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National Mental Health Awareness Week: Bringing Light to Addiction

Mental Health Awareness Week - Dedicato Treatment Center

The week of Oct. 3rd – Oct. 9th is Mental Health Awareness Week. Learn about mental health, addiction, and options for those who need help.

During National Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to shine a light on addiction. Substance use disorders are classified as mental health disorders by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM 5).

Too often, people use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms. Also, substance use disorders can lead to mental health disorders. The two go hand in hand and are considered co-occurring disorders. If given a diagnosis of a substance use disorder, simultaneously treating co-occurring disorders is almost always recommended.

Diagnosing Addiction

An expert will take an extensive evaluation of a person’s biological, psychological, physical, family, and social histories to be given a diagnosis. The eleven criteria used by mental health specialists to diagnose addiction include:

  1. Using a substance in higher quantities or for longer than intended.
  2. Wanting to quit using a substance but unable to do so.
  3. Spending a great deal of time seeking, using, and recovering from using substances.
  4. Cravings and uncontrollable urges to use a substance.
  5. Being unable to take care of responsibilities due to substance misuse.
  6. Continuing to use a substance despite experiencing negative consequences.
  7. Avoiding activities and events to use substances.
  8. Engaging in risky behaviors to continue using a substance.
  9. Continuing to use despite worsening of mental or physical problems.
  10. Increasing tolerance or needing more of the substance to achieve the effect you want.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a period of not using substances.

Who Can Become Addicted?

Anyone can develop a substance use disorder. However, risk factors make some people more susceptible to addiction than others—for example, a person who has family members who misuse substances. Families can pass down genes associated with addiction for generations. Having the gene does not mean someone will automatically have a substance use disorder, and it simply means they may have a higher chance, combined with other risk factors, like a previous trauma.

Experiencing traumas like abuse, surviving a natural disaster, losing a loved one, being bullied, and many others can leave someone with psychological symptoms. Nightmares, flashbacks, and sleep disorders are examples of symptoms that can interfere with daily functioning.

To cope, some people turn to drugs and alcohol. Other risk factors include living in an unhealthy environment or with family and friends that encourage using substances and the age at which a person starts misusing drugs, alcohol, or both. The younger a person is when they start, the more likely they will become addicted.

For some, addiction starts with a prescription for pain medicine or anti-anxiety medicines. They are not aware of the dangers of taking the medication, like tolerance, which quickly increases with prescription drugs.

As tolerance increases, a person needs more of the drug but cannot obtain it from their doctor. They begin doing things they would not normally do to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

No one starts using drugs or alcohol to become addicted. However, the effect substances have on the brain makes it almost impossible to avoid. Next, we explain why.

How Does Addiction Happen?

When someone drinks alcohol or consumes prescription or illicit drugs, the substance enters the body and makes its way to the brain. If taken orally, a pill will travel through the stomach, and some of it will break down during digestion, enter the bloodstream, and then flow to the brain. If snorted or smoked, the medicine will be inhaled, enter the bloodstream, and then the brain.

An injection is the fastest way to feel the effects of a substance since it enters the bloodstream directly and takes mere seconds to reach the brain.

The Hijacked Brain

Once the drug reaches the brain, it signals the release of “feel good” chemicals, or neurotransmitters, like dopamine, which then floods the brain’s reward center. As this happens, a feeling of warmth, relaxation, and euphoria occurs, making someone feel better than they have ever felt before.

The brain produces dopamine naturally but at much lower levels. With drugs and alcohol, dopamine releases hundreds of times more than its natural production.

When the substance makes its way through the body and starts to exit, the brain notices that the brain wants to continue to feel good. It is hijacked, sending signals to parts of the body to create withdrawal symptoms. For some, the only thing that can alleviate the withdrawal symptoms is to continue misusing substances. For others, the brain convinces them they need the substance to survive. Thus begins a vicious cycle that worsens the longer someone continues their substance use disorder.

The good news is that there is a way to break the cycle of addiction.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Finding Treatment Options 

Treatment is like a protective barrier, a layer of armor, between a person and their substance of choice. The more time spent in treatment, the more armor protecting them. Many who are successful in achieving lifelong sobriety follow a step-down treatment plan, starting with detox.

Treatment facilities, like Dedicato Treatment Center, understand comfort is the key to successful completion of detoxification. For some, a medically managed hospitalization is necessary to receive medication to ease cravings and physical discomforts associated with withdrawal. Those who don’t require medication can receive comfort and support in a serene, healing environment.

After detox, transferring to a residential facility is common. Choosing programs with traditional and alternative therapies is beneficial because they heal the whole body, including the mind, body, and spirit.

Intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs help someone transition from a stricter environment back into the home environment and those who need to live at home but need ten or more hours of treatment each week.

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from any level of substance use disorder treatment, call for help. Dedicato Treatment Center knows that the decision to reach out for help could come at any time of day, even in the middle of the night, which is why we have specialists on call 24/7.