A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Substance abuse: How to make a change

Woman on a bus coughing - Substance abuse: Stigma and making changes

Overcoming substance abuse doesn’t happen overnight, but there is help.

There is still a great deal of stigma surrounding the issue of substance abuse. A better understanding of what causes substance abuse issues, and how to work through them, can help destigmatize the issue and encourage people to get the help they need.

Substance abuse often is genetic

“I think the genetic component of substance abuse gets missed a lot,” said Paula Hensel, a nurse practitioner at Family Health Center-Marshfield Alcohol Drug Recovery Center, a member of Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Some people are just going to be more likely to go down the path of substance abuse.”

The stigma surrounding substance abuse can prevent families from talking about their past history, added Laure Ann Blanchard, a substance abuse counselor and mental health therapist for Family Health Center-Marshfield Alcohol Drug Recovery Center.

“No parent hesitates to tell their child about a family history of heart disease or cancer,” Blanchard said. “Yet as parents we are much more hesitant to sit our kids down and talk about any history of substance abuse in our families.”

Relapse is part of recovery

Dr. Celestino Balinghasay, a psychiatrist at Family Health Center-Marshfield Alcohol Drug Recovery Center, said people often do not seek treatment for substance abuse until they experience serious consequences from their use, like legal problems, relationship losses or losing a job.

“Many times I hear patients say ‘this has to stop. I need my life back,’” Blanchard said. “For the patient to want to get better is really important. And I always let them know, relapse is part of recovery. Nobody likes that, and the person may be upset with themselves for relapsing, but it is just part of recovery.”

“When a person relapses, we are still here to help,” Hensel added.

Stages of making a change

Balinghasay described five main stages in the process of dealing with a substance abuse issue:

  1. Pre-contemplation – In this stage the person denies he/she has a problem with substance abuse and may be defensive.
  2. Contemplation – The person admits he/she has a problem, but they are not ready to make a change.
  3. Determination – The person acknowledges the issue and decides to make a change.
  4. Action – The person has committed the necessary time and resources and is actively making a change in his/her behavior.
  5. Maintenance – At this stage, the person is working to maintain the changes he/she has made and avoid relapsing.

Language matters

Because of the stigma surrounding substance abuse, and the general reluctance people feel about seeking help, the language we all use to describe addiction is important.

We should say someone is a person with a substance abuse disorder instead of calling them an addict, substance abuser or alcoholic,” said Tammera Neumann a registered nurse and clinical coordinator at Family Health Center-Marshfield Alcohol Drug Recovery Center. “You really want to avoid language that is blaming or labeling people. It continues the stigma.”

Treatment is confidential

Balinghasay emphasized that the treatment the team provides at Family Health Center-Marshfield Alcohol Drug Recovery Center is confidential.

“Federal law mandates that we keep things confidential for our patients,” Balinghasay said. “Even a patient’s primary care doctor won’t be able to see our notes on him or her unless the patient consents to it.”

If you are struggling with a substance abuse issue, talk to your primary care provider or contact Family Health Center Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services at 1-844-288-8324.

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