  • Inability to cut down or discontinue using
  • Using despite negative consequences
  • Using to cope with everyday life
  • Doing things that place the addicted person or others in risky situations while using or in an attempt to obtain the drug

Help is Available

Substance abuse is still often misunderstood. It’s common to see it as a weakness or something that can be overcome by sheer willpower. The truth is, a chemical addiction is a powerful problem that requires professional treatment. While asking for help may be daunting, those who seek assistance find that they can experience a return to health and long-term recovery.