Is Substance Abuse Counseling Right For Me?
Binge-drinking on the weekend vs. popping a few pills to get by: When does substance use qualify as substance abuse?
…unfortunately, this one of those “depends on whom you ask” scenarios.
As a general rule of thumb, however, “substance abuse” extends beyond the casual, infrequent, and recreational use of drugs and alcohol. The designation is typically reserved for substance use that impairs functioning in everyday life—exacting romantic, social, familial, occupational, educational, medical, or legal costs. This distinction can be a little bit tricky, however, because high-functioning substance users can experience subtle-to-no repercussions in most aspects of their lives.
Substance abuse transforms into “addiction” when the user develops a physiological and psychological dependence on the drug—you attempt to acquire more and more of the substance but its consumption produces a dampened effect (i.e. “chasing the high”); and you experience symptoms of withdrawal upon cessation.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Substance Abuse?
The most commonly abused substances in the United States include: alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and drugs (prescription opioids (e.g. Vicodin, Percocet), cocaine, sleep aids & tranquilizers, and heroin). General indicators of substance abuse/addiction may include:
- Cravings for drugs & alcohol that motivate you to seek out the substance in higher and higher quantities, with an acquired tolerance building over time
- Withdrawal symptoms of nausea, vomiting, sweating, elevated heart rate, muscular aches, mild to intense anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, or seizures that coincide with attempts to cease use of the substance
- Denial: adamantly denying (when confronted) or concealing your substance use from others
- Education/Work: the substance negatively impairs your performance in academic or occupational spheres (e.g. poor grades, absenteeism, losing your job, or ending up on thin ice with your employer)
- A decline in interpersonal functioning (instability in familial, social, and romantic relationships)
- Self-isolation or developing destructive friendships with other substance users
- Legal consequences: receiving a DUI, DWI, public intoxication citation, jail time, assault or larceny charge, or losing custody of your child
- Financial problems:
- Missing payments: auto, rent, credit card, and more … to support your substance habit
- Borrowing money or stealing from loved ones to fund your drug and alcohol consumption
- Physical indicators:
- Disheveled appearance
- “Dead”, bloodshot, dilated, glazed, or “bug” eyes
- Insomnia or fatigue
- A depressed or enhanced appetite; weight fluctuations
- Psychological indicators:
- Anxiety, shame, depression, irritability, mood swings, or anhedonia (an absence of pleasure/enjoyment for formerly pleasant activities)
- Memory or concentration disturbances
- The appearance of paranoid, delusional, or hallucinatory behavior
- Suicidal Ideation – Please seek help immediately if your substance use makes you feel out of control—especially if you think you might be in danger of harming yourself or someone whom you know!
How Can Substance Abuse Therapy Help My Addiction?
Many individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol often have a co-occurring psychological condition that encourages substance use as a method of “self-medication” to alleviate the distressing symptoms of the original condition. Effective counseling for addiction will:
- Identify this underlying condition—whether anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, sexual or physical trauma, etc.—and challenge your assumptions about the substance serving as a “valuable” coping mechanism. Your therapist will help you to evaluate how your substance use affects yourself and others and help you to identify effective alternatives for coping.
- Connect you with resources that are appropriate to treat your form of substance abuse. Your therapist may recommend 12-Step or support groups to supplement your treatment, a Harm Reduction model of therapy (which involves managing your substance use in lieu of complete cessation), alternative therapies (mindfulness, meditation, or psychotherapeutic yoga), or inpatient care/rehab to provide you with around the clock professional/medical care while you recover.
- Your therapist may also recommend family or couples counseling to assist others in best learning how to support you, to resolve conflicts related or accessory to your drug use, to equip others with coping mechanisms for understanding your condition, and to address issues of codependency (where one partner or family member unintentionally enables your addiction).
Recovery from addiction is a life-long journey—and it may be the hardest thing you ever do—but it’s a worthwhile process that you deserve undertaking!