What is Substance Use Disorder?
Substance use disorder, often referred to as substance abuse or addiction, is a disease that can affect your brain and your behavior in harmful ways and is characterized by the inability to control the use of legal or illegal substances and drugs. It is important to emphasize that it is a disease and not a moral failure. Like other diseases it can relapse, but it can be treated successfully with a wide variety of evidence-based treatments including counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and in some cases, medications. Your doctor may use the following criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about treatment options or visit SAMHSA.gov to find help if you are experiencing these symptoms.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you're meant to.
- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
- Cravings and urges to use the substance.
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
- Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
Everyone is different, and everyone’s recovery is different. There are many tools to choose from, and if one doesn’t work for you, don’t worry. There are several options to try. Click on the links below for more information:
Counsels can provide support throughout your recovery by helping you identify problem behaviors and by helping you build a successful treatment plan.
Certain medications such as buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone can treat opioid use disorder directly. Additionally, naltrexone can be used to treat alcohol use disorder. Other medications may be prescribed to treat co-occuring mental health concerns. Ask your doctor if these options are right for you.
Peer recovery specialists, or peer coaches, have lived experience with substance use disorders and recover that go beyond what someone can gain through training. They use these experiences to guide you through your recovery journey.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been proven to help people with substance use disorders manage substance use triggers and cravings in a healthy way.
Social Support Groups
There are countless 12-step type support groups for every walk of life. From traditional 12-step programs like AA and NA to secular and science-based groups like SMART Recovery. Most groups offer online meetings.
Recovery capital is all of the resources someone has to support their recovery. These are things that will help you daily not just maintain your recovery, but build your life up around you. These include the following:
- Rest and Sleep
- Friends and family that support your recovery
- Seeking a recovery mentor or sponsor
- Peer support groups
- Peer coaching
- Medication for substance use disorder
- Treatment for mental health issues
- Treatment for physical health issues
- Preventative medical and dental care
Stigma is a set of behaviors, beliefs, and language that can harm people with substance use disorders. Stigma can be described as anything that results from identifying anyone as their disease. It is also the belief that someone with a substance disorder has moral flaws or lacks the willpower to quit. You can’t expect a person with diabetes to will themselves into producing enough insulin. The same goes for someone with a substance use disorder.
One way to rewrite the story of substance use disorder and erase stigma is to use person-first language. How we speak can frame how we think. Person-first language puts the person before the disease. It allows for communication in a way that gives people their dignity. It removes the negative biases and assumptions there might be about a person with substance use disorders.
Harm-reduction is an important and often not talked about way to keep people safe from unintended health consequences and even death when using substances. Usually this conversation centers around injection drug use, but there is a concerning trend to combine fentanyl, a synthetic and extremely potent opioid, with almost any other substance. Many organizations are helping by distributing fentanyl test strips. (link here)
Narcan is another way to stay safe. If you or someone you are close to is in recovery from opioid use disorder, please keep some narcan on hand. Hopefully you will never need it, but it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. (narcan link here)