March 21-27 is National Drug and Alcohol facts week and is the perfect time to bring awareness to this very prevalent issue. Unfortunately, Substance Use Disorders (SUD) are all too common in our society today. In fact, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017.
However, although Substance Use Disorders are a very prevalent occurrence, they are often misunderstood- especially by those who are not experiencing them directly. This lack of understanding can make it especially difficult to support loved ones who may be experiencing addiction. In order to provide insight, we will go over general facts about Substance Use Disorders and offer tips on how you may be able to better support family or friends experiencing addiction.
Characteristics of SUD/Addiction:
- Addiction is a disease involving continued use of a substance despite serious substance-related problems, such as loss of control over use, health problems, or negative social consequences.
- Addiction causes changes in the brain’s structure and functioning.
- Addiction can develop slowly and isn’t always easy to see. Many people with addiction can continue to function in some parts of their life, but have problems in other areas.
Common Myths about Substance Use Disorders:
- People have the power to “just stop” being addicted.
There is a common misconception in society that addiction is a choice or is due to a lack of will power on the part of the affected person. It is important to understand that addiction is in fact a disease that affects the structure and functioning of the brain. Substance use can lead to significant changes in the brain, specifically to the reward pathway of the brain. This impairment to the reward system erodes an individual’s self-control and decision-making abilities and creates powerful urges to engage in substance use.
- People with substance use disorders cannot be high functioning or hold down a job.
Many people who have mental health or substance use disorders are highly active and productive members of society. Individuals who have a severe disorder may be unable to carry out regular work, but many people with these disorders can be as productive as individuals without these disorders.
- Addiction is a disease and there is nothing that can be done to treat it.
While addiction is a disease, the brain changes associated with addiction can be reversed with medication, therapy, and other treatment modalities. Recovery is possible.
- If someone relapses, this means that they will never get better.
There is hope even if an individual has a relapse (which is a recurrence of symptoms). Similar to other chronic illnesses such as Type II diabetes, the disease of addiction requires lifelong management. Recovery takes time & effort, and an individual may experience some setbacks. This does not mean that they are not getting better or that treatment is failing.
- There is nothing family or friends can do to help someone with substance use or mental health disorder.
There are many ways loved ones can help an individual with these disorders. Learning more about the disorder, supporting them, and helping them find mental health services are a few examples of how family and friends can help.
Practical Ways to Help a Loved One Experiencing SUD:
- Be willing to have a conversation and approach the issue.
- Use “I statements.” An “I-statement” focuses on your own feelings and experiences. It does not focus on your perspective of what the other person has done or failed to do. It allows you to express your experience in a way that does not attack, criticize, or blame others.
- Be willing to listen.
- Show patience and empathy.
- Encourage them to talk to a professional.
- Remind them that seeking help is a sign of strength.
- Educate yourself on Substance Use Disorders and treatments.
- Help address potential barriers.
- Seek support for yourself.
- Have realistic expectations.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
Resources for families of those experiencing addiction
How to support a loved one:
Myths & Misconceptions: