Alcohol and Drug Use
In 2020, 40.3 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year (SAMHSA). These disorders are brain-based chronic health conditions and are as common as asthma or diabetes. Unfortunately, in 2020 only 10% of those who suffer sought treatment (SAMHSA). This is too often due to the stigma associated with having an addiction.
Generally drugs and alcohol are used for stress relief or fun, a way to unwind at the end of a long day. The drugs we use can make us feel more euphoric (cocaine) or relaxed (alcohol). For example, when cocaine enters the body it releases a surge of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), namely norepinephrine and dopamine. Meanwhile, alcohol enhances inhibitory neurotransmitters such as gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). This makes us feel calm, relaxed, and maybe even a little more confident than usual.
Why Does Addiction Happen?
Life is stressful. Some of us have difficulty finding healthy ways to cope and relax. It’s easy to turn to alcohol and other drugs instead. Alcohol is perhaps the most socially accepted means in our modern culture. It’s celebrated in advertisements, television shows, movies, and song lyrics. Meanwhile, cannabis is becoming more accepted as well, as more states begin to allow possession for medical and recreational purposes.
Problems usually don’t develop when alcohol and other drugs are used in moderation. However, there are risk factors that can make us more likely to develop an addiction. People who have family histories of addiction are more prone. Those who begin using alcohol and drugs at an early age are also at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. Persons who struggle with anxiety and depression, and use substances on a regular basis to cope, also have a higher risk of developing an addiction. Chronic stress and pain are easy to relieve with alcohol or narcotics. Past and current traumas can leave psychological and physical wounds that are soothed by substances. A cycle develops. Cravings begin. There is a need for more “just to get by”. The damaging effects follow soon after.
The Costs of Addiction
When someone has been using a substance for a long time, the neurotransmitters in their brain are affected. Their brains begin to expect the drug and its effects. Eventually a tolerance can develop, and they need more of the substance to feel “normal”. They can develop cravings for the substance. Without it, they will begin to experience uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms can potentially be fatal if not treated and monitored by a physician (particularly for alcohol, opiates/opioids, and benzodiazepines).
Addictions can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, sex, gender identity, background, or social status. Addiction does not discriminate. Without proper medical and psychological intervention, the person will continue to crave the substance. They may go to any lengths to get it. This leads to problems that affect not only the person with the addiction. They affect their family, friends and others who care for them.
Consequences of addiction can include:
- Frequent hangovers
- Experiencing blackouts when drunk (meaning you don’t remember periods of time and what happened while intoxicated)
- Being late for work or missing work
- Relationship issues (dishonesty, infidelity, theft, violence)
- Physical problems from long-term use (lack of concentration, memory changes, organ complications [e.g., liver, kidney, and heart issues])
- Legal consequences, including DUIs, public intoxication charges, possession charges, and incarceration
- Losing relationships, including family, friends, and partners
- Job loss, often leading to loss of home and property
- Alcohol poisoning or overdose, which can be fatal
Early Addiction Recovery
Recovery is possible with a trained, licensed professional such as myself. The sooner someone recognizes and admits there is a problem, the easier it will be to address it. This is difficult but not impossible. It can prevent many of the health, financial, and legal issues listed above.
Recovery starts with an assessment of your current use of alcohol or other drugs. We will discuss how it has affected your life and for how long. From there I can determine the best course of treatment. The therapeutic relationship works best when there is understanding and mutual respect. Developing a trusting relationship is imperative to good outcomes in therapy. Each session will be focused on new skills that help you achieve stability. In addition, I will teach you strategies to cope with stress in a healthy way. This will help improve the chances that you will be able to maintain sobriety. Optimally, you will continue to stay sober when faced with stressful situations.
The journey to sobriety is not easy. However, the rewards are worth the effort. They are an investment in your health and relationships. Everyone deserves a chance to improve their life. Everyone deserves a second chance. If this sounds like you, I want you to know you are worth it. My hope is to help you stop substances from limiting your life.
Take Your Life Back From Addiction
The time to act is up to you. If you are ready to take charge of your life and take control of your addiction, please reach out. However, if you’re not ready, I encourage you to take a look at the following links. I hope they will encourage you to take action.
For families and friends of persons with addictions:
Articles on addiction, drug use, and alcoholism:
- NPR: In ‘Dopamine Nation’, Overabundance Keeps Us Craving More (discusses dopamine and its role in addiction)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder (discusses the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment methods for alcohol abuse and dependence)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics (discusses the study of drug use and addiction)