Substance Use

Drug Dependency

For individuals and families seeking help for substance abuse recovery at the Wells House, the first question they ask is sometimes: “How do I know if my son (husband, dad, uncle, etc.) is abusing alcohol or drugs and is in need of treatment?

Signs of substance abuse: If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, we may be able to help you.

  • Do you drink or use to overcome shyness or to feel more confident?
  • Are you having money troubles because of drinking or using?
  • Do you ever stay home from work because of drinking or using?
  • Is drinking or using causing trouble in your family?
  • Have you lost a job or a business because of drinking or using?
  • Do you drink or use to escape your problems?
  • Do you drink or use when you are alone?
  • Do you have blackouts? (Loss of memory for events that happened or of actions you performed while drinking or using?)
  • Have you ever been in a hospital because of drinking or using?
  • Do you make promises to yourself or others about your drinking or using?
  • Do you have to keep on drinking or using once you have started?
  • Have you had an accident because of drinking or using?
  • Have you been arrested more than once for drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs?
  • Has drinking or using affected your health?

Definition of Substance Abuse

For a general definition we can say that substance abuse is the compulsive use of certain drugs to the point that the user has lost the ability to cease using the drug and is in need of substance abuse treatment. The relative substance abuse of each drug is different in terms of its chemical compound and also varies from person to person. For example, a drug such as codeine requires more exposure to form a dependency than does cocaine or heroin. Alcohol is also classified as a drug, and similar to codeine requires more frequent use to become dependent. One person may also be more psychologically or genetically predisposed to substance abuse than another, and this may not be known until after the person is dependent and in need of a drug treatment program.

Dependency to a drug (including alcohol) usually has two separate components: a psychological and a physical dependency. From a psychological standpoint, an addict uses drugs to kill or mask pain, to feel pleasure, or to relieve stress. From a physical perspective, someone who uses does it to feel “normal” because the body has been so used to the presence of the drug that without it the person will begin to have withdrawal symptoms.

What Causes Substance Abuse to a Drug or Alcohol?

It is generally accepted that substance use is biological in nature. Substance use to a drug is believed to be created by a changing of the brain’s reward functions. The part of the brain that is affected is responsible for behaviors such as eating, exercise and social interaction. When the drug hits this portion of the brain, known as the mesolimbic dopamine system, excessive levels of dopamine are released causing a general feeling of euphoria, or otherwise called a “high”. Over an extended period of time, these short-term “highs” can create long-term effects. As the brain experiences these periods of greater than normal dopamine release, the resultant brain reactions become more severe. Continued use of the drug causes the drug user to use more and more of the drug to have the same level of pleasure, until the use of the drug dominates the normal day-to-day life experiences. Finally, the drug completely takes over the persons rational thought processes, and life cannot continue without the use of the drug.

Different Drugs, Different Reactions

Each drug has a unique effect on the body. Heroin reacts differently than cocaine and even with marijuana dependency. Some drugs are classified as depressants. Examples of this drug class include alcohol, benzodiazepines, morphine, and methadone. These work by mimicking endorphins that are produced naturally by the body. This drug class relaxes the body and relieves pain. Another general drug class includes stimulants. Examples of this drug class include amphetamines and methamphetamines (“meth”), cocaine, nicotine and caffeine. At Wells House, we strive to provide the most effective individualized drug treatment program for those in need.

Each substance abuser becomes dependent for the physical or psychological reasons. When a person seeks drug treatment at the Wells House for a dependency of a drug or alcohol, we first assess the person’s history of drug abuse, and their physical and psychological condition. Based on the information we obtain, we then develop a specific and individualized treatment program.

Drug Affects

Not only does drug abuse affect families, but it also has a detrimental effect on business and society in general. There are three distinct areas in which this problem manifests itself. The first is in the cost of health care. The second is in the area of criminal behavior and the costs to the criminal justice system. The third area is the loss of jobs, economic impacts to the families affected, and the subsequent reliance on the welfare system.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) released an article titled, “The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society”, June 20, 2011, stating that; “On May 26, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) released this report, estimating that illegal drug use had an economic impact of $193 billion in 2007. The authors examined the economic impact of illegal drug use on crime, health, and productivity, attributing the primary cost of illegal drug use to lost productivity, at $120.3 billion. The authors determined that crime and health costs of illegal drug use totaled $61.4 billion and $11.4 billion, respectively. NDIC also employed an alternate model, under which lost productivity due to incarceration and homicide were treated as crime costs. Under that model, crime costs totaled $113.3 billion and productivity costs were estimated at $68.4 billion, though the overall total was unchanged.”

With a problem this large we can see why the government is spending so much money on fighting the “war on drugs”. We can certainly attack and choke off the distribution of these illegal drugs, but until we stop the demand, the war on drugs will not be won. This is the reason we believe that the most important way to treat drug abuse is through an effective drug abuse program. We have seen that merely putting people in jail does not solve the problem. If we can arrest this disease at the source, the addict, then we have a much better chance at eliminating this problem from society at large.

Information on drug types: