Substance use disorders (SUDs), frequently referred to as drug or alcohol addictions, are complex mental illnesses characterized by repeated use of drugs and/or alcohol despite significant substance related consequences that can be seen in thought patterns, behaviors, and physical responses to drugs (American Psychiatric Association. 2013). The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies addiction as a “chronic, relapsing, brain disease” due to changes in the brain that occur once an individual has started using drugs, which can lead to other destructive behaviors (NIDA, 2016a). In 2014, 21.5 million people in the United States 12 and older suffered from SUDs (SAMHSA, 2016).
SUDs can take a major financial, interpersonal, and emotional toll on those suffering from them, and their loved ones. Some people struggle to understand where addiction comes from, or why people continue to engage in substance use. It is important to know that the development of a SUD can be associated with biology (e.g. genetics), psychological factors (e.g. prone to depression), or environmental factors (e.g. frequently seeing others frequently using alcohol).
Substance use disorders are characterized by an increase in risk-taking behavior, reduced control over use, social impairment, and tolerance or withdrawal. If you think you or someone you know might be struggling with substance use, here are some signs to look out for:
– Withdrawing from social activities
– Going to great lengths to get the drug (e.g. skipping work to go get it)
– Sudden changes in mood
– Isolating from family
– Significant changes in sleep or appetite
– Red or glassy eyes
– Sniffly or runny nose
– Reduced effort placed on grooming and hygiene
– Loss of interest in activities one previously enjoyed (e.g. not wanting to engage in activities that don’t involve the drug)
– Drinking or doing more drugs than intended
– Not remembering activities due to drug or alcohol use
– Spending more money than intended on drugs or alcohol
– Engaging in dangerous behaviors to acquire drugs or alcohol (e.g. driving under the influence to get more alcohol)
Furthering negative beliefs or stereotypes, criticizing, or making character judgments about those who abuse drugs and alcohol may make it more difficult for individuals to seek treatment and may actually perpetuate use, but there are plenty of things that you can do to support a loved one struggling:
– Reading this blog is a great place to start, continue educating yourself on substance use disorders
– Express your concerns for them in a calm manner
– Do this in a quiet environment where you can have an open dialogue
– Emphasize that you care for them
– State what you have observed, without casting judgment
– Stay sober during this conversation. If you can, talk to the person when they are sober too
– Encourage your loved one to talk to a qualified mental health professional
– Remember that recovery takes time
– Take care of your own physical and emotional needs, you’ll be more helpful to them if you are treating yourself well
– If you need to, set boundaries around your relationship with the person, your finances, or your property, and do your best to stick them
– Seek out your own support from friends, family, or mental health professionals
Treatment is available and recovery is possible. Therapy can help individuals at any stage in the recovery process. Addiction treatment literature suggests that motivational interviewing can help individuals with substance use disorders foster motivation for change, and determine their readiness for change. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help an individual identify problematic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving associated with substance use, so that alternatives can be developed. Research also suggests that mindfulness practices can be helpful for individuals with substance use disorders by helping them remain in the moment, and manage drug cravings more effectively. If you or your loved one is struggling with addictive behaviors, there are many resources available to assist in the process of support and problem-solving for you and your loved one, including professional counseling. Call (215) 487-2349 or email us at Greenridge@intercommunityaction.org for more information about our counseling services, which include one-on-one therapy with a trained clinician.
Author: Erin Hopkins Stern, M.A.
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016a). The science of drug abuse and addiction: The basics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction-basics
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016 b). Treatment approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2016a). Receipt of services for substance use and mental health issues among adults: Results from the 2015 national survey on drug use and health. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-ServiceUseAdult-2015/NSDUH-ServiceUseAdult-2015/NSDUH-ServiceUseAdult-2015.htm