Five steps to help you with substance abuse

Whether it is illicit drugs, prescribed painkillers, stimulants or depressants, drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. Continual use of drugs often results in physical changes inside the brain, causing irreversible damage and memory impairment, alongside negative work performance and decreased general wellbeing, such as depression or anxiety.

The risks of such disease and withdrawal symptoms are rarely brought into mind as people start taking drugs as self-medication or looking for a high or temporary escape from reality. Otherwise innocent prescription medication for ADHD or pain, can in combination with alcohol or other drugs lead to misuse and addiction.

People ridden with stress and anxiety may feel the need to self-medicate to lessen their worries. They assume that regular consumption of a drug will alleviate their problems. Similarly, some students and athletes take performance-enhancing drugs to keep up with the pressure of consistently playing well. Users tend to develop a rapid tolerance to the drugs they take. Addiction occurs when people become fixated on achieving the same effect that they did the first time they took a hit. However, this behaviour may also put them at risk of overdosing. Addicts may not be aware that their behaviour is causing problems to themselves or others.

Known Hallucinogens, like LSD, Ketamine and MDMA (also known as Ecstasy or Molly) cause sensory distortions. Although little is known about hallucinogen dependence, prolonged use may cause people to experience unpleasant hallucination flashbacks long after taking these drugs. Primarily consumed as marijuana, cannabis is a sedative with hallucinogenic properties. A significant portion of what is sold as Molly is actually mixed with other substances and may not contain MDMA at all. It is usually because of a reaction to the other drugs it is mixed with that changes how people will react to it. That makes it hard to predict if a person may develop an addiction.

Consumption of drugs affects the brain’s reward system by producing an excess of dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasurable feelings. Our brains are wired to make sure we repeat rewarding activities, including those associated with drug use. Feelings of pleasure from drug use cause the brain to associate drugs with rewards, which in turn causes cravings. But over time, drug use can diminish self-control, making it difficult for people to stop. Other physical consequences of drug use can include cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, kidney problems, lung disease, even neonatal abstinence syndrome in unborn children.

Scientists have distinguished five steps for substance use rehabilitation

  1. Detoxification

  2. Behavioural counselling

  3. Medication-assisted treatment

  4. Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders

  5. Long-term plan for relapse prevention

The most important part of which is individual and group counselling.

At the Green Door Clinic, we offer intensive support for clients and their families as they move through the rehabilitation process. In therapy we teach patients how to identify and react to addiction triggers in a positive way. Using this approach, therapists help patients explore their inner motivations to change their drug-using behaviour and disregard for the dangers of substance abuse.

This can be combined with family therapy, which focuses on drug use and involves partners and parents to promote group healing. The Green Door Clinic Group Therapy program is a weekly drop in group where recovering addicts, those suffering from trauma, and mood disorders can come to share their progress with peers, supported by specialist therapists.

Here are three things to remember:

  1. Anxiety creates uncomfortable feelings and it is normal to want to escape them. However, remember that anything we do on a regular basis will create permanent pathways in the brain – what we practice we get good at

  2. The brain can only learn from what we teach it. It cannot determine if that is good or bad for us for example teaching it how to walk is good and helpful

  3. Teaching it to rely on substances or behaviours to cope with difficult feelings is not good because both become hard wired in which is very difficult to overcome without a lot of support

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