It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead. However, treatment can work, and people recover from addiction every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction's powerful, disruptive effects on brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.
Alcoholism, drug dependence, and addiction, known as substance use disorders, are complex problems. People with these disorders once were thought to have a character defect or moral weakness; some people mistakenly still believe that. However, most scientists and medical researchers now consider dependence on alcohol or drugs to be a long-term illness, like asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure), or diabetes. Most people who drink alcohol drink very little, and many people can stop taking drugs without a struggle. However, some people develop a substance use disorder—use of alcohol or drugs that is compulsive or dangerous (or both).
MYTH: An addiction is a moral failing.
FACT: An addiction is a brain disorder. An addiction is an illness, just as heart disease and cancer are illnesses.
MYTH: A person using drugs can stop and just doesn’t want to.
FACT: Drugs can change how the brain works.
MYTH: People who are addicted to drugs can stop and return to normal quickly.
FACT: Drugs can change the brain and how it functions. These brain changes can last for a long time. The changes can cause problems with a person’s behavior.
MYTH: People who are addicted to drugs are bad people.
FACT: People with a drug addiction might be moody, have memory loss, or even have trouble thinking and making decisions. This is because of the changes in their brain from the drugs. It does not mean someone is a bad person.
MYTH: Only certain types of people can get addicted to certain kinds of drugs
FACT: People from all backgrounds can get an addiction. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn't matter if you went to college or not. An addiction can happen to anyone and at any age. But the chances are higher when a person starts using drug when they're young.
MYTH: People who try drugs are weak and should just stop.
FACT: An addiction is not a weakness. Someone who is addicted does not want to remain addicted. They need help just like someone with diabetes or asthma needs help.
Signs of a Problem
People with drug problems might not act like they used to. They might:
- change their friends a lot
- spend a lot of time alone
- choose not to spend time with family and friends like they used to
- lose interest in their favorite things
- not take care of themselves—for example, not take showers, change clothes, or brush their teeth
- be really tired and sad
- have changes in eating habits (eating more or eating less)
- be very energetic, talk fast, or say things that don't make sense
- be in a bad mood
- quickly change between feeling bad and feeling good
- sleep at strange hours
- miss important appointments
- have problems at work or at school
- have problems in personal or family relationships
It’s hard for people with an addiction to stop taking the drug on their own. They might try to stop taking the drug and then feel really sick. Then they might take the drug again to stop feeling sick. They might need help to stop using drugs.
Recognizing unhealthy drug use in family members
Most people who are addicted to drugs can't stop using them just because they want to. Without drugs, they will often feel very sick. They won’t feel better until their bodies and brains stop craving the drugs. Some medicines can make it easier to stop using certain drugs without feeling sick.
But getting a drug out of a person's system is just the first stage of treatment.
People with a drug addiction often stop taking care of themselves and their responsibilities. They focus on getting and using drugs.
People with drug problems might:
- stop taking care of their family, their work, or their community
- People with drug addictions might forget things that matter to them. They have trouble keeping promises.
- stop taking care of their health
- People with drug addictions might not eat or sleep well.
- They might not clean their teeth.
- They might not go to the doctor when they get sick. Their drug use might have caused other health problems.
- stop enjoying the things that made them feel good
Stages of Change
“Harm reduction can be described as a strategy directed toward individuals or groups that aims to reduce the harms associated with certain behaviours. When applied to substance abuse, harm reduction accepts that a continuing level of drug use (both licit and illicit) in society is inevitable and defines objectives as reducing adverse consequences. It emphasizes the measurement of health, social and economic outcomes, as opposed to the measurement of drug consumption.”
Whether you want to quit using drugs or just regain some control, Evergreen Health is here for you. On a daily basis, our team provides clean injection equipment, Naloxone/Narcan® training, HIV and hepatitis C testing, counseling, medication, and most importantly, the respectful and dignifying care that you deserve. Our Harm Reduction Center team will help you be safe, improve your health and reduce the risk of overdose.
Source: Evergreen Health
Evergreen’s Syringe Exchange Program
We provide access to clean syringes and injection works through our free and confidential Syringe Exchange Program. We also provide safer injection information and education about wound care after injection drug use.
Source: Evergreen Health
What is a relapse?
A person who's trying to stop using drugs can make mistakes, feel bad, and start using again. This return to drug use is called a relapse. Relapse is common and normal and happens to a lot of people recovering from drug addictions. People will often have one or more relapses along the way. It takes practice to learn how to live without drugs. Stopping drug use is like trying to diet and lose weight. It's hard to learn to do things differently, like eat less, exercise more, and avoid some favorite foods. It's easy to slip up, eat too much, and gain back the weight. But then you have to try again. It's the same with quitting drugs. People with drug addictions might get treatment, slip up, and then go back to treatment many times before it works. If that happens, the person should get back into treatment as quickly as possible.
Danger of Overdose
For some drugs, a relapse can be very dangerous—even deadly. If a person stops taking drugs and then takes the amount they used before quitting, they can easily overdose. Their body is no longer used to having the same amount of the drug in its system. An overdose happens when a drug causes serious, harmful symptoms or death. This is why it's important to take a treatment plan seriously. Treatment can help to lower the chance of a drug relapse and overdose.
All About Overdose
Recognizing Opioid Overdose
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a person is just very high, or experiencing an overdose. The following will present some information on how to tell the difference. If you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose – it could save someone’s life.
If someone is really high and using downers like heroin, or pills:
Pupils will contract and appear small
Muscles are slack and droopy
They might “nod out”
Scratch a lot due to itchy skin
Speech may be slurred
They might be out of it, but they will respond to outside stimulus like loud noise or a light shake from a concerned friend.
If you are worried that someone is getting too high, it is important that you don’t leave them alone. If the person is still conscious, walk them around, keep them awake, and monitor their breathing.
The following are signs of an overdose:
Loss of consciousness
Unresponsive to outside stimulus
Awake, but unable to talk
Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
Body is very limp
Face is very pale or clammy
Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
If someone is making unfamiliar sounds while “sleeping” it is worth trying to wake him or her up. Many loved ones of users think a person was snoring, when in fact the person was overdosing. These situations are a missed opportunity to intervene and save a life.
It is rare for someone to die immediately from an overdose. When people survive, it’s because someone was there to respond.
The most important thing is to act right away!
Source: Harm Reduction Coalition
Safe Disposal of Drugs
At some point or another, there may be unused medications from a past illness or injury in the home. While it may be tempting to keep them “just in case,” there are some big risks to consider.
- These medications are a significant poisoning risk for children and pets, who may mistake them for candy or other food.
- A drug may be safe for one person, yet a single dose may be fatal for another person.
- The medicine may expire, and not work the way it was intended to. It might even hurt the person taking it.
- The drug might be intentionally misused or abused by teens, or stolen and sold by others.
- Keeping extra medicine around can increase the risk of taking the wrong medicine, or too much medicine.
Safe disposal of prescription drugs, especially opioids, keeps everyone safer. There are anonymous, no questions asked drop boxes throughout the county. To locate one, click here.
For information on how to dispose of your medications from home, click here.
For information on how Prevention Works is helping local communities, click here