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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

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While many people enjoy gambling for entertainment, for others gambling becomes extreme and out of control, causing distress and problems in their life. While gambling disorder affects a relatively small number of people, 2 percent of the adult population, it can have devastating social, emotional and financial impacts. Older adults may be particularly vulnerable to problems with gambling.

  • Dec 12, 2017
Online Mental Health Screenings: A Potential First Step

Several organizations provide brief online screenings for depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions. More than one million people took screenings through the Mental Health America site alone in 2016.

  • Nov 30, 2017
Direct-to-Consumer Advertising Linked to Changes in Medication Use Among People with Serious Mental Illness

People with serious mental illness exposed to direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of medications are more likely to stop taking their medications than those not exposed to the advertising, according to new research published in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

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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


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.


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.

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JAN 16, 2018

Study Connects Veterans' Addiction Risk to Childhood Adversity

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Results of a national study led by public health scientist Elizabeth Evans at UMass Amherst, along with others at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and UCLA, suggest that risk for alcohol- and drug-use disorders among U.S. military veterans is increased by childhood adversity, and in ways that are different between women and men and different compared to the civilian population.

JAN 11 2018

Opioids and why we call it ‘substance use disorder’

Biddeford Courier

The current opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Overdoses, fueled by opioids, are the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 50 years old, killing roughly 64,000 people last year, more than guns or car accidents, and at faster velocity than the HIV epidemic. The extent of the opioid crisis is astounding. Opioid addiction affects people of both genders, all racial and socioeconomic groups, from rural areas to big cities and everywhere in between.

JAN 10 2018

Heroin Gets Headlines, but Alcohol Use Disorder a Constant Problem in the Background

WCAI, Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands

In light of the opioid addiction epidemic, discussions about substance abuse tend to focus on this growing public health crisis. When research shows that alcohol is responsible for 71 percent of substance use related deaths in Barnstable County, it's clear that we mustn’t lose sight of the devastating impacts of alcohol dependence and abuse.