Recognizing Substance Abuse Dependency

September is National Alcohol
and Drug Addiction Recovery Month

Like all behaviors, drug and alcohol use occurs along a continuum. Some of us drink ‘socially’ or use drugs ‘recreationally.’ Others find themselves using substances in a way which leads to some mild impairment in their lives while others use to an extent that can be devastating or even deadly.

A common misconception is that the user does not wish to quit and is content with their use. Most ‘addicts’ desperately want to end their dependency but have had little success because of the chemical and psychological dependence. They may earnestly try to quit but soon return to their habit when attempting to quit without assistance. Therapists, trained in substance use, can help an individual combat their use, help their family, and make recommendations for when medical intervention is necessary.

Not all substances are illegal drugs. Some common household products can be ingested to achieve a ‘high.’ Some drugs are inhaled, such as powdered cocaine, while others are ‘huffed’ such as gasoline and glue. Common prescription medications can be used such as Valium, Xanax, or Oxycodone. Other drugs that are taken in pill form, which are called ‘uppers’ and ‘downers,’ include amphetamines, sedatives, pain killers, and hallucinogens. Injectable drugs include heroin. Smokeable drugs include crack cocaine, marijuana, and cigarettes. Alcohol is also considered a substance and common household products such as vanilla extract made be ingested as well.

There are two distinct categories of problem substance use, abuse and dependence.

Substance abuse involves the recurrent use of a chemical that leads to distress for the individual or people around them. Difficulties can include: (1) not fulfilling major role obligations at work, home, or school such as repeated absences or neglect of one’s children; (2) placing oneself in physically hazardous situations, such as drinking and driving, or (3) legal problems such as disorderly conduct. Also, despite overwhelming physical and social difficulties, such as arguments with a partner or physical fights, abusers will continue their habit.

Substance dependence or ‘addiction’ also involves the recurrent use of a chemical. Individuals who become dependent on substances develop tolerance and/or withdrawal. Tolerance occurs when an individual needs more of the substance to have the same effect and/or has less of an effect when using the same amount. Withdrawal includes physical symptoms that are specific to the substance and/or taking the substance to avoid the withdrawal. Therefore, when someone attempts to quit using it, they often claim to “not feel quite right” and return to their addiction.

Other symptoms of dependence include: (1) taking the substance in larger amounts or over longer periods than was intended; (2) a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down on use; (3) spending a great deal of time in activities to obtain the substance; (4) giving up or reduced participation in important social, work, or fun activities; (5) using despite knowing that it is problem. There are psychological symptoms associated with dependency as well. For example, smokers who use a cigarette during a specific time each day may feel the need to smoke during that time. Alcoholics going to a restaurant with friends may have the urge to drink solely because there is alcohol available.

If you or someone you love struggles with substance use or dependence, there are many ways to find help. Our website Resources page lists some free or reduced fee local resources. At Lepage Associates we have psychologists who specialize in working with users, and family and friends affected by use. Our Addictions & Compulsions group, Co-Dependency Support group, DBT group, and Women’s group can also be helpful. Our Substance Abuse Assessment can help you determine what level of treatment is required for a person struggling with this problem. Our staff would be happy to speak with you and provide more information and guidance.

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