Drug and Alcohol Addiction


Prescription pillsAlthough the general public often assumes anyone in rehab actively set out to develop an addiction, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most people who struggle with an addiction to prescription painkillers originally took their medication exactly as prescribed.

Prescription painkillers are often viewed as safer than illegal drugs, but this misconception can lead people to ignore the warning signs of an addiction until a crisis occurs. Working professionals, busy parents, retirees, or people who are otherwise upstanding members of the community can fall prey to unintended addiction even if they have no statistical risk factors for a substance use disorder. The opioid epidemic does not discriminate when it comes to choosing victims.

According to the CDC, as many as one in four people using long-term prescription opioids will struggle with addiction. Addiction to prescription painkillers is also a well-known risk factor for progressing to illegal heroin use.

Determining if You May Have an Addiction

Prescription opioid painkillers are typically prescribed after surgery or to help a patient dealing with chronic pain from a condition such as cancer or osteoarthritis. When used correctly, these medications can greatly improve a patient’s overall quality of life. However, the risk of unintended addiction is a serious downside.

If you think you might be developing an addiction to prescription painkillers, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I started to need higher doses of my medicine to get the same effects?
  • Am I taking this medicine because I am in pain or am I only taking it because I feel like I might need it?
  • When I haven’t taken the prescription drug at the normal time, am I experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shakes, chills, headaches, or nausea?
  • Do I exaggerate my symptoms or otherwise mislead my healthcare provider to try to obtain additional pills?
  • Do I take medication that I wasn’t directly prescribed?
  • Am I often preoccupied with determining when I can obtain more of this prescription drug?
  • Do I mix my medications with alcohol?
  • Are people close to me expressing concern about my behavior?

If you have a family history of addiction or suffer from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, you should be aware that you’re at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder than someone who does not have these risk factors.

Understanding Psychological vs Physical Dependence

People who use prescription pain medication can be either psychologically or physically dependent. A psychological dependence means you’re taking the medication in anticipation of pain, instead of trying drug-free ways to alleviate your pain, or because you simply like how it makes you feel. A physical dependence means you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try not to take your medication.

If you’ve developed a physical dependence, it’s important not to abruptly stop your medication. Your doctor can help you taper the medication. You may also be able to use special drugs to safely manage withdrawal, such as buprenorphine.

Physical dependence can occur if you’ve taken a medication for a very long time, even if you’ve always followed the doctor’s orders precisely. However, physical dependence can be a warning sign of a substance use disorder.

The Deadly Consequences of Addiction

The formal definition of a substance use disorder requires your use of opioid medication to be causing problems with your daily routine. This can include financial or legal problems as well as performance difficulties at school or work or strained relationships with family and friends.

However, the ultimate danger of addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is a fatal overdose. Opioids depress the respiratory system, which can cause you to stop breathing. Naloxone (Narcan) can temporarily reverse an overdose, but not all first responders have easy access to this lifesaving drug.

Getting Help

If you think you may be developing an addiction to prescription opioids, your first step should be to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. Be open and honest about your medication usage. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Your doctor’s top priority is protecting your health and wellbeing.

If your doctor agrees that treatment for an opioid use disorder is necessary, St. Joseph Institute for Addiction can help. Our campus is located on a beautiful mountain-side in central Pennsylvania, offering a peaceful and serene environment in which to take the first steps towards recovery. We provide detox, counseling, holistic treatments, and access to aftercare resources designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit healing.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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Understanding Marijuana's Effect on Brain FunctionAlthough much is still unknown about the effects of marijuana use, there is ample evidence to suggest that marijuana has both short term and long term effects on brain function. Short term effects are experienced immediately, while long term effects are the result of a prolonged substance use disorder.

Marijuana’s Short Term Effects on Brain Function

When someone smokes marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) quickly enters the bloodstream from the lungs. As the chemical is carried to the brain, it affects the cannabinoid receptors that generate a series of cellular reactions to create the high associated with the drug.

Different areas of the brain have different concentrations of cannabinoid receptors, but the highest density is found in the parts of the brain that control memory, concentration, coordination, and sensory perception. The most compelling evidence of marijuana’s short term effect on brain function is the fact that marijuana is the illicit drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in vehicle crashes.

The most noticeable short term effects on judgement, problem solving, and coordination fade within 24 hours, but effects can still be felt as long as THC is in your system. Regular smokers can have positive urine test results 45 days after their last use, with heavy smokers having positive tests up to 90 days after quitting. During this time frame, it’s common for marijuana users to experience sleep problems and difficulty learning new facts or skills.

Marijuana’s Long Term Effects on Brain Function

It may seem reasonable to assume that marijuana only affects the brain as long as THC remains in the body. However, this is not true. A number of studies have shown cognitive impairment in the brains of those who use marijuana regularly but were not under the influence at the time of evaluation.  

Studies asking for self-reported data have found that heavy marijuana use during the teen or early adult years is linked with poor academic performance, greater unemployment, increased welfare dependence, and lower life satisfaction.

MRI brain scans of marijuana users who began smoking in their teens found impairment in the neural connections between the brain’s left and right hemispheres as compared to their peers who had never used marijuana. This suggests that using marijuana during adolescence can result in poorer internal brain communication. Although the brain can change and develop throughout one’s entire lifespan, the most significant periods of growth occur before age 21.

A New Zealand study found that people who begin using marijuana in their teens had lower IQs in their 30s compared to their childhood test results. The decline in IQ was most significant in the youngest and heaviest marijuana users.

