Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance abuse is generally defined as the use of any psychoactive substance to the extent that it severely affects physical health and wellbeing, social functioning, relationships and personal responsibilities. It is widely thought that substance abuse refers to the consumption of illegal drugs. In fact legal drugs, either legally or illegally obtained, may feature in substance abuse.

Substance abuse increases risk of addiction

Substance abuse and addiction are often wrongly conflated. This is perhaps unsurprising as substance abuse and substance dependence have been combined by some experts into a single diagnostic category of substance abuse disorder covering a range of severity. Substance abuse may well indicate a high degree of susceptibility to addiction in some people.

Commonly abused substances

The most commonly abused substances are alcohol, marijuana/cannabis, nicotine, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, cocaine (and other stimulants) and opiates. Steroids, hallucinogens and volatile substances are also abused. Some experts argue that caffeine and refined sugars should be included. While people may have a “drug of choice”, it is rare nowadays for people abusing substances to restrict their use to just one chemical.

An inherent dilemma – wanting to have the “benefits” without the harmful consequences

Substance abuse creates problems which impel the person to seek help. However at this point it is probably the more or less conscious aim of the person to find a way to continue their use of the substance but without the range of harms that come with doing so. It is therefore essential at the beginning of the treatment process to undertake a thorough assessment. 

Assessment and Treatment

As well as focussing on substance quantities, frequency and history of abuse, the assessment will encompass physical and mental health, previous treatments, family and the person’s wider social situation. It will be important to understand the person’s treatment goals and the resources (or lack of them) that they bring to achieving those goals.  If they desire to continue using the substance, the risks of doing so need to be carefully examined and a harm reduction approach initiated. In devising a treatment plan with the individual, safety will be the top priority. The plan should introduce personal strategies to enhance physical and mental wellbeing.

Non-residential treatment option

Depending on its severity, treatment for a substance abuse disorder can be undertaken with the help of a non-residential specialist service, which will look to reduce risk and improve personal resources, including positive social support. The involvement of families is strongly advised. A lifestyle that supports substance misuse will be respectfully challenged with alternatives being explored that would bring greater meaning, purpose and self-fulfilment to life.  Underlying and co-existing problems such as trauma can be addressed.

Residential treatment

A residential substance abuse treatment service is probably the choice for those seeking to end their relationship with a substance completely. While taking time out from the pressures of an unhealthy environment, medical supervision can oversee safe withdrawal and related health issues while specialists work holistically on the psycho-social aspects of the disorder.

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