It can be easy to ignore substance abuse as someone else’s problem. Here’s the thing – it’s not.
Substance abuse impacts everyone’s family and life at one time or another. It does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity. It does not care. It could be your brother, your coworker, or your child. It could be you.
Five Key Facts
- Substance abuse changes the brain. Not only are alcohol and drugs addicting, they change the way someone’s brain works over time to make it increasingly difficult to quit, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Addiction treatment and behavioral therapy can work to help a person quit, but the road ahead won’t be easy because the brain is primed to abuse a substance.
One thing you can be sure of: Stopping substance abuse is not simply an issue of willpower.
- It’s an illness – not a choice. In fact, in Gloucester, Mass., the police department has made a bold move: they will get help for addicts who come to the police station seeking help, not send them to jail, even if they are carrying illegal drugs. In places like the Netherlands, this is standard practice which has led to lower HIV rates through a decrease in injected drugs/sharing needles.
- Substance abuse and mental health issues are often linked; although, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Mental illness can lead to drug abuse, or the abuse of drugs can trigger mental illness symptoms within a person. However, early occurrence can increase later risk of both mental health issues and drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also says that “both drug use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors such as underlying brain deficits, genetic vulnerabilities, and/or early exposure to stress or trauma.”
- Sometimes people don’t see it as abuse. This is called self-medication. And, it can be easy to fall into. Self-medication is when a person attempts to deal with their mental health issues (stress, anxiety, depression, and more) by using drugs or alcohol instead of seeking professional help. The substance they choose might make them feel good for a little while, but ultimately, that just masks any underlying issues. Over time, it takes more and more of the substance to feel better. An article by Dr. Tian Dayton adeptly shows how a person can sink into this dangerous cycle.
- The cost of substance abuse is more than you might think. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs costs more than $700 billion each year related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. The cost isn’t just in dollars and cents – it’s personal too. It affects a person’s health, their social lives, their families, their employment and their quality of life. It can also lead to the spread of infectious disease through the sharing of drug paraphernalia, it can impact the health of an unborn child if the person is pregnant, and it can lead to death.
The bottom line is this: people with substance abuse issues need help, and prevention is the best cure.
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has step-by-step guides to help.
Or, you can start by contacting the government’s treatment locator service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go online at http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/. (This service is supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) This treatment locator service lets you to search for a provider in your area.