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When Does Substance Abuse Become Addiction?

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When evaluating the statistics on substance use, whether it be alcohol, drugs or any other illicit or legal substance that has addictive properties, it can be shocking to see how many people use on a regular basis. And while substance use is certainly a precursor to substance abuse, not everybody who uses, ends up abusing.

Substance abuse and addiction are often lumped into one category but are, in fact, quite distinct. Both cause adverse effects but are separated primarily by how the brain and body react to the substance and how the individual continues to use despite negative consequences. Once the user develops a compulsive or uncontrollable need for the substance of abuse, they have started the path to addiction.

Outwardly, addiction is characterized by the continued abuse of the substance regardless of the outcomes and consequences. This is why we often see addicted individuals alienating friends and family, breaking the law despite the threats of being caught and punished and prioritizing their substance abuse over their health and appearance.

Willpower alone is not enough to change.

Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health is Complex

Treatment for addiction is complex and we are learning more about the intricacies of the relationship between the brain and body in an addicted individual. Whether caused by one or the other, substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand. This is known as a co-occurring disorder and our treatment of substance abuse has changed dramatically as we learn more about the mental health component. Indeed, Destination Hope is a leader in treating co-occurring disorders and has always placed an emphasis on mental health treatment that goes hand in hand with substance abuse therapy.

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When Should One Seek Treatment?

Another hallmark of addiction is denial. Many clients do not know they have a problem in the early stages of addiction. When they do realize that there is a problem, they often deny that it has gotten out of control and rationalize their behavior. Usually, it is those closest to the addict that see the effects of the addiction first. Addicts are often enabled by parents or loved ones who may alternately blame themselves for the addiction or think they can solve the issues without professional help. Often, they take extreme measures to stamp it out. However, this only serves to push the addict further away from sobriety.

Ultimately, intervention by a clinician early on in the addiction is key to successfully treating the disease. However, as mentioned above, most clients will not submit to treatment voluntarily or if they do, they will not be doing it for themselves, but rather to appease their family or friends. This makes the initial phase of treatment very difficult and sadly results in relapse, more often than not.

Is There Any Hope?

It is never too early to try to get your loved one into treatment, even if you know that it may not be successful right away. Clients who remain sober over the long-term are those that have realized they have a problem and truly want to do something about it. These clients typically enter treatment voluntarily and are compliant throughout the treatment process. They also see the best results and the longest period of sobriety.

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Treating addiction and mental health disorders in those who do not believe they have a problem is still a primary challenge, but clearly doing nothing is not an option. However, a supportive family and consultation with our clinical team is always the first and most effective step towards long-term success.

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