Understanding Addiction and Substance Use Disorders Can Aid Recovery

Woman smiling in the fresh air outside

In 2020, an estimated 40.3 million Americans age 12+ had a substance use disorder. (SAMHSA, 2021)

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a broad term that covers what used to be called substance abuse and substance dependence. It encompasses more patients, so that treatment can be sought earlier. Also, the “use disorder” construct can be applied to most addictions – drug and alcohol addiction as well as gambling, internet addiction, sex and any other addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disease affecting primarily the pre-frontal cortex and the hypothalamus of the brain. The disease disrupts the function of the brain’s reward center … more specifically, the mesolimbic system, which controls the reward and reinforcement experiences. Over time, increased amounts are necessary to get the same pleasurable affect. The use continues despite negative consequences, over time this causes molecular and biochemical changes in the brain.

Addiction follows a bio-psycho-social model of disease. The biology part is genetics as well as early exposure that put some individuals at higher risk for addiction. The psychological stress can be trauma they experienced growing up or stressors of what they’re dealing with currently. And the social aspects include the forces they have to fight with on day to day basis, the stigma, the guilt and shame brought on by repeated failures to get sober on their own, and the damage to themselves as well as their family, friends and community.

The correct and timely treatment of addiction improves the quality and life expectancy for the client, and the impact goes far beyond. The difference this makes to the family, the neighborhood, and society as a whole is immeasurable.

“Because of this, addiction is more than a disease in my opinion,” says Dr. Talal Khan, Pine Rest Medical Director and Addiction Psychiatrist.

Risk Factors

These factors elevate a person’s risk, although sometimes addiction or substance use disorder occurs without any risk factors present.

  • Mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression
  • History of abuse, neglect or past trauma
  • Family history of addiction
  • Use at an early age
  • Stress
  • Poverty

The earlier the exposure – especially in teen years or earlier – and the more prolonged the exposure, the more impact there is on a person. The majority of those who develop SUD and addiction start using before age 18. The lower the age of first exposure, the higher the incidence.

Warning Signs

Silhouette of person sitting on floor in dark roomThe initial symptoms of addiction are usually hidden. A teenager experiments and is good at hiding their use. So parents need to talk about it with their kids proactively about drug and alcohol use. And if a child or an adult exhibits warning signs, make sure to address it.

  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality, eating or sleep habits
  • Severe mood swings
  • Work, school, relationship and/or legal problems
  • Angry, defensive about alcohol or drug use
  • Blaming others, rationalizing behaviors
  • Loss of interest in activities, friends
  • High risk behaviors

Punishment vs. Treatment

One of the reasons there is so much stigma is because in the past our society decided to punish addiction rather than treating it like other diseases. We have been working hard to undo the stigma associated with addiction, but we still have a lot of catching up to do.

Although some people with addiction do commit criminal acts as part of their addiction, many people never do. And the idea that all addicts are criminals … kicking them out of work,  school or home … is preventing us from helping people get better. Our focus should be on providing help, because the earlier people get help, the more damage and suffering we can prevent.

Seeking Help to Recover

  • Talk to your physician or mental health professional if you think you or a loved one has a problem.
  • Get Help! Alcohol and other drugs require medical supervision during initial withdrawal to reduce physical symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Many people need supportive treatment to assist ongoing recovery – these programs can include residential, intensive outpatient, outpatient therapy and relapse prevention groups.
  • Talk to your insurance provider to help you find resources covered by your plan.
  • You’re not alone – join a recovery group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to get support.

Treatment at Pine Rest

Pine Rest provides a full spectrum of services to people with SUD, addiction and their family members including residential detox, short-term residential, partial hospitalization, medication assisted treatment, intensive outpatient program, group therapy and individual therapy to help individuals get sober and support their life in recovery.

Our family programming helps individuals understand what their family member with addiction is going through and walk that line between being supportive and enabling. Participants receive education on addiction, co-dependency, trust, enabling, and communication and learn ways to cope, set appropriate boundaries, build self-esteem, and assertiveness skills.

Contact Pine Rest for more information. We will work with individuals to find the right level of service, what insurance we can accept, what the cost will be and if your insurance does not cover services at Pine Rest, we will help guide you to resources that can help you.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

‘Overcoming Stigma, Overcoming Addiction’ – WZZM13’s Alive & Well segment (2019)

You are not alone! We can support you or your loved one at every step of recovery.

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