What is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse refers to the heavy use of alcohol or illicit drugs, such as cocaine or opioids, to the point that it becomes hazardous or injurious to the user. Individuals who are abusing substances feel a strong desire to continually use a substance or combination of substances (polysubstance abuse). The same individuals will often continue or even increase their usage despite experiencing negative or even harmful consequences as the direct result of their substance use. Repeated use of an addictive substance can lead to dependency or dependence syndrome. Signs of chemical dependency include difficulty controlling use, increased tolerance, intense preoccupation with using, and prioritizing drinking or drug use above other responsibilities. Substance abuse can also cause physical withdrawal symptoms, such as body aches, upset stomach, uncontrollable shaking, and in some cases seizures that can be fatal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 31 million people fall into the category or having a substance use disorder. Disordered substance use is not determined by the amount of alcohol or drugs a person consumes, but by whether the use of drugs or alcohol causes significant functional impairment. Impairment can be physical health problems or the inability to manage basic life responsibilities, like work or school.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health
While the diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder can be made independently, the abuse of drugs and alcohol often coincides with other mental health issues. In these cases, individuals suffering from mental health disorders begin using alcohol or other mood-altering substances to medicate psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. Unfortunately, the use of illicit drugs to medicate mental health symptoms prevents the person in question from learning healthy coping techniques. Drinking and drug use can also negate psychotropic medication prescribed by a doctor to help treat mental illness. In addition to preventing someone from getting healthy, drugs and alcohol can also exacerbate the situation, as repeated use leads to dependency and addiction. Individuals with addiction, coupled with co-occurring mental health concerns, require treatment for their substance use, and also need to be removed from their substance use to effectively treat their underlying mental health issues.
Treating Substance Abuse
Because addiction can have both genetic and environmental contributing factors, there is no one treatment course that fits everyone. Treatment of substance abuse usually requires multiple treatment approaches in order to best ensure long-term recovery. Individuals being treated for a substance use disorder often require different medications, for both withdrawal symptoms as well as to treat post-acute symptoms like anxiety, to be administered by a medical doctor. A combination of therapies, including process therapy and behavioral therapy, is also important because they assist patients in coping with past trauma without drugs or alcohol, and teach patients the skills to manage cravings and negative thought patterns that lead to relapse. Other approaches can include exercise, nutrition, and vitamin therapy, to improve patients physical and mental well-being and undermine the desire to use substances.
At The Delray Center for Healing, our multifaceted approach to treating addiction includes a variety of different interventions, so that every treatment plan can be customized to meet our clients’ individual needs. Unlike other conditions, substance abuse has a much higher tendency of relapse, so we offer comprehensive relapse prevention programming that includes psychiatric care, therapy, and peer support groups like SMART Recovery.