UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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Drug and alcohol addiction can be difficult to battle. This article aims to make it a little easier by providing the information and resources that you will need.
Types of Alcohol and Drug Addiction
An important first step in confronting addiction is identifying the type of addiction. Some of the most common substance addictions include heroin, cocaine, hallucinogens, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs.
Heroin is most often injected, but may also be smoked, sniffed, or orally ingested. The risks associated with heroin use are high because users become very quickly dependent on the drug. Heroin abuse carries serious health risks because the drug interferes with brain receptors, potentially leading to seizures, hallucinations, and psychosis. Heroin use always requires professional rehabilitation because the symptoms of withdrawal may be life-threatening.
Cocaine is most commonly abused by snorting, smoking, or injecting the drug. Physical side effects include increased blood pressure and heart rate, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke. Effects on mood include restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. Extended cocaine use is often associated with financial and legal problems. Professional treatment is recommended.
Hallucinogens such as PCP (phencyclidine) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are addictive, and cause users to see, hear, and experience things which are not real. While on the drug, individuals lose touch with reality and often enter states in which they feel as though their minds and bodies are not connected. Because of this, individuals may do physical harm to themselves or others.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance. Increasing social acceptance, as well as the legalization of the drug in some states, can make it difficult to give up, while masking its addictive potential. Most people with an addiction feel that they don't have a problem. Often those around addicts don't sense a problem either. Yet, while marijuana may not be as physically addictive as many other drugs, it can be powerfully psychologically addictive and interfere with goals as well as daily activities.
Not everyone that drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, but anyone whose life consistently negatively affected by the consumption of alcohol is considered to have an alcohol abuse disorder. One of the first effects of alcohol is a decline in feelings of anxiety or stress. However, it also impairs motor function and judgment, increasing the risk of bodily injury to oneself and others, especially while driving. Alcohol abuse can damage many organs, including the liver, heart, and pancreas; as well as impair brain function over time. Because alcohol consumption is embedded in our social framework, professional help is often necessary for breaking the addiction.
Prescription medications and some over the counter medications are increasingly being abused. Commonly abused categories include opioids prescribed as painkillers after injury, stimulants prescribed to treat ADHD, depressants used to reduce anxiety and promote sleep, and prescription-strength cough syrup. When abused, all of these classes of drugs lead to the increase of dopamine, a hormone in the brain's reward pathway, making them difficult to give up without support and intervention.
Signs of Drug or Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
It is important to be able to recognize the signs of addiction. Although symptoms will vary depending on the substance in question, they all share a persistent need for the drug. This can manifest in many ways, including the feeling that one has to use the drug regularly, an obsession with securing a supply of the drug, taking more of the drug over time because the original amount no longer satisfies the craving; experiencing withdrawal symptoms during an attempt to stop the use of the drug; and neglecting responsibilities.
Signs of Substance Abuse in a Friend of Family Member
Recognizing the symptoms of addiction in a friend or family member can be trickier – but chances are that if you're suspicious it is because you have some reason to be. Some signs include neglect of obligations, lack of energy and motivation, secretive behavior, changes in behavior, withdrawal from family members, and altered sleep patterns.
Listed below are resources you can visit for more information about the signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Narconon: Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use
- Help Guide: Drug Abuse and Addiction – Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse
- Mayo Clinic: Drug Addiction – Symptoms
- DrugFree.org: Is Your Teen Using? Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse
- Drug-free World: How Ritalin Abuse Starts
- GoodTherapy: Drug and Substance Abuse
Intervening with an Addict
Because an addict is often in denial or unwilling to seek treatment, an intervention staged by friends or family with the help of professional guidance is often the best course of action. Individuals struggling with addiction may not recognize the connection between the problems they experience in their lives and their substance abuse, or they may be unable to break the cycle. This is where outside help can be of critical importance. Following some general intervention guidelines can make the process manageable. Some tips include finding an intervention specialist trained in breaking addicts out of their denial, forming an intervention group, becoming educated about drug addiction, and being prepared for emotional outbreaks. For more information on how to stage an intervention, visit the resources listed below.
- NCADD: Intervention Tips and Guidelines
- DrugAbuse.gov: Conducting a Brief Intervention
- SCSAT: Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse (book)
- SAMHSA: Prevention of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
- University of Minnesota: Stress, Anxiety, and Addiction: Intervention Strategies
- University of California San Francisco: Research on Addiction and Intervention Lab
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment program, but every program should aim to stop the use of drugs and keep the individual drug-free. Generally, treatment will include several or all of these steps: detoxification, counseling, medication if needed, evaluation and treatment for co-occurring conditions, and long-term follow-up. Treatment programs are either inpatient or outpatient. Other options include support groups and addiction counselors. For more information, please visit these resources:
- Genetic Science Learning Center: Addiction Treatments Past and Present
- Addiction Resource: Homepage
- NIH Senior Health: Treating Substance Abuse
- US Department of Veteran Affairs: Summary of VA Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems
- Center for Disease Control (CDC): Substance Abuse Treatment
Treatment and Health Insurance
Major considerations when it comes to choosing a treatment option are the cost and health coverage.
