Identifying addiction and seeking treatment can feel overwhelming. While it can be difficult to know where to start, our crisis guide can provide answers to your questions.
What Do I Do if There is an Emergency?
Don’t hesitate to dial 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is experiencing a medical emergency related to substance use. Overdose and withdrawal can both be life-threatening, so it’s crucial that medical professionals respond as soon as possible.
It’s a good idea to be prepared for an emergency before one occurs. When someone survives a life-threatening overdose, it’s often because someone else recognized the symptoms and acted fast. Being able to recognize the signs and knowing how to respond to overdose could mean the difference between life and death.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a treatable long-term medical disease that involves a number of complicated interactions between the brain, genetics, the environment in which a person lives and their life experiences.1-3 Brain imaging studies show critical changes in parts of the brain crucial to judgement, decision making, memory, and behavior control among drug addicted individuals. Specialists theorize that changes in brain structure and circuitry explain why people with addiction are prone to relapse, even after living in recovery for long periods of time.1
Though substance use usually begins voluntarily, substance use disorder (SUD) develops over time, gradually resulting in compulsive behavior that continues despite harmful consequences and that threatens—and sometimes fully destroys—one’s ability to function within society.2,3 It’s important to understand that addiction is not a choice, nor is it a sign of weakness: it’s a treatable illness.
How Do I Know if I Have a Drug or Alcohol Problem?
Substance use disorder happens when someone’s use of drugs or alcohol negatively impacts their health, career, academics, or familial and interpersonal relationships.4
There are many warning signs that indicate that you or a loved one may be suffering from addiction. These include:5,6
- Loss of interest in their passions and hobbies.
- Mood swings.
- Missing important gatherings and appointments.
- Depression and exhaustion.
- Drastic change in appetite.
- Isolation and changing friend groups.
- Neglecting hygiene.
- Heightened energy and taking fast.
- Needing larger doses of a substance to achieve the same effect.
- Intense urges to use and prioritizing obtaining the substance over obligations.
- Experiencing withdrawals while abstaining and/or failing in attempts to stop using.
How Do I Start Dealing with My Addiction?
Fortunately, addiction and SUDs are treatable; though the appropriate treatment varies greatly based on the substance the patient is addicted to and the patient’s unique individual physical and mental characteristics. Effective treatment not only addresses the patient’s physiological dependance on drugs or alcohol but any co-occurring psychological, physical, and social problems as well.1
The first step toward treatment and recovery is usually detoxification (detox). It’s important to rid the body of any and all substances of abuse. Medical supervision may be recommended or even required, as severe withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Detoxification at a specialized facility is not always necessary but is crucial in cases where the side-effects of withdrawal are expected to be severe. Sometimes, medication can be prescribed to manage these symptoms or reduce drug cravings.7
While detox is an essential first step, a person who goes through withdrawal and detox but does not continue with psychosocial treatment for an SUD is more likely to relapse and find it more difficult to sustain long-term abstinence.1
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
Once a patient completes detoxification, they are highly encouraged to enter a drug rehabilitation program. The two major categories are inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities—the major difference being that a patient remains at an inpatient or residential treatment facility for 24 hours a day, while an outpatient center requires them to return home after receiving treatment each day.7
The proper course depends on the individual’s needs and characteristics. For example, inpatient treatment is especially advantageous for individuals with living in less safe and stable environments or when the risk of relapse is higher. Outpatient treatment is often prescribed for patients with jobs or strong social support networks and as supplemental treatment after an individual completes inpatient treatment. The services provided by outpatient facilities may vary greatly in scope: some provide intensive levels of care comparable to residential treatment, while others may only provide drug education.8
Both options generally consist of group and individual counseling, prescribed medication, or a combination of both.9
Counseling and Therapy
Counseling/therapy helps patients address the root causes of their addiction and confront the way it has impacted their behavior. It also provides patients with alternative ways of coping, instead of using drugs and alcohol. It often helps patients recognize:10
- The reasons they became addicted.
- The ways drugs have changed them.
- Obstacles that impede their sobriety so they can avoid or overcome them .
- Methods to resolve their issues without returning to drugs or alcohol.
Individual and group counseling may incorporate motivational incentives to reward self-driven positive behavioral change—a process that is known as contingency management.11,12 Group therapy is especially effective at providing social reinforcement of progress in recovery.9
Medication is not always necessary or effective in assisting addicted individuals with their recovery. However, in the case of addiction to certain drugs, mediations can work to:7,9
- Ease withdrawal symptoms.
- Lessen cravings.
- Treat underlying and/or co-occurring psychological illnesses.
It’s important that patients that use medication while managing an addiction do so under the strict guidelines and supervision of a medical professional.
How Long is Rehab?
While facilities that help patients battle addiction vary in approach, evidence shows that treatment is most effective when it lasts over a prolonged period of time. Most patients require at least 3 months of sustained treatment to achieve long-term abstinence from or significantly reduce their substance intake.1
No single treatment works for all patients and adjustments are often vital during continued care.1 Effective individualized treatment is assessed at several stages during the process and adaptations are made when necessary.
How Do I Help a Loved One with an Addiction?
The support of a loved one can make a huge difference for someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. The simple act of reaching out and encouraging them to seek treatment can go a long way. Emphasize that it takes a lot of courage to ask for help because it signifies the willingness to commit to a lot of hard work.
It can be hard to know where to begin. A great place to start is by finding a physician who is available to speak with patients about managing addiction.13
When your loved makes the difficult and courageous decision to begin treatment, there are several ways to help:13
- First, communicate with the treatment center (if your loved one gives you permission) and ask what you can do to support them.
- Tell your loved one you are proud of them and be willing to provide encouragement as long as they adhere to the plan.
- Be willing to attend and communicate during family therapy sessions. Sometimes however, the treatment center may discourage a lot of contact during the initial stages of recovery if family or friend relationships are strained.
- Help your loved one reenter society when they exit the treatment program. You should help them avoid triggers that may promote relapse.
- Refrain from passing judgement or giving lots of unsolicited advice, which might confuse your loved one or make the already difficult recovery process harder. Remember to be patient—addiction is a chronic disease, not a choice.
- Encourage them to reenter treatment if they relapse.
- Join them in attending support group meetings (when the setting is appropriate) or attend separate group meetings specifically designed for families and friends.
Family therapy is becoming an increasingly popular method among addiction specialists. It’s especially useful in situations where a child or adolescent is involved, whether they or their guardian has a substance use problem.14
In these situations, it’s vital that the family system shifts as a whole. Therapists are able to identify and help resolve ineffective and harmful communication habits between using and non-using family members.
Several studies have shown the benefits of family therapy and that when used appropriately, family therapy can dramatically increase the rate of patients completing their treatment and maintaining abstinence.14
Who Can Help Me?
While recovery is difficult—and may require multiple attempts—there is lots of evidence to prove treatment works and that the disease of addiction can be managed effectively, just like with other chronic diseases.
Effective treatment for an SUD will not only help you get and stay sober but also give you the tools you need to avoid and overcome the obstacles that trigger substance-seeking compulsions.
Facing the reality of your substance abuse and pursuing treatment may seem impossible, but know that there is always hope—and help. Contact one of our admissions navigators. They are here 24/7 to help provide you with the guidance, information, and support you need to begin your journey toward health and sobriety.
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