Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
What is the most common substance abuse disorder?
The most common substance use disorder globally is alcohol use disorder (AUD). This disorder, often referred to as alcoholism, is characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
Alcohol use disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of eleven criteria, within a 12-month period.
The criteria include issues like spending a lot of time drinking, or recovering from drinking, giving up important social or recreational activities in favor of drinking, developing a tolerance (needing to drink more to achieve the desired effect), experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and continuing to drink even when it's causing physical or psychological problems.
It's important to note that substance use disorders can develop with the use of many different substances, including illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin, and legal substances like alcohol or prescription medications. The prevalence of these disorders can vary by region and demographic group.
Regardless of the substance involved, these disorders can have serious impacts on individuals' physical and mental health, relationships, and ability to work or study. Treatment can often help people with substance use disorders to recover and lead healthy lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, don't hesitate to seek professional help.
Can I go cold turkey to stop abusing opioids?
While going "cold turkey," or suddenly stopping the use of opioids, might seem like a fast way to begin recovery, it's generally not recommended due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms and potential health risks.
Opioid withdrawal can be intensely uncomfortable and, in some cases, hazardous. Symptoms can include severe cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements. In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to serious dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.
Furthermore, abruptly stopping opioid use can significantly increase the risk of relapse. The discomfort of withdrawal symptoms may make it more difficult to stay abstinent, and an individual may be tempted to use again just to relieve these symptoms. If a person relapses and takes the same dose they were previously accustomed to, the risk of overdose is high because the body's tolerance to the substance has decreased.
For these reasons, opioid withdrawal should ideally be managed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which includes medications like methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone, can be used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications work by acting on the same brain receptors targeted by opioids, but they do so in a safer manner that helps to manage withdrawal and reduce the risk of relapse.
In addition to MAT, counseling and behavioral therapies are typically part of a comprehensive treatment program for opioid use disorder. These approaches can help individuals develop the skills and strategies needed to maintain recovery in the long term.
When a person is a substance abuser, don't they realize their life is being destroyed?
Substance Use Disorder, commonly known as addiction, is a complex condition that can significantly impact a person's judgment, perceptions, and decision-making abilities. Here are a few reasons why someone struggling with substance abuse might not fully realize the extent of the damage it's causing to their life:
Denial: It's common for individuals suffering from addiction to be in denial about the extent of their problem. They might underestimate how much or how often they use, or they may not acknowledge the negative consequences that their substance use is causing.
Altered Brain Function: Addiction affects the brain's reward system and impairs cognitive function. This can distort a person's ability to clearly see the harm that their substance use is causing. They may focus intensely on the immediate rewards of drug use while minimizing or ignoring the long-term negative consequences.
Co-occurring Disorders: Many people with Substance Use Disorder also have other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions can exacerbate feelings of denial or self-deception about the extent of the substance abuse problem.
Fear and Shame: Fear of withdrawal, fear of change, and shame about their substance use can also prevent individuals from admitting to themselves or others the full extent of their problem.
Lack of Awareness: Some individuals may not understand the signs and symptoms of addiction, or they may not recognize that they can seek help and that recovery is possible.