The past year has been a struggle for almost everyone. In addition to a global pandemic, our country has been rocked with social and political strife. These circumstances, combined with the isolating conditions from COVID-19, have created a dual pandemic. In addition to COVID-19, the U.S. has seen an increase in the risk of psychiatric disorders, which eventually increase suicidality and suicidal behavior.

One of the psychiatric issues that have intensified under COVID-19 has been substance abuse disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Similarly, as of December 2020, more than 40 U.S. states saw increases in opioid-related mortality per the American Medical Association.

Not only does chronic substance abuse increases your risk of suicidality and suicidal behavior, but it also worsens your chances of fighting COVID-19. Those with substance-related disorders are both more likely to develop COVID-19 and experience worse COVID-19 outcomes. These worse outcomes include a higher risk of hospitalization and mortality.

So today, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about substance-related disorders and the importance of seeking a substance abuse counselor if you’re experiencing such a disorder. In this article, you’ll learn what a substance-related disorder is, how you can treat substance-related conditions, and how a substance abuse counselor can help in this treatment.

Substance-Related Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5) has long been the standard text for American psychiatrists and psychologists. According to the DSM 5, there are two primary substance-related disorders: substance-use disorders and substance-induced disorders.

  1. Substance-Use Disorders – Patterns of symptoms resulting from the use of a substance you continue to take, despite experiencing problems as a result.
  2. Substance-Induced Disorders – Induced mental disorders, including intoxication, withdrawal, and other conditions.

Also, per the DSM 5, there are 11 criteria for substance-related disorders:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant.
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance.
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in a relationship.
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  8. Using substances repeatedly, even when it puts you in danger.
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or worsened by the substance.
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want.
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.

It’s vital to note; the DSM 5 recognizes that not all people are automatically or equally vulnerable to developing substance-related disorders. Some people have lower levels of self-control that may predispose them to develop substance use issues if exposed to drugs.

How Can a Substance Abuse Counselor Help?

A qualified substance abuse counselor, or substance abuse professional (SAP), is specifically trained in therapeutic methods to help those struggling with substance use/addiction. Treatment for substance use/addiction typically consists of a combination of group and individual therapy.

These therapy sessions primarily focus on teaching the skills to get and stay sober, and how to navigate different life scenarios without turning to drugs or alcohol. Behavioral therapy is one of the most utilized treatment components during substance-use rehabilitation. There are a variety of effective techniques derived from a behavioral therapeutic approach. These techniques include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – People treated with CBT techniques learn to recognize and change their maladaptive behaviors. CBT helps people with coping skills, identifying risky situation and what to do with them, and preventing relapses.
  • Contingency Management (CM) – Contingency management is used to encourage or reinforce sobriety. CM provides material rewards as motivation for desirable behaviors, like maintaining sobriety. Plus, CM helps people grapple with two of the most vital treatment-related issues: dropping out and relapse.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) – Those in MI treatment seek to resolve ambivalence in those recovering so they can embrace their treatment efforts to change their substance use behavior.
  • Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – DBT can be adapted for many substance-related cases but is mainly focuses on treating severe personality disorders, like a borderline personality disorder. DBT works to reduce cravings, help avoid relapse, give up actions that reinforce substance use, and learn healthy coping skills.
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) – This treatment helps patients better understand their own thoughts and develop better habits by thinking in more positive and rational ways and gaining healthier emotions.
  • Matrix Model – The Matrix Model uses a combination of therapeutic techniques. This method was originally developed to treat individuals with stimulant addictions. Therapists focus on rewarding good behaviors and teaching patients self-esteem, dignity, and self-worth.
  • 12-Step Facilitation – This technique is probably the most well-known model. 12-step facilitation aims to promote substance abstinence through recovery with 12-step peer support groups, like those used in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Which Substance-Related Treatment is Right for You?

Like most mental health issues, substance-related disorders and addiction affect each person differently. So, it’s essential your substance abuse counselor provides individualized treatment as well. Additionally, over time, your substance-related needs will change, so your treatment plan should change too. If you’re interested in substance abuse therapy but don’t know where to start or have further questions, contact a Compassionate Minds therapist. Our team of licensed experts is equipped to help you through many substance-related issues. All our therapists are licensed substance abuse counselors. At Compassionate Minds, we work with each of our patients to create an individual treatment plan that works best for you at a time that’s most convenient for you.

About the Author Betsy Mayfield

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