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Rising Instances of Substance Abuse Go Hand in Hand with Mental Disorders

Self-Medication is a Problem for Those Dealing with Depression and Anxiety

Drug abuse is becoming so prevalent that several states have taken steps to monitor prescription drug use, with at least one state now considering a bill that would require health officials to keep closer tabs on the prescription drugs that could lead to addiction.

Massachusetts passed a law to help curb the growing problem of drug dependency. The law toughens the state’s prescription monitoring program and requires that pharmacists provide an interchangeable drug that deters abuse, unless the physician says that such a drug should not be provided. The law also requires insurance companies to pay for substance abuse treatment services provided by licensed drug and alcohol counselors.

We are seeing more and more patients who are struggling with a multitude of addictions and mental health disorders. These problems and addictions create and then perpetuate a vicious downward cycle. When someone is depressed, anxious or stressed, they may turn to alcohol or drugs, which might numb the pain temporarily, but only exasperate the problems they are experiencing. Adding drugs and alcohol to any issue will never solve it but will only make it much, much worse. Only a heartfelt commitment to professional treatment—preferably with a biblical, God-centered focus—can break the cycle.

Many who abuse drugs or alcohol are self-medicating as a way to escape depression, anxiety, or stress or to deal with problems that affect their everyday lives.

The most recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, presented alarming facts about drug and alcohol use in America.

In 2014, an estimated 27 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 10.2 percent—were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey. This is the highest number since 2002. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants or prescription-type psychotherapeutics (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives used non-medically).

The survey found that marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug—with 22.2 million current users. Those using, in the last 30 days, non-prescription use of prescription opioid painkillers rose to its highest level of 4.3 million, making it the second most used illicit drug.

One frightening figure was the number of those who had used heroin in the past year, which doubled from 2007 to 2014. Certainly we will see that number continue to rise as we know the access to heroin is increasing, the cost is cheap, and the amount of overdoses is up from 2014 to now.

Heroin abuse is rising dramatically in our society. We see more and more people who are struggling with this drug, as it is highly addictive and difficult for users to escape its grips. Particularly concerning is the tie between heroin and drugs that society might think aren’t harmful, like marijuana. The truth is that pot is, indeed, a ‘gateway drug’ and when pot users find that marijuana’s not enough or they are bored with its effects, they turn to much more harmful drugs, like cocaine and heroin. When drug use is mixed with alcohol and a mental disorder or illness, the results are devastating.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health also found 52.1 percent of Americans aged 12 or older reported being current alcohol drinkers. This represents and estimated 135.5 million people. Furthermore, 23 percent said they were binge alcohol users in the past 30 days, meaning they consumed five or more drinks on the same occasion, or at one sitting, on at least one day that month.

Being a psychiatrist and a father of 3 girls aged 24, 21, 16 is the finding that 22% of young adults aged 18-25 used an illegal drug in the past 30 days while 59.6% used alcohol and 37.7% had a binge drinking episode. This is an important and stressful time of transition from adolescence to adulthood and many key decisions need to be made having lasting impact. Using drugs and alcohol will interfere with not only the final stages of brain development, but also the psychological and spiritual maturity necessary for fulfilling relational, vocational, marital, and parenting experiences.

The report is from a higher functioning cross section containing 67,901 responses from an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), but does not include those in institutions (jail, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) or those without permanent residential addresses (homeless or transient). Scarily, we can assume the real percentages are actually worse the ones in this report reported.

The answer to halt this rise in alcohol and drug use is to start teaching healthy decision-making skills when kids are toddlers. Parenting and marriage classes to teach the parents to live life well, provide a safe and nurturing environment, to connect with their kids, and be good role models for healthy decision-making are vital. Obviously, bringing a powerful infusion of spirituality, connecting to God, showing the power of faith, and using the Bible’s values, morals, and instructions for life should be the guidelines for the psychological skills being taught. Then we can start to get ahead of this quick fix shortcut to peace Satan and our society are constantly being tricked by.

karl-benzio-1Dr. Karl Benzio MD, Christian Psychiatrist, writer, speaker, media guest expert, social issue activist, and the founder and clinical director of Lighthouse Network. Benzio brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s storms. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students about counseling, leadership, parenting, marriage, and conflict resolution skills in traumatized areas like Uganda, Kenya and post-Hussein Iraq. He is currently a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, the Pennsylvania Director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and serves on many other social policy task forces. His specialties include adolescents, addictions, decision-making and infusing spirituality into treatment. Benzio shares psycho-spiritual insights via his Stepping Stones daily devotional, on his one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” on 425 Christian radio stations and on iDisciple.org.

Email: KBenzio@LighthouseNetwork.org

Twitter: @drkarlb