What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse, more commonly known as drug addiction, is a disease which affects a person’s brain and in turn, his or her behaviour, resulting in an inability to control the usage of drugs in the form of medication or illegal drugs. Addiction means that the person continues to use the drug even though it will cause irreversible harm in the long term.

How does substance abuse start?

Substance abuse normally starts with the experimental usage of drugs in social situations like gatherings or parties where peer pressure starts the ball rolling. Once a person tastes the feeling of “getting high” and the escape provided from all his problems, the situation will slowly repeat itself, which is where addiction starts when the frequency of usage happens increases.

Sometimes a well-meaning friend or relative may share prescription medication like opioids if symptoms seem similar. Opioids are made from opium poppy seeds, and their function is to work in the brain to block out pain and provide a relaxed or soothing sensation. Opioid can have other effects to relax bodily functions, e.g., slower rate of breathing, constipation, confusion, drowsiness and nausea & vomiting.

Though opioids are referred to as narcotics and do relieve pain, they do not fall into the same category as OTC (over the counter) painkillers like Tylenol. Regular use of opioids or other drugs will increase your tolerance and ultimately your dependence on them, i.e., a person will need higher and more frequent dosages to get the same feel-good effects as time progresses and addiction increases. Users find difficulty to face reality without these “life savers”, and attempts (usually feeble) to stop usage will lead to withdrawal symptoms which users do not handle very well on their own.

Apart from opioids, other illegal drugs like heroin, marijuana, all lead users down the same road to addiction.

Symptoms of substance abuse:

There are a few symptoms of substance abuse that can be noticed by the user and people close to him. They include:

  • the absolute need for the drug to block out worries or problems
  • the need to use the drug daily or a few times a day
  • uncontrollable increase in the dosage and frequency to get the same hallucinatory effects
  • drop in work performance, family responsibilities or social activities due to the side effects the drug has on a person’s body
  • problems in school, drop in grades
  • spending of money to obtain the drug, even if you can’t afford it, which ends up in stealing money to buy the drug
  • missing for long hours when using the drug, getting high and recovering from its effects
  • irritability, short tempered and unkept
  • getting into accidents or near-accidents due to reduced reflexes
  • failure to stop using the drug due to withdrawal symptoms

How to diagnose substance abuse?

First of all, it is important for the user to admit he or she has an addiction problem and decide if he wants to genuinely stop the addiction. This realization sometimes comes about when a person suffers from an overdose.

The next step would be to reach out for professional help, as going cold turkey does not work in the majority of cases, especially when the addiction has reached a high level.

Family intervention is extremely difficult with an unwilling addict who sees absolutely no problem with his or her addiction.

The following step would be to see the family practitioner or a doctor specializing in substance abuse, for evaluation and lab tests. An assessment will be done by a psychiatrist or licensed drug counsellor.

Treatment for substance abuse:

There is no quick-fix cure for substance abuse. The doctor or counsellor will suggest several treatment options specifically for the addict, as there is no one-size-fits-all standard treatment. Treatment will depend on many factors, i.e., type of drug used, amount used, duration of addiction, damaged caused, etc.

Treatment programs start off with therapy sessions, either in a group, as a family or individually. Addicts are encouraged to come out and talk about themselves and why they became addicted to a particular drug.

When the doctor feels the addict is ready, the next step would be to start detoxification (detox) or withdrawal therapy. Detox can involve a gradual reduction of the drug, depending on the individual’s condition. Some addicts can be treated on outpatient basis, while others may need to be admitted to a treatment centre. The doctor will explain these options in detail to the patient.

In summary, substance abuse ruins lives, not only of the addict but the family as well. If faced with problems, do turn to family members for advice. If not, there are friends, religious leaders, doctors and counsellors to seek advice from. For severe addicts, it is indeed a deep hole to climb out of, but when there’s a will, there is a way. Cold fact – there is nothing positive about substance abuse.

By Aaron
23rd June 20:50

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