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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

  • Feb 14, 2019
What Happens When You Quit, or at Least Really Cut Back, Your Social Media Use?

For many people, checking social media regularly and spending a lot of time on it is a part of everyday life. But what is the impact on your well-being if you just quit for a while, or at least significantly cut back? You’ll probably be at least a little bit better off, according to a couple of recent studies. Substantial research over the past few years has linked social media use with reduced well-being, sleep problems and increased loneliness, depression and mental distress.

  • Feb 01, 2019
Eating Disorders, Weight-Shaming and “Clean” Eating

Eating disorders affect all kinds of people: women, men, young and old and from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Many factors likely contribute to developing eating disorders, including a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Having a close relative with an eating disorder or a history of dieting are risk factors. High levels of body image dissatisfaction and setting unrealistically high expectations for oneself (perfectionism) also increase the risk

  • Jan 23, 2019
Increase in Teen Vaping Raises Concerns

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late last year new released new research showing that more than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018, a significant increase from 2017. More than one in five high school seniors (21 percent) used e-cigarettes, nearly double the number in 2017 (11 percent).

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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.

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Editor's Choice

DEC 9, 2018

For One Rural Community, Fighting Addiction Started With Recruiting the Right Doc


Rice says addiction has torn apart rural communities in Northern Wisconsin in the last five years or so, with an increase in crime, problems in schools, trauma in families. Many rural communities lack basic resources for substance abuse. There are fewer services available than in urban areas—as many as 82 percent of rural Americans may live in counties that lack detoxification services, for example.

DEC 9, 2018

Emergency rooms once offered little for drug users. That's starting to change.

The Boston Globe

What Martin did in the ensuing years would help move Mass. General to the vanguard of a new approach to addiction: Instead of sending addicted people on their way, the hospital can start treatment right in the emergency department. And now a new state law is requiring all hospitals to do the same, a mandate that calls on hospitals to meet the challenge of a crisis claiming four or five lives each day in Massachusetts..

DEC 8, 2018

Beyond the Stigma: Son's addiction and recovery inspires insurance executive to help others

The Union Leader

Dr. Brewster said his family's experience around addiction helps inform his company's response to the drug crisis. Father and son recently sat down for an interview at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Manchester, where Dr. Brewster is vice president for the New Hampshire market. They wanted to share their story to combat the stigma around addiction and help other families find hope and healing. Dr. Brewster said his family’s experience around addiction helps inform his company’s response to the drug crisis. “It gave me a heightened awareness of how unpredictable, irrational — and blameless — this is,” he said. “How out of control.”