Substance Abuse: An Introduction
Substance abuse disorder is an epidemic that affects many different groups in society from adolescents to elder adults and is casting an increasing shadow due to its continued rise and prevalence. From illicit and prescription drug abuse to alcohol abuse, there are various coping and preventative measures that can be taken to avoid some of the dangerous triggers that cause these disorders that can help individuals continue to lead everyday healthy lives and stay on the straight and narrow. These types of techniques are essential as addiction and substance abuse issues can happen to anyone. Disorders like substance abuse and addiction are not indicative of poor character but rather a disease that can occur as a result of gateway drug use or even stemming from prescription drug use. Many drugs – both prescription and non – are highly addictive and habit-forming, which is why we continue to see a rise in abuse statistics across North America as the availability of substances continues to be plentiful.
Because addiction can occur at any age, it’s important that preventative practices be not only understood by the over 18 adult population but also by the youth from elementary students to those in high school. In fact, adolescents and youth are at high risk for developing substance abuse issues as stressful factors like peer pressure, bullying and confidence issues may exacerbate an individual’s drug use or binge drinking, which can lead to misuse and abuse in many cases. That is to say, addiction issues are often not purely a result of the addictive properties of drugs but can also be understood as a byproduct of certain difficulties and pressures in peoples’ lives.
When society thinks of drug addiction, the majority of the sentiment tends to apply to reactionary measures to substance abuse such as rehab and detox that occurs after the issue has persisted. One core purpose of this blog article is to alter that train of thought so that we understand that dealing with drug abuse doesn’t have to be a purely reactionary activity. In fact, if we flip the script and consider how we can proactively approach drug use, it should lead to a greater understanding of countering addiction in general and, ideally, teach techniques that can provide a boost to individuals as they seek to live healthy lives and maintain strong mental health.
Coping with Peer Pressure and Life Pressure
Much of initial adolescent drug use can be attributed to peer pressure and a desire to fit in with the herd. Of course, that’s not to say peer pressure can’t be a significant factor in adult drug use, too. If you or your loved ones know that you’re entering into a situation likely to be rife with peer pressure and urging you to take part in drug use, there are several different preventative exercises that can be employed to ensure safety and peace of mind.
Just with any good job interview, rehearsing and talking through an approach that lets others know that you’re not interested in taking part in drug use can go a long way. Make sure your reasoning is firm and won’t leave any room for continued nudging on the part of your peer group. For example, if someone in your family has struggled with drug addiction, make it clear that you’ve seen the hardship that it can cause to loved ones and you don’t want to take part. Of course, rehearsal is one thing and staying firm in the moment is quite another. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have a plan and appear firm in your rejection of taking part in the group’s drug use. If the group continues to pressure you to engage in the activity, it’s quite possible the “friends” you’re spending your time with are not friends at all—which leads me to the next technique for coping with peer pressure: considering more positive friendships.
While peer pressure is a common microcosm of group dynamics and occurs often, especially in cases of drug use, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay or acceptable in any situation. While it’s true that pre-planning for the denial of peer pressure can be effective, it’s equally true that you shouldn’t have to make excuses for why you do or do not want to do something. If the friendship is genuine, those in your group will not base their opinion on you in relation to whether or not you want to participate in drug usage with them. If they do, it may be time to distance yourself from them and move towards new, healthier friendships.
From peer pressure to life pressure, drug usage should not be utilized as a “reward” for anything. In peer pressure situations, peers may think your drug use makes you cooler, but this is just the opinion of a select few and does not reflect reality. In relation to life pressure situations, drugs may be the reward for a busy week, success at work or a certain milestone. However, using drugs as a reward is not healthy in any situation. What begins as one small celebration here or there can lead to dependence, a routine or, ultimately, an addiction or misuse case. Therefore, in order to deal with life’s significant pressures – financial, relationship stress, employment-related, or otherwise – you must find other ways of rewarding yourself, destressing and unwinding. This can include fun, creative and satisfying artistic pursuits like painting, writing, drawing, and taking group or individual classes, or can even include simple activities like spending leisure time relaxing with a good book or going for walks with a pet.
While it sounds simple, prioritizing rewarding albeit basic activities that feed individuals’ need for creativity and comfort can go a long way towards preventing substance abuse as they may help those persons not feel as if something is missing from their lives. However, there are other approaches that are also important and can be just as effective.
Get Help When You Need It
Due to the stigma in society associated with mental health issues, therapy, psychology and substance abuse, many individuals suffering through the latter and the former may not seek the help that they need. However, doing so may result in substance abuse prevention as individuals can nip their issues in the bud with the proper help before they become more significant or before they turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. As a snapshot, in 2013 alone 22.7 million Americans needed treatment for a problem stemming from alcohol or drug addiction, but only 2.5 million actually received treatment at a specialty facility.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year. Furthermore, 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience mental illness, as well. Sadly, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst people aged 10-34, indicating just how catastrophic some of these mental health and illness issues can be in North America. Because mental illness is often tied to substance abuse, particularly with illicit, hard drugs, prevention of one is effectively a way towards establishing the prevention of both.
Many mental health services are available in both Canada and the U.S. and should be utilized by any individuals who are struggling with any type of mental health issue. These services can include counselling, therapy, health, nutrition and exercise programs and other strategies that can help alleviate the issues that are being faced. In Canada, the Kids Help Phone is a service run by the Canadian Government for those aged 5-20 and can be reached at 1-800-668-6868. Additionally, Crisis Services Canada is for people of all ages and can be reached at 1-833-456-4566 or via texting 45645. In the U.S., the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a 24/7, 365 helpline that can be reached at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP). Any of these numbers can be called in order to identify and understand nearby resources for mental health assistance or in cases where someone simply needs someone to speak to about the substance abuse or mental health issues they are facing.
So, we now understand that coping techniques for peer pressure and life pressure are essential, as well as the fact that mental health issues should always be addressed early in order for quick prevention to be possible, and so that individuals may ultimately avoid using drugs as a response to these types of issues. However, one more basic technique can also be employed as a means of avoiding drug abuse issues and living an overall healthy life, and that’s maintaining balance.
Balance is Key
It’s incredible what staying busy, as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet can do for your mental health. As we noted earlier, substance abuse disorder isn’t always solely tied to the addictive properties of drugs but may occur as a compounding effect for people who are unhappy with their lives, seeking to fill some type of void in their day-to-day, or are depressed, suffering from mental health issues or other mental disorders. Living a balanced and healthy lifestyle is just one technique that may or may not work as a preventative measure for substance abuse disorders, but in many cases, it can be a significant factor in strong mental health and overall wellbeing.
Making good choices and healthy choices don’t just positively impact individuals mentally, either. These types of actions activate feel-good chemicals in the brain like dopamine, which are similarly released by drug use. In fact, many drug rehabilitation centres and detox programs promote healthy eating and nutrition as a strong factor on the road to recovery.
Building on these ideas, rather than filling empty time with screen time and continued dependence on technology, you should take steps to ensure this downtime is filled with fulfilling activities like some of the ones outlined earlier, or others such as outdoor activities, educational pursuits or giving back to the community, all of which will satisfy individuals one way or another and distance them further from the inclination to turn to substances as a reward centre.
In reality, none of the substance abuse prevention techniques outlined in this blog post are a perfect science. A technique that may work for one person may not work for another. However, learning to deal with pressure and stress, as well as pursuing and scheduling, classes, activities and undertakings that promote happiness, encourage creativity and help spur overall happiness are all positive steps that can and should be taken in order to prevent substance abuse.