A survey of people who lived with frequent marijuana smokers asked about whether the smokers frequently experienced difficulty with memory or cognitive tasks. The survey found marijuana use that began in the teen years was associated with an increased difficulty in remembering facts and figures later in life.

Marijuana’s Link to Psychiatric Disorders

There have been studies linking marijuana use to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, it is unknown to what extent marijuana actually causes psychiatric conditions.

The same genetic and environmental risk factors that play a role in substance abuse are also linked to a higher risk of mental health disorders. It is also commonly accepted that a portion of people with mental health conditions will turn to marijuana as a way to self-medicate the most bothersome symptoms of their condition. If their mental health issues are properly addressed, they no longer feel the need to engage in substance abuse.

Effect of Prenatal Marijuana Exposure

It is very difficult for researchers to ethically study the effect of prenatal marijuana exposure, but studies following the children of women who self-reported marijuana use during pregnancy have found an increased risk of hyperactivity and developmental disorders. Evidence is mixed as to whether marijuana use is linked to premature birth, but research indicates pregnant women who use marijuana are 2.3 times more likely to experience a stillbirth.

Impact of Rising Potency on Brain Function

Test of confiscated marijuana have shown that THC levels are rising rapidly. In the 1990s, the average THC content was about 3.7%. By 2014, THC content had jumped to 6.1%. The newer practice of dabbing, smoking or eating THC-rich hash oil from a marijuana plant, can deliver more than 50% THC.

Rising THC levels are concerning to healthcare professionals because they are thought to increase the negative effects of marijuana on both short term and long term brain function.

By Dana Hinders

Sources:

https://answers.webmd.com/answers/1176334/how-does-marijuana-affect-the-brain

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-marijuana-stay-in-the-system-67791

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-long-term-effects-brain

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201409/long-term-effects-marijuana-the-brain

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain.aspx

What is a functioning alcoholic?Alcoholism can take many forms. While some people end up on the streets or incarcerated as a consequence of their addiction, many others continue to lead outwardly successful lives while struggling with their inner demons.

About High Functioning Alcoholism

Someone with high functioning alcoholism is able to hold down a job, socialize with friends, and maintain intimate personal relationships while demonstrating a pattern of dysfunctional drinking behavior. High functioning alcoholics still suffer from an addiction, but it’s harder to see evidence of the problem unless you’re looking very closely.

A functioning alcoholic may be able to hide the signs of a drinking problem by restricting drinking only to certain times or in certain situations. However, many functioning alcoholics are successful in hiding the signs of their addiction because they have someone in their life who is unconsciously encouraging or enabling the addiction by allowing them to avoid the consequences of their behavior. For example, this person may loan them money when they’ve overspent on alcohol or make excuses on their behalf when they’re too hungover to go to work or attend a social engagement.

High functioning alcoholics are more common than you might expect. Studies estimate that nearly 20 percent  of alcoholics meet these criteria. Of these functioning alcoholics, about 1 in 3 have a multigenerational family history of substance abuse.

High functioning alcoholics are often intelligent, hardworking, and educated people who are actively involved in the community. They may be your coworker, your next-door neighbor, or your best friend.

Problems Associated with High Functioning Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over time, tolerance to alcohol increases. This leads to increased consumption, eventually to the point where a high functioning alcoholic starts to experience the adverse lifestyle consequences we all traditionally associate with alcoholism.

In cases where a high functioning alcoholic works in a professional role responsible for the safety and welfare of others, the consequences of substance abuse could be disastrous. For example:

  • A doctor could make a mistake that harms a patient.
  • A lawyer’s mistake could land his client in jail.
  • A CEO’s poor business decisions could put the entire company in jeopardy.

It’s also worth pointing out that even someone who drinks excessively while maintaining the outward trappings of a successful life is still causing a great deal of physical damage. Some of the many health problems associated with alcoholism include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Mouth, throat, liver, breast, and/or colorectal cancer
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Gout
  • Seizures
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Nerve damage

Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

Traditionally, substance abuse disorders are defined by having alcohol-related problems with your personal relationships, career, finances, and/or the law. However, identifying a high functioning alcoholic requires taking a closer look at drinking-related behaviors.

Signs a person may need substance abuse treatment include:

  • Engaging in binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women or five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men
  • Relying on alcohol to feel powerful, confident, and in control
  • Drinking to handle mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in the mornings
  • Frequently finding yourself drinking more than you intended to
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Saying things you didn’t mean while you were drinking
  • Having trouble remembering the details of what happens when you were drinking
  • Being secretive or defensive about alcohol use

Dealing with Denial

Denial is the most common challenge associated with getting a high functioning alcoholic to seek treatment. These individuals honestly believe their alcohol use is under control. Since they’re not unemployed or in trouble with the law, they don’t feel they meet the same standard as the alcoholics portrayed in popular culture. In many cases, they think only someone who has hit “rock bottom” meets the criteria for alcoholism.

Staging an intervention is one tactic that may be effective in getting a high functioning alcoholic to seek treatment. An intervention is a structured meeting where friends and family present their concerns to the person who is abusing alcohol or drugs, offer treatment options, and state the consequences for refusing treatment. For example, a wife may share that she is worried about her husband’s alcohol-related health problems and concerned that the children have noticed their father is absent from social events when he’s been drinking. As a consequence, she might state that she wants a separation if her husband doesn’t seek treatment.

Interventions are not 100 percent effective, but a well-planned intervention using the services of a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist could be just the push your loved one needs to get help.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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