Substances of Addiction–All Can Be Deadly

Substances of addiction, no matter what they are, can be deadly. Addictive substances are toxic and addiction is a progressive disease. That means the illness worsens as it goes unchecked over time, and use continues to expose the body and brain to the toxic effects of the substance used. Consequently, it can be lethal in multiple ways. Overdoses can occur, for example, or extended periods of toxic exposure can cause fatal organ damage. Also, addiction can lead to depression, and the end result of that can be suicide. If you have an addicted loved one, most likely your greatest fear is that he or she will die as a result of substance abuse. It is a worry that plagues countless family members who watch an addicted loved one’s illness progress, sometimes rapidly and sometimes more slowly. There are millions of people afraid for their addicted loved ones, and the substances involved are both legal and illegal drugs of various types.

If It’s Legal, It’s Not a Problem

Denial comes in many forms, but if addiction is involved, you can be sure denial is there, too. Not only are addicts in denial at various times, but loved ones are, too. No one wants a problem in their own lives or in the life of a loved, and the addictive process will allow us to think things are fine from time to time.

One of the most entrenched precipitants to denial is that we justify and rationalize our use. For example, many make a distinction between legal and illegal drugs.  In the many stereotypes and erroneous beliefs about addiction that we have, we can believe that you aren’t an addict if you don’t use illegal drugs and that legal substance use is not problematic. This certainly is convoluted logic, but it is the way addiction or codependency can distort our thinking. The body and brain don’t care if your addictive drug is legal or not. They simply respond to the heavy or prolonged use of an addictive substance.

The Addictive Illness and Its Symptoms

The problem is not that addictive substances are legally available, but that prescription drugs can be misused as can alcohol. In the case of prescription drugs, one crosses over to problematic use when using in ways other than prescribed. This may be using in greater amounts, more frequently, mixing with other drugs, or for intoxication rather than treatment. With alcohol, one transitions to problematic drinking when tolerance builds, it becomes a coping strategy for life, and there are negative consequences caused by drinking. All addictions share the same symptoms. To receive the medical diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder–what we commonly call an addiction–at least two of the following symptoms must be present in a 12 month period:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you intended
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using, but not managing to
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance
  5. Foregoing responsibilities and obligations such as at work, home, or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use despite use causing relationship problems
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Repeatedly using substances in risky situations
  9. Continuing to use despite awareness of a physical or psychological problem caused or worsened by use
  10. Tolerance–needing more of the substance over time to achieve the desired effect
  11. Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped or dose is reduced

Are Some Drugs More Deadly Than Others?

Many people ask if some drugs are more deadly than others, or what are the deadliest drugs in America today? There are many ways to answer those questions. For example, opioids–drugs such as prescription painkillers and heroin–are now being used at epidemic rates in the U.S. They are highly addictive and carry a high risk of lethal overdose as one’s tolerance for them increases. However, all drugs are essentially poisons and in the right amounts can be lethal. Further, another substance’s toxic effects may not be as dramatic as an opioid overdose, or onset as quickly. Alcoholism, for example, is reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be involved in at least 50 different causes of death. These include alcohol poisoning (overdose), liver and pancreatic cancer, stroke, and car crashes. The CDC also reports that alcohol consumption is responsible for about 88,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Given that information, a case can certainly be made for alcohol to be one of the deadliest drugs in the U.S. today.

What Can Be Done to Save Lives?

Saving lives from addiction can begin with drug education before a person uses any addictive substance. Beginning substance use early in life is strongly correlated to developing an addiction in later years. Intervention with young people that aims to prevent any experimentation with addictive drugs is important in reducing that risk.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to experimentation. Their normal stages of development leave them curious, rebellious, impulsive and over-confident. They are also sensitive to peer pressure and the desire to belong to social groups. Consequently, they may experiment with drugs for any of these reasons.

Prevention programs used in schools and other community settings have consistently proved effective in reducing drug experimentation among youth. These programs use scientific information to educate about various drugs, their effects, risks involved in substance or alcohol use, and addiction. Such programs can be universal in their outreach, speaking to any young person. Prevention programs are often used to target high-risk youth as well. Both approaches have demonstrated effectiveness.

Treatment Accessibility

Many lives are saved from addiction in treatment programs. Having access to addiction treatment resources can also save years of suffering for those who participate. Fortunately, there are various types of treatment available, increasing the chances that anyone with a substance problem can find the type of help they need.

Addictions are not all the same although they share core commonalities. For example, a Substance Use Disorder has varying degrees of severity. A disorder may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending upon how many symptoms are present at any given time. Consequently, addiction treatment must be geared to what an individual needs at a particular time.

The Right Setting at the Right Time

Addiction treatment takes place in a variety of settings–outpatient clinics, hospitals, and residential facilities, for example. There are also intensive day programs that can be attended while living at home. Additionally, many people are helped by combining some form of treatment with living in a sober community, halfway house, or addiction-informed transitional living arrangement.

Whatever form of addiction treatment is chosen, it needs to meet the needs of the people treated there. Treatment plans need to be specific to each individual, setting reasonable and achievable goals, and to be successful, participants need treatment plans that also take into account their strengths, resources, stressors, abilities, and deficits. Getting to the right treatment setting at the right time can dramatically improve your chances of recovery.

The goal of addiction treatment is to reduce or stop the harm addictive substance use causes in one’s life. Typically, treatment programs are designed to help participants achieve abstinence and sustainable sobriety. Some programs, however, use a harm reduction approach which seeks to reduce the negative consequences of use. Harm reduction can be an early phase of treatment that eventually leads to abstinence.

How Treatment and Recovery Work

Addiction treatment starts with the understanding that you use an addictive substance, and that your use causes problems in your life. Of course, since denial is a cardinal characteristic of addiction, people waiver in their grasp of the problems caused by using even when in treatment. Individual, group and family therapies, as well as educational groups and skills building groups, can help you resolve any denial that continues to linger. Your willingness to participate and take suggestions with an open mind all help you progress through any ambivalence you have. Some people will spend a good deal of time in treatment working toward an understanding of how substance use negatively affects them. For some, making a concerted effort to become abstinent requires a ‘pre-treatment’ process in which ambivalence and denial are addressed. Then, with greater resolution, a treatment that provides withdrawal and detox can begin physical healing from the toxic effects of substances. After detox, treatment geared toward resolving issues that contributed to using can take place. Establishing a detailed relapse prevention plan then prepares one to re-enter the community substance-free.

Recovery is an ongoing process and does not stop when you walk out of the door from rehab. Rather, at discharge from a program, you enter another phase of recovery. Participating in community support groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) is a valuable part of that next stage for many people. Also, aftercare following rehab is an effective aid in your transition to community life while substance-free. Depending upon your individualized needs, your aftercare may involve appointments with an addiction counselor, social worker, a psychotherapist, a physician, nurse practitioner, and/or a psychiatrist. You may also be recommended to attend a group for additional support. In some cases, too, you may have family sessions after rehab.

If You or a Loved One Need Help

If you or a loved one need help because you are using an addictive substance and have problems related to that, reach out today. Recovery and a substance-free life are possible with the right help. If you aren’t certain what you need, or where to go to get the help you need, we can help you. We offer a free consultation to clarify your needs or those of a loved one, and we will make recommendations for treatment options that meet those needs. We also help you clarify what options your insurance covers so that your admission to a treatment program goes smoothly.