“Why am I doing this?” “Just one more time.” “I don’t have a problem.” “Why can’t I stop?” 

“I feel so alone.” “This might kill me.” “I think I need help.”

These are the most eye-opening and frightening statements I’ve heard through my years in the field of mental health and addiction. Millions of people battle addiction and fight for their lives daily when addiction takes control. Addiction has a way of starting slowly and then quickly consuming their daily living. This downward spiral can destroy an individual’s health, family and friend relationships and lead to financial hardships. In addition, someone addicted may be experiencing low self-esteem, self-doubt, confusion, trauma, and other difficulties. There are generally two reasons people use drugs/alcohol; to improve their positive state or deal with their negative state. Those who are using substances are not necessarily abusing, and those who are abusing substances are not necessarily addicted. It’s important to note this difference, especially when it comes to seeking treatment. 

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), substance use disorder includes “10 separate classes of drugs: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens; inhalants; opioids; sedatives; stimulants; cocaine; tobacco; and other (or unknown) substances. All drugs taken in excess have in common direct activation of the brain reward system, which is involved in the reinforcement of behaviors and the production of memories. They produce such an intense activation of the reward system which normal activities may be neglected.” When people begin to neglect their responsibilities such as work, child care, family/friends, or activities of daily living, this may be a sign that an addiction is forming. In addition, loved ones may express concern due to a change in their behavior, routine, and group of peers. 

History has suggested addiction is a choice, but over time and with supported research, the classification of addiction is a disease that over-time changes brain chemistry. Addiction has less to do with morals or willpower and more to do with a chemical and physical dependence on a drug over time. Unfortunately, the negative stigma associated with addiction has resulted in the shaming and mishandling of this disease over the years. The first step in seeking help is when someone acknowledges they have a problem and are not in control of their addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings are great starting points towards recovery. It is a safe space where people battling addiction can convene to listen to speakers, share their experiences, and gain support from the community. These meetings can be open or closed depending on the goal of that meeting. Open meetings are open to recovering addicts, family, and friends, while closed meetings are exclusively for individuals seeking recovery. It is common for people to attend their first meeting with a friend, partner, or family member. If you do not have a support system, you will quickly develop one by attending an open or closed meeting. 

These meetings follow the twelve-step process, which includes several steps to guide people on their road to recovery. The twelve-step process involves a higher power, where one invests their time and faith to develop a sense of self-value. They commit to changing who they are for the betterment of themselves, their families/friends, and society as a whole. They also commit to making amends with those who they have harmed and seek forgiveness in this process. It is an ongoing process for those on the road to recovery as they continue to acknowledge wrongdoings to live a better life. Per the AA/NA meetings system, one may confide in a higher power and in prayer to achieve spirituality. The twelve-step process is the foundation of meetings; meetings are generally an hour long to find comfort in being around others experiencing similar hardships. During these meetings, individuals can discover their sponsor and build the support system needed to manage recovery. 

Additional effective treatments include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is one of the most effective behavioral treatments, and when paired with medication, demonstrates high success rates. Through this form of therapy, people can identify different situations, thoughts, and emotions and develop skills to help people manage or avoid problems when substance abuse may occur. It is essential here to again note the difference between use and abuse. One may be in an environment where the use occurs, either in a restaurant that serves drinks or attending a wedding with an open bar. One of the main goals in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to assist patients with developing new ways of thinking to recognize risky situations and learn skills to refuse substances. It will enable them to apply new skills in the same environment that would previously trigger abuse and addiction. The client and patient relationship are important in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy since they are working together to develop new coping strategies. Connecting with your therapist and building a solid relationship will ensure a positive support system that you can contact when extra support is needed. The help of a therapist and sponsor can positively influence the lives of people who are suffering, experiencing similar situations, and on the road to recovery. If you search for information to start therapy at our practice, please follow this link: Five Easy Steps to Start Therapy at Gateway to Solutions.

Addiction may range in intensity from mild to moderate to severe. The level of severity will determine the necessary treatment. When addiction is present, one may choose to decrease use by themselves without a medical or mental health professional, resulting in adverse side effects and withdrawal. There is a high chance for relapse when detoxing alone due to the intense process and expected lack of support. Withdrawal is painful, extremely dangerous, and even life-threatening to overcome at home. Withdrawal symptoms may include sweats, hot/cold flashes, shakes, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, seizures, etc. Short-term withdrawal typically lasts between 1-3 days, sometimes up to 10 days from last use.  In comparison, long-term withdrawal symptoms may take up to 21 days to conclude. Hospital ER visits and detox centers are the safest places to complete detox, considering round-the-clock nursing staff and additional healthcare personnel to assist. While being cared for by a detox unit, you will be connected with a mental health counselor and given resources for aftercare. 

Aftercare treatment may include an outpatient program, which includes personalized care through weekly program meetings. Short-term inpatient rehabilitation provides customized care while staying in a center for 30-60 days. Long-term inpatient rehabilitation includes personalized care while staying in a center for 90 days. Medication-assisted treatment, receiving daily medication paired with individual care. Halfway house or sober living facilities to ensure a clean environment during and after treatment. These options may feel overwhelming at first, especially while going through the process, but rest assured that having these options and committing to whichever best fits your needs ensures a healthy path towards recovery. 

Therapists, sponsors, social workers, mental health counselors, crisis intervention, detox centers, outpatient programs, inpatient centers, and medication-assisted treatment are all resources utilized for those who are overcoming addiction and seeking a better quality of life. With the focus on treating addiction as a disease, we can remove the blame from the individual and invest in their future. Overcoming addiction is advantageous for anyone struggling and also for their loved ones. This chronic illness has no cure, but overcoming addiction is achievable and can give people a new appreciation for life once accomplished. It is vital to recognize that addiction is a lifelong disease accompanied by a relapse; therefore, short-term or one-time treatment is typically not enough. Recovery can be maintained with ongoing support, therapy with trained professionals, proper resources, education, and effective treatment centers. One can learn to live a new, healthy lifestyle while learning how to navigate everyday issues. 

The first step in seeking help or information may be frightening. You may feel a rush of emotions, limiting beliefs, or even doubt. But, remember, you are not alone, and things will get better. If you or anyone you know is battling addiction and looking for help, we are here to support you. We can offer therapy and guide you in the right direction towards a life of freedom. Therapy treatment for recovery may include goal-oriented talk therapy to develop healthy patterns and thoughts.

Additionally, suppose you’d like to explore resources on your own. In that case, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers excellent resources for substance use treatment centers, mental health treatment, national helplines, suicide prevention lines, and so much more: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. As one may say, the start to recovery is the beginning of the rest of your life.

Disclaimer: While this blog primarily focused on addiction concerning substance use, we acknowledge the prevalence of addiction in other forms such as gambling, food, shopping, sex addiction, etc. Please reach out to Gateway to Solutions directly for assistance with finding the best treatment for you. 

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  2. Sheff, David. Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Print.

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