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Mental Health Matters

Substance Addiction

Alcohol and drug addiction is pervasive throughout American society. Nearly 24.6 million Americans—almost 1 in 10—are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. More than two-thirds of people with addiction abuse alcohol. The top three drugs causing addiction are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers, and cocaine. But substance abuse is not limited to alcohol and illegal drugs. People can also be addicted to caffeine, cigarettes and steroids.

Substance abuse can be an unhealthy coping habit and a form of self-medication. Men are more likely to develop a substance addiction than women. In fact, men are five times more likely to abuse alcohol than women. Alcohol and drug use are ways people cope with and evade feeling emotions.

Signs & Symptoms

It can be very difficult to tell if someone has a substance abuse problem. In the past, addiction was defined primarily by tolerance and withdrawal. However, the cycle of addiction has been detailed to include:

  • Taking the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control use
  • A great deal of time spent in obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance
  • Failing to meet important social, family, or occupational obligations, reducing or abandoning recreational activities
  • Continued use despite adverse consequences
  • High tolerance
  • Withdrawal

The 3 Cs checklist is a concise way to identify the hallmarks of a substance abuse problem. The addict experiences:

  • Compulsion or Cravings (an inordinate focus on obtaining or using the substance)
  • A Loss of Control (using more or for longer than intended)
  • Continued use despite adverse consequences (loss of job, relationships, money)

Tips & Recommendations

The first step toward recovery is having the addict admit there is a problem. Admitting is hard because denial is a powerful defense mechanism that prevents the addict from acknowledging the negative effects that substance use is having on their life. Denial comes from the shame that people feel when they know their addictive behavior is dominating their lives. Acknowledging a substance abuse problem can make one feel that they are weak or incapable of coping with the challenges of life.

If you are in a relationship with an addict, it is important to get help and develop a support system for yourself. A support system can include family and friends, groups and therapy.

Change is possible, but it isn’t easy. Many people have recovered and are recovering from substance addiction.

Dealing with addiction or know someone who is? You are not alone. Seeking a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or other mental health professional to assist with life’s difficulties is a sign of courage and a step towards recovery.

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