Addictions: Alcohol and Substance Abuse

An addiction can strike a person when they least expect it, as they’re trying to handle an increase in their workload, childcare or child-rearing, mental health issues, family issues, or for no reason whatsoever. It often begins innocently — trying to relieve the stress of everyday life, or just to try something new. Before the person knows it, they’re turning to the drug or alcohol as a way of coping with any negative feelings or stress in their lives. They may find they need more and more of the drug or drink in order to gain the same benefits from it. Efforts to scale back or to stop altogether are difficult or next-to-impossible.

Drug addiction and alcohol addiction is usually not easily overcome on one’s own. Most people who face an addiction to a substance or alcohol need additional help.

There is no single right way to treat a drug or alcohol addiction. And while popular groups like Alcoholics Anonymous preach that abstinence is the only way you can kick an addiction, others believe that learning to undo the behavioral cues that lead a person to drink or take drugs in excess is a more realistic and healthy goal (ala Moderation Management). At the onset of your treatment, you’ll have to figure out what path works best for you and your needs.

Addiction informationThere are many different terms used in drug addiction to describe the problem. Older diagnostic manuals differentiated between those who abused a drug or alcohol and dependence upon the drug, but the DSM-5 doesn’t. The DSM-5 (the newest diagnostic manual of mental disorders) simply refers to substance use disorders to describe any addiction to any drug or alcohol (with different codes that identify the substance being abused). For the most part, all of these terms — addiction, drug abuse, substance abuse, alcoholism — can be used interchangeably.

We’ve compiled this library of addiction information and resources for you to explore. We encourage you to take your time with these resources, print out things you’d like to read more carefully, and bring anything you have additional questions about to your family doctor or a mental health professional.

The good news is that addictions are readily treated nowadays, typically with a combination of psychotherapy and social support. Don’t be put off by the number of things written about addiction — because it’s a serious mental illness, a lot has been written about it! Read what you need, and leave the rest for another day.

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