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Help With Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

  • Oct 10, 2018
College Students and Binge Drinking: Facts and Tips

College is an exciting and rewarding experience for many students. For many, alcohol can seem like a fundamental part of the college experience, as it may accompany game-day tailgates, parties or social activities. Since drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions, it can act as an icebreaker during situations that may otherwise feel uncomfortable; however, it is important to recognize the potential dangers of consuming large amounts of alcohol, especially over a short period of time.

  • Oct 02, 2018
Can Computer Delivered Treatment Bring Help to More People with Substance Use Disorders?

Nearly 20 million people in the U.S. had a substance use disorder in the past year, according to a recent national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. By age group, this includes about 4 percent of adolescents (12 to 17 years old), 15 percent of young adults (18 to 25) and 6 percent of adults (26 and older). Substance use disorders involve recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs (or both) causing significant impairment and potentially leading to health problems, disability, and problems at work, school or home.

  • Jul 23, 2018
Mental Health Support on Campus: Student-Run Groups Stepping Up

Student-run mental health groups are having a positive impact on college campuses, including reducing stigma and creating a better climate related to mental health care. That’s the conclusion of a new study looking at the peer-run Active Minds program on 12 college campuses in California

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What can you do to prevent relapse?

Preventing relapse to substance use is mainly a matter of becoming aware of the triggers to relapse and either finding ways to avoid or cope with them. Triggers can be external, for example being in places where substances are being used. Stress of any kind (job stress, financial stress, arguments with important people) can also be an external trigger. Triggers can also be internal such as craving, depressed mood, anxiety, hunger or fatigue. The key is to anticipate triggers ahead of time so they don’t come as a surprise and use a plan or coping strategy to deal with the triggers. Usually professional help is needed to gain awareness of and plans to deal with triggers to relapse. There are also very good medications for alcohol, opioid and tobacco use disorders that effectively reduce craving and can help prevent relapse. More

I live with pain and I want help, but I’m worried about becoming addicted to pain medication. What can I do?

Opioid type medications that have potential to lead to addiction are only one way, and probably not the best way, to help manage chronic pain. So the best plan is to try all the alternatives first.

Non-medication interventions such as graded exercise programs, physical therapy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai-chi and a form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) all take some effort but often work very well. Acupuncture may benefit some people living with pain. Many medications that do not have addiction potential can also be helpful for chronic pain. These include anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen; antidepressants like nortriptyline or duoloxetine; or medications often used for seizures like gabapentin or pregabalin.

If you or someone you know does require opioid pain medications to help manage chronic pain, it is reassuring to know that the majority of people who take these medications for chronic pain do not become addicted to them, although anyone who takes these type of medications for more than a few weeks is likely to have some tolerance (less effect of the medication over time) and withdrawal symptoms if the medications are stopped abruptly. More

What resources are available for family members of an individual with addiction?

Al-Anon and Alateen are widely available and free resources for family members. These organizations offer mutual help groups. Members do not give direction or advice to other members. Instead, they share their personal experiences and stories, and invite other members to “take what they like and leave the rest” — that is, to determine for themselves what lesson they could apply to their own lives. The best place to learn how Al-Anon and Alateen work is at a meeting in your local community. Most professional treatment programs also offer family groups to help families support their loved ones struggling with addiction. More

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About the Expert:

Andrew Saxon, M.D.
Professor and Director, Addiction Psychiatry Residency Program
University of Washington
Director, Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education (CESATE)
VA Puget Sound Health Care System
Seattle, Wash.

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Keith’s Story

Keith, a 45-year-old plumber, was referred for a psychiatric evaluation after his family met with him to express their concern about his heavy drinking. Since making the appointment three days earlier, Keith denied having a drink.

Read More

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JULY 23, 2018

Experts on addiction crisis share their insights

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Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths. WITF is releasing more than 60 stories, videos and photos throughout July. This week, you will find stories about education, prevention and community support.

JULY 23, 2018

Addiction Treatment Options

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Jeremy Pitzer, CEO of the Oaks at La Paloma, and Medical Director Dr. Lucas Trautman join OpenLine to discuss addiction and mental health treatment.

JULY 22, 2018

Relaxing patient privacy protections will harm people with addiction

The Hill

The nation is in the midst of a staggering opioid epidemic. Over 115 people die from an overdose each day – and all signs indicate that the problem is getting worse. Unfortunately, of the more than 20 million Americans who need treatment for addiction, it's estimated that only about 7 percent of them will actually receive specialty care. Ending the opioid crisis will require a multifaceted and sustained public health response – but increasing access to affordable quality treatment and encouraging patients to seek and sustain recovery must be the first priorities. We would expect policymakers and medical providers to do everything possible to increase the number of people entering treatment, not take actions that will discourage individuals from seeking treatment. But unfortunately, that's exactly what the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act would do.