Do You or a Loved One Suffer from Substance Abuse?

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Recently, substance abuse disorders have grown in public awareness due to America’s opioid epidemic. People are more aware of the devastating effects addiction can have on your life, but the focus on opioids has left many unanswered questions.

  • How do you know when substance use is a problem?
  • What are the signs of addiction?
  • Can other medications lead to addiction?

Or, most of all:

  • Can anyone help me?

There are a ton of questions surrounding addiction. Substance abuse is often misunderstood, especially when it involves prescription medications.

If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, know that you are not alone. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, an estimated 14.8 million Americans struggle with an alcohol use disorder, while 8.1 million suffer from a drug disorder.

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder can be defined as a condition in which one is unable to control their need for substance use, despite the fact that the substance may bring harmful consequences. Someone struggling with a substance use disorder will be so focused on using a certain substance that their ability to function correctly in their everyday lives begins to be negatively impacted.

When someone is struggling with a substance use disorder, their behaviors and thoughts will be heavily affected by the need to use. Despite any financial, behavioral, health, or relationship problems that the substance use may cause, the addicted person will continue to use.

The Physical Effects of a Substance Use Disorder

The disorder affects both the person’s mental health and physiological functioning within the brain. The basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are all physically impacted by drug use.

The basal ganglia is a part of the brain associated with motivation and is part of an area known as the “reward circuit.” The reward circuit is activated when dopamine is released among the basal ganglia. Drugs release dopamine to the basal ganglia, triggering the reward circuit, giving the user a temporary high. Overexposure to the high can negatively impact the brain’s ability to feel euphoric from anything other than the drug.

The extended amygdala is associated with stressful emotions. As one continues to use, the sensitivity of the extended amygdala increases, which is why the withdrawal phase of drug use can leave one so irritable and stressed.

The prefrontal cortex is associated with problem-solving and self-control. As the substance impacts this area of the brain, the user’s ability to control their urges can become drastically diminished.

How Do You Know When Substance Use is a Problem?

When one begins to use a substance, their brain is at risk of becoming addicted due to the changes mentioned earlier. Once the addiction starts to take hold on a person, they may begin to encounter a wide variety of issues, like money problems, relationship woes, and a loss of healthy motivation.

Substance use has become a problem when a person begins to prioritize using. Despite knowing this, it isn’t always easy to tell if you or your loved one has developed a substance use disorder.

Different people may handle their addictions differently. However, there are a few signs and symptoms you can watch for to determine if you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder.

Physical Signs of a Substance Use Disorder

  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • A change in the size of pupils
  • Strange body odor
  • Deterioration of appearance
  • Constant runny nose
  • Impaired cognition
  • Tremors

Behavioral and Psychological Signs of a Substance Use Disorder

  • Continuing use despite negative consequences
  • Relationship issues
  • Loss of motivation outside of obtaining the substance
  • Reckless behavior with substance
  • Constantly getting into legal trouble
  • Sudden lifestyle change
  • A sudden need to continually steal or borrow money
  • Higher tolerance to the substance
  • Unable to control drug use
  • Constant mood swings
  • Feeling anxious or paranoid for seemingly no reason
  • Loss of motivation or concentration
  • Bursts of energy and fatigue
  • Sudden change in personality

Can Prescription Medications Lead to Addiction?

When one abuses prescription drugs by using them differently than prescribed or using another person’s medications, they run the risk of addiction along with other serious side effects. Potentially addicting prescription drugs include:

  • Stimulants, which can be used to treat conditions like ADHD
  • Opioids, which can be used as a painkiller
  • Benzodiazepines, which can be used to treat conditions like anxiety

This is precisely why these medications cannot be purchased over the counter in your local drug store. Misuse of prescription medications can have dire health effects.

Tips for Helping a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

Helping a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder is not easy. However, it can be so beneficial to their recovery. A few tips for helping a loved one struggling with addiction include:

Educate Yourself

Establishing a better understanding of addiction and substance abuse can be highly beneficial to helping your loved one with their addiction. You can learn about addiction counseling near you, substance abuse treatment options, and so much more through a bit of research. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available to those looking to learn more about substance use disorders. You can find some excellent articles and videos on the web, or check out some free books from your local library to help you learn more about what your loved one is going through.

Establishing Trust

Addiction can harm the bond between the addicted and their loved ones. The person struggling with a substance use disorder may break their loved one’s trust by stealing or lying to them. The loved one trying to help the addicted person may break their trust by criticizing, judging, attacking, or using substances themselves.

If your addicted loved one has already broken your trust, you may feel some resentment toward them that is affecting your ability to help and support them on their path to recovery. Strengthening the trust between the two of you will be a critical first step in helping your addicted loved one get the help they need.

Even though you are trying to help your loved one begin their path to recovery, they may think you are only trying to control them. It is important to remember that it is ultimately up to the person struggling with the substance use disorder to begin fighting their addiction. You have to allow them to make their mistake and deal with the consequences (unless the mistake could cause them or somebody else serious harm).

It is also important to remember that your trust matters, too. Do not allow your loved one to stomp over your boundaries. If they break your trust, it is okay to stand up for yourself.

Be Prepared for Resistance

It can be difficult for some people to admit when they are struggling with addiction. Be prepared for your loved one to resist your help. There are a ton of reasons they might not accept help in the beginning. They may not be ready to admit that they have a problem, feel embarrassed, or just don’t want to give up the substance.

Know that it is ultimately up to the addicted person to face their addiction and begin their path toward healing. If they are not ready to do this, nothing you say or do is likely to change their mind. You can only support them and help them take small steps toward recovery. The rest is up to them.

Take Care of Yourself First

Supporting and helping an addicted loved one can truly take a toll on your well-being. Make sure you are prioritizing your mental health and wellbeing in this journey. You will not be able to help your loved one if you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. So, prioritize your health, take a break when needed, and seek the help of a therapist or support group if you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, alone, or depressed.

Finding Addiction Counseling for a Substance Use Disorder

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, know that you are not alone. Substance abuse can be a complex and terrifying issue to face. It is so important to remember that there is help out there for you. If you have decided you are ready to pursue substance abuse counseling, contact us today.


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