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Tackling the growing drug abuse

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Dr. Mehwish

Substance use disorders (SUDs) create changes in the brain, leading to a compulsion to use drugs becoming a chronic mental health condition. However, sobriety is possible with the proper treatment and support for those who are trapped into the abyss.

The addiction risk factors including early age of onset, genetics, childhood trauma, learning disorders, mental illnesses like depression, Bipolar disorder, psychosis etc are all factors that can be handled, partially if not fully, by well informed and nuanced care needed in such a scenario.

Unaddressed, addiction turns into a brain disease and prolonged use of substances can change the brain in fundamental and lasting ways inflicting memory issues, loss of impulse control, aggression and even trigger criminal and suicidal tendencies. The emotions evoked by depression and anxiety, broken relationships (family, friends and romantic relationships), poor or declining health, difficulty maintaining self-esteem, grief, loss, or trauma initially trigger feeling of isolation and gradually led a person on the path of drug dependency.

When it is addiction, it a ‘Dog with a bone’ and never wants to go. It never forgets when and where to get its bone.

Prevention of drug and alcohol abuse can start at home. Parents can talk to their children and explain the consequences of drug abuse. Talking to children while they are young can create a strong foundation for awareness of drug misuse. This helps parents positively influence their children while also teaching them about boundaries and limits. Parents help children to understand when to deny something that can hurt them and such ‘Prevention talks’ also create deeper bonds between children and parents. Parents can establish consistency in communication along with guidance that can be followed for years. Preventative conversations can facilitate trust between the parent and the child and lead to wise decisions when it comes to habits, friends, interests and influences.

There are government agencies, community leaders and NGO’s that can help in appropriating a strategy to reach out to children and teach them about living a drug-free life. Much of this is to prevent teen drug abuse before teens reach adulthood or go into the ‘real world’. As a result of these educational tools, teen drug abuse has significantly decreased from previous decades.

All such programs should make sure to address all aspects of drug abuse. This includes underage use of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, illicit street drugs, inhalants and the inappropriate use of legal drugs such as prescription and over the counter drugs. These programs must also be tailored to the specific needs of the audience. Having specialized programs for different genders, ages, cultures and ethnicities only make the programs more effective.

School based drug abuse prevention programs have also proven to be of great significance while drug abuse prevention should be addressed as early as preschool. Preschool children can benefit from learning how to handle aggression, solve problems, and communicate better so that they can avoid putting themselves at risk for drug abuse later in life. Middle and high school programs should focus on peer relationships, communication, assertiveness, drug resistance skills and developing anti-drug attitudes. School based prevention programs should be repeated often for the best level of success.

Substance abuse and drug addiction rehabilitation treatment can be used to help a person recover from addictions, injuries, and even physical or mental illnesses. However, substance abuse rehab programs are often what come to mind when thinking of the word “rehab” itself. People addicted to drugs or alcohol often needs the additional care and assistance that addiction treatment centers provide. One reason for this is that drug and alcohol treatment centers can only be truly effective when the patient has a desire to be there and to change his or her addictive habits.

Before entering an addiction treatment facility, patients may have to undergo detox treatment. Detox is the process in which a patient rids his or her body of the addictive substance. Moreover, drug and alcohol rehab treatment facilities help patients make positive changes in their lives by rectifying maladaptive behaviors. Patients learn healthy coping skills, impulse control, emotional regulation skills and drug-refusal strategies that can help them avoid relapse in the long run.

Before commencing with drug and alcohol abuse treatment, an addict will undergo an intake evaluation from an addiction counsellor or mental health professional. This assessment will take into account self-reports of substance abuse, medical records, urine screening, blood testing, and more. The person will gather as much information as possible regarding patterns of drug or alcohol abuse. Medical history, mental status, physical problems or conditions are recorded besides vital signs.

Past detox or rehab experiences are to be recorded that include living conditions, financial situation and legal status besides violence or suicide risk, cognitive, sensory, or physical disabilities etc. The person conducting the evaluation will use this information to help create an individualized treatment plan tailored to suit your needs. This treatment plan may involve individual therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or contingency management. Group counselling, peer support meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), family therapy sessions, additional services or activities such as yoga, exercise and nutritional counseling, meditation and mindfulness, acupuncture, or spa treatment, medication management, if applicable are to be noted well.

Individual therapy will help you learn to recognize triggers and cope with them. The therapists may also help you to improve your emotional regulation skills in order to better avoid relapse. Group counselling provides you with the opportunity to practice sober social skills, as well as the coping strategies you learned in individual counselling. Family therapy sessions can help to repair broken relationships, improve communication skills, and build conflict resolution skills.

Many industries are changing due to the revolution in artificial intelligence (AI), and the addiction treatment industry is no different. As technology evolves, so do the ways in which rehab facilities incorporate technology into alcohol and drug treatment. It’s not far off to say that AI is revolutionizing Addiction treatment as well, opening new opportunities for helping patients achieve sobriety.

One of the primary ways in which AI is revolutionizing the fields of addiction treatment is through behavioral recognition. As computers become more adept at recognizing and predicting patterns of human behavior and emotion, the application of these predictions is becoming more widespread. In particular, crisis recognition may be a huge breakthrough in addiction treatment.

AI can already predict the likelihood of an individual attempting suicide. With some changes to the algorithm, this could help determine not just the likelihood of a suicide attempt, but also the degree of mental, physical, and emotional distress an individual is under. AI could essentially help medical professionals reach out to people who are in crisis due to alcoholism or drug abuse. Additionally, AI can also help minimize the chance of a relapse. By analyzing certain search queries or behavioral patterns, algorithms could determine when a person in recovery is struggling. While fully automated addiction treatment may be a long way off, the early impact of AI and machine learning are becoming more apparent. In the meantime, if you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, don’t wait to seek help.

Drug abuse is a growing problem and prevention should be a priority in all of our homes and communities.

Dr.Mehwish is a Researcher and Mental Health Advocate.


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