National Recovery Month increases awareness of drug & alcohol addiction. Here’s what to know.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 25 million Americans, or about 9.5 percent of the population, used an illicit drug in the past month. Sadly, as this number continues to grow, drug abuse and addiction are increasingly important issues. National Recovery Month, now in its 30th year, has helped shed light on the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction while working to diminish the stigma around it.
We’re recognizing this important month by highlighting some growing addictions in the United States, and sharing how to seek help for yourself or a loved one.
It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of addiction. Loved ones who suffer can become very good at hiding their disease, and denial can make a problem difficult to identify within yourself. Knowing the signs of addiction can help. If you notice any of the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to seek out professional assistance:
- Continuing to use a drug even when you want to stop.
- Increased tolerance: needing more of a substance to feel the same effect as you did before.
- Obsessively thinking about a substance, or when you can next acquire it.
- Rearranging your schedule around substance use.
- Taking extreme chances to gain access to the substance.
- Hiding your substance use.
Another key sign of addiction is withdrawal symptoms. These may include irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, and increased heart rate. If you experience any of the symptoms listed, it’s important to talk to your physician, family, or friends, and consider seeking professional help.
Monitoring your health is another way to keep an eye on potential addictive behaviors. It’s also important to pay careful attention to how a substance affects your day-to-day life and personal relationships. Keep an eye on behaviors like these:
- Missing a class or calling off work to use
- Canceling appointments
- Choosing drug use over household tasks or responsibilities
- Giving up interests or hobbies that you used to enjoy
- No longer bathing or taking care of yourself
- No longer pay attention to the consequences of your actions
Unfortunately, addiction can take over someone’s entire world before they even realize it. It’s important to stop and take an honest look at how drug use may be affecting your life and responsibilities or those of a loved one.
Addiction and Legalized Drugs
Although drug abuse is often associated with illicit substances, street drugs like cocaine and MDMA aren’t the only problem. Legal recreational drugs, like alcohol, can be just as harmful, even if some people can use them without a problem.
With substances like marijuana, kratom, and kava becoming readily available in some states, it is especially important to educate yourself on their potential harmful effects. It can be tempting to believe these drugs are safe because they are legal. But it’s important to understand that just because a substance isn’t explicitly illegal, that doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful. Below is a look at three common legalized drugs known to cause addiction.
As of 2019, a total of 33 states, including Washington, DC, have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Ten have approved legal recreational use of marijuana, making the drug more available than ever before. This greater access to the drug can make addiction difficult to recognize, since addiction happens over time. If you regularly use marijuana because it has become so easy to obtain, you may not notice that you have a problem until you try to quit. You may also not realize the harmful impact on your life because using no longer has the stigma of being illegal. Although some people can use marijuana recreationally without a problem, it’s important to recognize that not everyone will react in the same way.
Kratom is an unregulated substance that produces a stimulant effect at low doses and an opioid effect at higher doses. Because it is plant-based and legal at the federal level, many people assume it is safe. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Kratom can be harmful and highly addictive, which has led to many states banning the substance. Kratom is now under review by the FDA and must be sold under the label, “Not for human consumption.”
Kava is a ceremonial tea that originated in the Pacific Islands. Initially used to help build close relationships and to help commune with spirits, people in the United States now use it to manage anxiety and other psychological issues. However, kava can cause organ disease over time, and it can become addictive quite easily. The herb acts similarly to a benzodiazepine, with similar addictive effects. Several countries including Canada, Germany, and Switzerland have banned the herb, and the FDA has issued warning labels for it in the United States.
The Problem with Prescriptions
Prescription drugs can also be addictive, and because prescription drug abuse is a rising problem, these substances are also a big part of National Recovery Month. The opioid crisis in the United States is shining light on the idea that it’s possible to become addicted to medications, even if they are legally prescribed. However, prescription drug addiction isn’t limited to opioids alone. There are numerous other prescription medications that can cause addictive behaviors, including stimulants like Adderall and benzodiazepines like Klonopin. Other medications that can cause issues include Phenibut, Modafinil, and Ambien (Zolpidem). Below are a few of the most common:
Klonopin is a benzodiazepine that has the potential to become addictive very quickly, with some individuals becoming addicted in only a few weeks even when taking the amount prescribed by their doctor. The drug blocks receptors in the brain and helps individuals relax, while reducing stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, once an individual becomes addicted to the drug, it becomes exceedingly difficult for them to relax without it. This means that a person who is addicted to Klonopin will have a hard time relaxing and functioning normally when they can’t obtain the medication.
Adderall is another prescription medication with a high risk of addiction. It’s a stimulant that is prescribed to individuals with ADHD, but if it is not taken at prescribed doses there is a high risk of addiction.
Adderall functions by boosting dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the body’s central nervous system, which helps create a rewarding effect. For someone who doesn’t have ADHD, the drug causes a pleasurable sensation. Eventually, the individual’s brain becomes dependent on the drug to feel alert, happy, and productive.
Phenibut is a central nervous system depressant medication that was originally prescribed in Russia to fight anxiety. It is a GABA-B agonist, creating a synthetic form of GABA, one of the brain’s important neurotransmitters that creates a calm feeling. The drug helps individuals feel calm and focused in social situations. It can also help them feel less-self conscious. However, over time it becomes addictive.
Ambien (Zolpidem) is a sedative that can be used to treat insomnia and sleeping disorders. However, it can be abused at higher than necessary dosages. It’s also possible for individuals to become dependent on it in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Modafinil is a medication that was created to treat excessive sleepiness caused by sleep apnea or shift work sleep disorder. It can also be used to treat narcolepsy. However, as with any type of medication that creates wakefulness and reduces the need for sleep, there is a potential for abuse or addiction. Individuals who are purposefully skipping sleep and using Modafinil in a manner inconsistent with its labeling should seek help from an addiction professional.
New Drugs on the Block
As we turn the spotlight on drugs and addiction for the month of September, it’s also important to pay attention to newer drugs. Unfortunately, it seems as if there’s always a new addictive substance to watch out for, or a variation of an old one. Although not particularly new in concept, drugs like synthetic marijuana and bath salts are continuously evolving, making them particularly important to be aware of. These drugs have led to serious mental health issues and violent behavior, making them extremely dangerous and worth our vigilance. Here’s what you need to know about these drugs:
Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2 or Spice, are chemicals sprayed on plant material so that they can be smoked. This synthetic product is often sold as herbal incense in convenience stores or bodegas and may be labeled as “not for consumption by humans” to avoid regulation.
These drugs can cause serious health issues, both physical and psychologically, including:
- irregular or rapid heartbeat
- nausea and vomiting
- suicidal ideation
Bath salts is the common name for an entire class of drugs known as synthetic cathinones. These lab-created drugs are similar to cathinone, which is known for being a mild stimulant. However, bath salts are much stronger and come with a myriad of harmful side effects, including hallucinations, violent tendencies and even death.
Sellers initially marketed the drug as actual bath salts to circumvent regulation, but is now often sold as a phone screen cleaner or plant food. Bath salts are also sold under a wide variety of street names.
Helping Someone with Addiction
If you have a friend or loved one who is suffering from an addiction, knowing how to help can be difficult. It’s important that you take care of your own health first and make sure that you’re in a strong place so that you can offer support. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the signs of addiction, and then reach out and offer assistance. You may be able to help them figure out how to take the first steps, or how to manage the financing. You may be able to help them organize their affairs while they’re in treatment, or help them ensure that their living environment is less stressful when they return home.
When it’s time to take the first step, help is just a phone call away. Our intake professionals can help your loved one determine the best approach for them, and guide them through the crucial first step toward treatment.