Understanding Your Coverage and Limits
It is useful to know what your health insurance plan covers before you look for a treatment program. All marketplace health insurance plans cover mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment. In some cases, Medicaid and Medicare can also pay for treatment.
Inpatient and Outpatient Care and Costs
Addiction rehabilitation programs can vary hugely in price. Luxury programs tend to charge more for amenities and higher staff to patient ratios. Inpatient programs are usually more than outpatient programs. However, outpatient treatment programs can vary greatly in their offerings and price. Resources about health insurance coverage for addiction treatment and treatment of co-occurring illnesses:
- HealthCare: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coverage
- MentalHealth.gov: Health Insurance and Mental Health Services
- Medicaid: Behavioral Health Services
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
- University of New Hampshire: Resource Guide for Addiction and Mental Health Consumers
- Georgetown University: Substance Abuse, Facing the Costs
Providing Support to an Addict During Recovery
Addicts reduce their risk of relapse by surrounding themselves with a healthy group of friends and family. Often drug abusers turn to substances to lower their anxiety in social situations, but having a friend can reduce the stress of feeling awkward or being alone. Friends can also keep an addict on track. It helps with self-esteem to have your own personal cheerleading team that cares about your success. Resources on support groups and self-help guides:
- Harvard: Self-Help and Support
- Wakeforest University: The Role of the Counselor in Addiction Recovery
- University of Utah Health-Care: Use the Right Words to Support a Recovering Alcoholic
- Kennesaw State University: Advising Students in Recovery from Addiction
- Overdose Free Pennsylvania: Post-Treatment Recovery Support, The Future of Long-Term Recovery from Addiction
- RecoveryMonth.gov: Treatment and Recovery Support Services
Lesson Plans and Resources for Educators
- US Department of Justice: Learning to Live Drug Free – A Curriculum Model of Prevention
A curriculum on drug prevention provided by the US Department of Education, meant for teachers of kindergarten through grade 12.
- You for Youth: Drug and Alcohol Prevention Resources
This is a great guide for parents seeking resources on drug and alcohol prevention in kids. Included are links to science programs educating kids about their brains, why they should protect them, and the effects of drugs.
- Metropolitan Police Department: Fun and Safe for Kids
This guide offers resources to help educate children about safety in a variety of issues, including online safety, school and neighborhood safety, and drug awareness and prevention.
- SWAT: Allies: Priority Academic Student Skills
Provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, these grade specific lesson plans are meant to teach students about the physical and social consequences of tobacco use.
- Ohio Department of Education: Prevention Works, A Guide to Red Ribbon Throughout the Year
This resource offers classroom materials for teachers for Red Ribbon week as well as throughout the year.
- Food and Drug Administration: Teachers' Kit: Student Program – Grades 6 through 8
This curriculum guide offers a resource for teachers of grades 6 through 8, and discusses medicines in the home.
- Office of Adolescent Health: Adolescent Health Resources for Educators
A list of free resource materials from federal agencies that support teaching and learning about adolescent health.
- Gustavus Aldophus College: Drug and Alcohol Trends Daily Lesson Plan
This is a ten-day teacher lesson plan for high school students designed to educate students about drugs and alcohol.
- Just Think Twice: Facts and Stats
A smart compilation of articles about drug facts, statistics, and trends.
- University of Missouri: Peer Pressure
A resource guide focusing on sites that teach older students how to combat peer pressure.
- TheCoolSpot.gov: Peer Pressure “Bag of Tricks” – Role Playing Lesson for Middle School Students
This is a single lesson plan for students learn how to recognize and combat peer pressure.
- Drug Enforcement Administration: Just Think Twice Teacher’s Guide
Lesson plans for high school teachers looking to incorporate the Just Think Twice program.
- North Dakota Prevention Resource and Media Center: Free Materials
This is a resource guide on alcohol, drugs, and social problems like bullying and gambling.
- California State Board of Pharmacy: Drug Prevention 4 Teens
An extensive drug abuse prevention guide for teens, in the form of a textbook chapter.
- Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs: Pushing Back, A Digital and Media Literacy Curriculum
A curriculum designed to push back on the representation of drug and alcohol abuse among high school learners. It includes exercises and worksheets.
- Olympia High School: Drug Awareness Projects
A classroom unit on drug prevention, giving students the opportunity to research topics that interest them in the area of drug awareness and substance abuse.
- Boise State University: Rx for Understanding, Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse
These are a series of easy to use lesson plans for grades 9-12 on the topic of prescription drug abuse.
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