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Substance Abuse and Addiction

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Substance abuse and addiction have been on the rise for many years. According to American government surveys, more than 20 million people suffer from addiction to alcohol, street drugs or prescription drugs. In this country alone, it is estimated that 135 million people struggle with their own addiction, a family member's addiction or that of someone close to them. Thankfully there are many treatment and rehabilitation centers, but it must be noted that the success rate is below 20%. The three primary barriers to addiction rehabilitation include cravings, guilt and depression.

So what exactly is drug abuse? Drug abuse, or substance abuse, involves the excessive and repeated use of chemical substances to achieve a certain effect. These drugs can include alcohol, illegal or "street" drugs or they might be prescription drugs obtained, but used for pleasure rather than medical reasons. What all of these drugs have in common, though, is an overstimulation of the pleasure center in the brain. Most abused drugs are not only physically addictive, but mentally addictive as well. Addiction is actually the compelling urge to use these drugs. Proper treatment encompasses working with the mind, the body and the spirit.

Drug addiction and drug abuse can come from many risk factors:
The inability to get relief from untreated mental or physical pain
A family history of addiction
History of mental illness
Peer pressure

Drugs can be a tempting way to deal with stress, loneliness or depression. Without medical supervision, pain medications or illegal drugs like heroin can rapidly become addictive. Unfortunately, due to the changes made to the brain, using these drugs can only take a few times or even one time to be on the road to addiction. While the second bullet regarding genetics mentioned above is not entirely clear, if you have a family history of addiction, you are at higher risk for abusing drugs. Lastly, peer pressure is especially noted with teenagers; it can be very difficult to resist drugs when people around you are pressuring you to try them.

Behavioral health units in many hospitals often combine addiction and mental health problems in one setting. In any kind of setting, nurses utilize a problem-solving format to assess patients, identify problems, plan and implement interventions and evaluate the outcomes. With addiction patients, this process is compounded by problems related to the addiction and other health complications. Therefore, nurses dealing with addiction need general nursing knowledge and specialized knowledge of addictions in order to provide effective care.

The functions of the nurse regarding this highly specialized field depend on the setting as well as the expertise and interests of the nurse. On an inpatient unit, nurses are involved in the full range of patient care, including the detoxification phase. Education is a part of this, as well as 24-hour coverage, which allows the nurse to have a more in-depth view of the patient's behavior throughout the day. For outpatient settings, the nurse may have telephone consultations and initial evaluations of incoming patients. Whatever the setting, nurses need to follow specific protocols in dealing with substance abuse and addiction. Further education is normally needed for this type of nursing, i.e. CARN (Certified Addiction Registered Nurse).

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