Alcohol, drug, and tobacco use begins with experimentation and early use. If a pattern of use develops, the use may develop into an addiction, the use may not have to continue for long for addiction to develop. Sometimes, a person may start using alcohol and/or drugs to deal with stress in their lives at work, to cope with family problems, to get some relief from mental health conditions like
anxiety, to treat persistent pain, or to overcome a past trauma (risk factors to mental wellbeing). On the other hand, a person can be under peer pressure to ‘try something new’ and is introduced to alcohol, prescription drugs (like pain medications), or street drugs (such as heroin and cocaine) to fill the ‘boredom’ in their lives. As well, the inappropriate use of common household items for the purpose of getting ‘high’ can be seen in younger individuals (Mental Health in Children and Adolescents). Young people using illicit substances present with a wide range of emotional and behavioral difficulties including change in personality; poor academic performance; fluctuations in mood; anxiety and depressive symptoms; sleep disturbance; and conduct problems.
"I masked my depression with drinking alcohol for many years, I didn't know it was depression I just thought I needed something to help improve my mood"
How substance use becomes a problem
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines substance abuse as the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. These substances alter mood, perception and consciousness by changing the balance of the brain’s chemicals that affect how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It is common for individuals to increasingly use a substance without full awareness. For example, the person may require more and more of the drug or alcohol to get the same experience; the person will often find it very difficult or seemingly impossible to stop.
Characteristics of Addictions
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain functioning. Psychoactive substances, such as alcohol and illicit drugs, disrupt the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory circuitries leading to biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in the person compulsively pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by:
Treatment can be effective and recovery is possible even for someone who has lost hope. Persons struggling with substance use and addiction have the potential to change their lives and move away from the disease, bringing back meaning, growth and opportunity by finding better ways to live. It takes courage and strength to take the first step toward getting help, but it doesn't have to be done alone. Also, families often benefit from support as they work to
help a family member or friend.