Substance Abuse

Description

Substance abuse and chemical dependency are terms that describe a condition in which a person is addicted to alcohol, prescription medication, and/or street drugs. (See "Alcoholism" entry.)

What causes substance abuse is not known exactly, but the condition affects more men than women. Some people have a genetic disposition toward chemical dependency. Many substance abusers have had a mother or father who was "a heavy drinker" or a "pill popper." That individual becomes an adult and discovers that having a couple glasses of wine with dinner helps him forget the stress of the day, or that a couple of prescription sleeping pills promotes relaxation, or that cocaine makes him lively and outgoing. Over time, the person relies more and more on chemical substances to induce a desired state. This dependency may affect relationships, short-term and long-term health, and, if the person drives, there may be accidents and/or brushes with the law. It's a vicious cycle, and to cope with the new stresses created by the substance abuse-and with the cravings that may develop-the pattern of abuse intensifies.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Using drugs every other day, daily, or several times a day
  • Using drugs in non-social settings, such as work or home
  • Feeling you need drugs to get through the day
  • Desire to continue using drugs after others have said you've had too much
  • Preoccupation with drug-taking
  • Denial that you take too many drugs
  • Irritation and/or arguing with friends and family who express concern about your drug use
  • Underestimating or lying to friends and family about the amount of drugs you use
  • Relying on drug use to help induce relaxation, relieve pain, or overcome social inhibitions
  • Regret over words said or actions performed while using drugs
  • Feelings of guilt about the amount of drugs you use
  • Stealing or selling belongings to afford drugs
  • Increased susceptibility to anxiety, depression, and/or insomnia
  • Loss of memory and/or concentration
  • Irregular eating habits while using drugs, either bingeing or avoiding food altogether
  • Health problems and susceptibility to infectious diseases
  • Blackouts (in some cases)
  • The inability to remember what happened the night before, even though you didn't black out (in some cases)
  • Child or spousal abuse (in some cases)
  • Driving accidents or arrests while under the influence of drugs (in some cases)
  • Employment problems, including tardiness, absenteeism, low productivity, and/or interpersonal problems (in some cases)

Conventional Medical Treatment

If you suspect that you or someone you care about is abusing alcohol or drugs, a consultation with a physician is essential. Medical treatment isn't normally used to treat substance abuse, per se, but it's important to discover whether one's health has in some way been affected-whether, for instance, the drinking has caused a vitamin deficiency or cirrhosis of the liver, or if shared needles have caused hepatitis. To address the substance abuse itself, your physician may recommend psychotherapy and/or group therapy.

One of the most well-known therapy networks is Narcotics Anonymous (NA). In return for group help, the organization asks that you eradicate all forms of drugs from your life. In weekly, twice-weekly, or even nightly NA meetings (attendance depends on how much help and support you need), you report your progress, talk about the problems and emotions you're facing, and listen to others do the same. Group members offer one another advice, wisdom, and support.

Some physicians may treat drug users with new synthetic medications known as "blockers." These can ease withdrawal symptoms and protect against relapse by acting on the same brain mechanisms that cause addiction. Another option currently under investigation is ibogaine, a quasi-psychedelic plant-derived substance that eliminates drug cravings and alters drug-seeking behavior. One dose of ibogaine can eliminate heroin, cocaine, and alcohol cravings for two or three weeks. Buprenorphine, a prescription painkiller, is also being tested for addiction-fighting potential. For heroin addicts, a new chemical called l-alpha-acetyl-methadol (LAAM) can ease addiction symptoms without producing a high of its own.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Nutrition and Supplementation

Your well-balanced diet should emphasize fresh, raw foods. Add high-protein drinks, and avoid heavily processed foods, all forms of sugar, and junk food.

Nutritionists recommend the following daily supplements. The dosages are for adults. For children under the age of 17, use half to three-quarters the recommended amount.

  • vitamin B complex injections (2 cc daily or as prescribed by a healthcare provider)-needed when under stress to rebuild the liver; injections are the most effective form
  • calcium (1500 mg)-nourishes the central nervous system; helps control tremors
  • magnesium (1000 mg)-balances the calcium
  • free-form amino acid complex (as directed on label)-supplies protein in a readily assimilable form
  • L-glutamine (500 mg 3 times daily)-promotes healthy mental functioning
  • L-tyrosine (500 mg 2 times daily)-gives good results for cocaine withdrawal when taken with valerian root every four hours
  • glutathione (as directed on label)-detoxifies drugs to reduce their harmful effects; reduces the desire for drugs
  • L-phenylalanine (1500 mg, taken upon awakening)-relieves withdrawal symptoms; do not take if you are pregnant, nursing, or suffer from panic attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, or PKU
  • vitamin C (2000 mg every 3 hours)-detoxifies the system and lessens the craving for drugs

(Consult your healthcare provider regarding the duration of treatment.)

Bodywork and Somatic Practices

Many bodywork and somatic practice methods can be effective within a total rehabilitation program.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture Acupuncture is so effective at treating substance abuse problems that many rehabilitation facilities now include it as a mandatory part of their program. To date, there are more than 300 such programs in the United States.

Countless studies have shown that people who include acupuncture as part of their recovery program have a much higher success rate (and a much lower recidivism rate) than those who do not. Acupuncture works by significantly reducing withdrawal symptoms, including cravings and discomfort, and by enhancing feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.

When treating substance abuse, an acupuncturist focuses on points along the conception vessel, governing vessel, gallbladder, stomach, kidney, spleen, pericardium, lung, heart, large intestine, small intestine, and triple warmer meridians. Auricular, or ear, acupuncture may be utilized as well.

In general, acupuncture treatments for substance abuse last from 20 to 50 minutes and are given every day during the initial withdrawal phase (twice a day, if necessary), then reduced to two or three times a week as symptoms-night sweats, palpitations, chills, irritability, vomiting abate. Once the patient's condition shows an obvious improvement, treatments may be reduced t,o just once a week, in order to prevent a relapse. It IS always combined with counseling.

Chinese Herbal Therapy Depending upon what is determined to be the root cause of the addiction, the practitioner may recommend the following formulas to ease withdrawal: Bupleurum and Dragon Bone, Concha Marguerita and Ligustrum Ginseng and Longan, Gentiana Formula, and Bupleurum and Tang Gui. Herbs also will be given to strengthen impaired immunity and to Improve the health of any organs that have been compromised by the addiction.

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