What It Is: Substance Abuse
In simplest terms, Substance Abuse refers to the use of any substance in such a way that it causes harm to a person’s functioning or responsibilities. For adolescents, this harm usually most noticeably affects functioning at school, with friends and social settings, and with family. Sometimes the abused substance is an illegal drug, but not always, as it’s the behavior that constitutes the abuse. For instance, one person of age can drink alcohol without abusing it, while another person cannot consume alcohol without abusing it, because of addiction or other factors.
What It Looks Like:
It’s common for people to deny and/or hide their dependency upon and abuse of a substance, both to others and to themselves. Because of this, it can be difficult to identify the symptoms and behaviors of substance abuse, because they can vary so widely for each individual. With that being said, there are a number of symptoms which people with substance abuse problems commonly exhibit, including but not limited to:
- Decline in the quality of school work
- Decline in the quality of other commitments
- Sudden apathy and lack of effort toward responsibilities
- Change in attitude toward social settings and relationships
- Sudden flakiness with commitments, such as being late or not showing up at all
- Sudden change in peer groups
- Other mental or emotional angst, such as symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
One of the biggest challenges to treating substance abuse is people agreeing that 1) there is a problem, and 2) they’re willing to get help in order to address it. This can often involve a battle, because people who abuse substances tend to argue that they have it under control. However, once they agree to seek treatment, there are a number of powerful resources available to help overcome their addiction to the substance and gain back control of living their lives.
Sobriety is often a necessary life-long commitment for someone undergoing treatment for substance abuse, and this can be an incredibly daunting, challenging idea. This is one reason why the most effective and lasting recoveries are with people who don’t try to do it alone, but with the help of a therapist and/or residential treatment staff. A therapist can offer a person physical and mental support as they begin to withdrawal from the substance, understanding as to what they’re experiencing, and provide insight in examining what the underlying stressful issues are and how they can more healthily and successfully be addressed. Once people begin to feel safe and supported in looking at those underlying emotional issues, they can feel a renewed sense of hope that change and improvement is actually possible.
Often one of the most powerful types of therapy for people struggling with Substance Abuse is group therapy. Because it’s often difficult for people to identify the effects and severity of their own substance abuse, talking with others can provide an honest mirror that reflects the severity of their own situation. Beyond this, a group can also create a sense of accountability and encouragement among people who are speaking honestly about what they’re experiencing and what efforts they’re making to change. Lastly, group therapy provides a safe environment where people feel understood and acknowledged, regardless of the struggles they face. This acceptance and non-judgment can be a powerful motivating force on the road to recovery.
In certain cases, medications are part of treatment for substance abuse problems, especially in the case of addiction and/or severe withdrawal symptoms. These medications can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with the symptoms of quitting a substance, and also help with related stress and/or other physical symptoms. Medication should only be taken in combination with seeking therapy with a counselor.
What if I’ve tried to stop using before and I can’t?
Unfortunately, one of the difficult things about treating substance abuse is people often don’t succeed on their first attempt. It’s very common for it to take more than one try for a person to get sober, and even then, the challenge doesn’t always go away. That may sound like bad news, but we think of it as good news, because it means that it’s not all over if you mess up once. You have to keep trying. And we’ll help you along the way, supporting you every step, on the good days and the bad.
What if I just use a substance to deal with stress?
It’s true that it can be a thin line that divides substance use from substance abuse, but it’s important to be honest about when, how, and how often you’re using the substance. Also, it’s important to try to be honest about what stress you’re experiencing that you’re using the substance for, and whether you’re avoiding addressing things in your life directly. Using the substance may have initially started as a casual, recreational type habit but the nature of addictive substances is use can so quickly increase to addiction. Even if you don’t think you’re abusing the substance, if you’re using on a regular basis, as a part of daily functioning, then you no longer have control, and you should be open to getting help from a professional.