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Understanding Drug Abuse and Treatment

Chemical dependency and substance use disorders fall under the category of mental health disorders. The term drug abuse is sometimes used to differentiate between the use of intoxicants other than alcohol. Addiction has long been a challenge in the United States. While addiction happens all over the world, Americans are responsible for consuming more than our share of both prescription controlled substances and illicit drugs per capita.

The rise in the popularity of opioids which began in the 1990s has led to skyrocketing addiction rates as well as some alarming overdose statistics. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 92,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2020 and the majority of these were opioid-related deaths. It is believed that a combination of aggressive marketing of pain medications by pharmaceutical companies combined with increasingly potent and available street heroin contributed a great deal to these worrying statistics.

The Science of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is a complex behavior and the illness of addiction is still being studied. While we don’t have a complete understanding of the way addiction works in the brain, we know more now than ever before. A great deal of time and money is being invested into combatting addiction because of the toll addiction is having on our country and its people. What we do know is that drug abuse is reinforced by the mechanism of addiction. Addiction occurs because controlled substances act upon the brain’s pleasure centers. They stimulate the production and/or inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters. Specifically, neurotransmitters serve in part as “reward chemicals” (namely dopamine) as well as those we need simply for focus and a sense of well-being.

Some of the neurotransmitters involved in addiction include:

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Acetylcholine
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

Ordinarily, our brains use these chemicals to regulate mood, reward positive behaviors, help us focus, and more. Neurotransmitters are essential to brain function and drug abuse makes them run haywire. By dramatically increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain suddenly, drugs like cocaine and heroin (and all opioids) create intense euphoria. The problem is that nothing in the brain’s natural ecosystem can compete with that.

How Addiction Changes Our Priorities

This is why and how addiction can completely reorder a person’s priorities. When you hear about people letting relationships go, forgetting personal hygiene, and even forgoing food and water as a consequence of drug abuse—This is why that happens. The dump of pleasure chemicals has literally signaled the brain that the drug you just took is THE most important thing in your life. It gives you more pleasure than anything else.

Conversely, if you don’t have that drug after you’ve been using it for a while, you’re going to plummet in the other direction. Way past just your baseline of feeling “OK” and right into feeling awful. The reasons why are complex, but part of it is that you not only don’t have the elevated levels of pleasure chemicals you’re used to but you have also far less than even the normal baseline amount. It’s not hard to understand how the consequence of drug abuse in particular could make a person feel terrible and seriously impact their functioning.

>How Addiction Changes Our Priorities

Overcoming Drug Abuse

Overcoming drug abuse is the biggest life challenge many people ever face. For many, it is literally a matter of life or death, so it is never too soon to get help and there’s no such thing as ‘too much help” for drug addiction. For all the grim statistics, there are good reasons for hope where recovery from addiction is concerned. As we said earlier, the science of addiction treatment is more advanced than at any time in history. There are real, proven interventions for drug addiction that transform people’s lives and enable them to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled existence without the need to pick up a drug or a drink again. It isn’t easy of course. Some hard work is involved, but we the right help and a bit of willingness, we have seen remarkable recovery from drug abuse happen.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Relapse Prevention

Dual diagnosis addiction treatment is the single greatest tool we have to combat drug abuse and chemical dependency. It helps ensure healthy and complete recovery. More than that, it helps contribute to long-term recovery from drug abuse. This is because undiagnosed or untreated co-occurring disorders are one of the biggest reasons for relapse. For many, drug abuse often begins as a coping mechanism or an attempt to “self-medicate” for people who are suffering from an undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorder like depression or anxiety.

Someone who is living with PTSD might turn to alcohol or benzodiazepines to quell anxiety or battle insomnia, for example. When a co-occurring disorder is not identified and treated effectively, however, patients are left vulnerable to relapse. They can receive great care for their substance use disorder, but when the symptoms of an unresolved secondary disorder return, they will find the temptation to seek relief in their drug of preference hard to resist. Not only does great dual diagnosis care improve quality of life, but it also markedly improves outcomes and the odds of maintaining sobriety.

The Sylvia Brafman Difference

Finding the right treatment for drug abuse can be a challenge. The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center is a trusted addiction treatment provider because we specialize in mental health. Unlike most drug rehabs that treat mental illness as an afterthought, we provide careful, thorough assessment and continuous evaluation. We believe this is necessary for accurate diagnosis and truly effective treatment. Addiction is a mental health disorder, but it is only one of many. We believe all must be treated effectively for complete recovery to occur.

We Can Help

If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from top-tier dual-diagnosis addiction treatment, or you have questions about dual-diagnosis care, contact us.


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