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What Makes Substance Use Disorder Get Worse?

What Makes Substance Use Disorder Get Worse?

Some people are prone to substance use disorder because of family history or the presence of another mental illness, but that doesn’t mean the symptoms can’t be controlled with proper treatment. Knowing what makes it worse could help you avoid triggers and begin the road to recovery if you have a substance abuse problem.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition described as the uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences. People with SUD have an intense focus on using a substance(s), such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where their ability to function in daily life becomes impaired. They keep using the substance even when they know it’s causing or will cause problems. The most severe SUDs are sometimes called addictions.

Addiction and Your Brain

Studies show that most of substance use disorder’s power is in its ability to take over and even extinguish critical areas of the brain meant to help people survive. When your brain is healthy, it rewards healthy behaviors, including exercise, good eating habits, and maintaining positive relationships. When you do these things, your brain activates circuits resulting in feelings of pleasure and then motivates you to do those things again. In contrast, dangerous situations can force a healthy brain to push your body to react fast out of fear or as a warning, making you get out of harm’s way. Questionable temptations, like having dessert before dinner or purchasing something you can’t afford, kickstart the front areas of your brain to help you decide if the penalties are worthy of your actions.

But if you’re becoming addicted to something, the normal hardwiring of supportive brain processes may start to work against you. Certain medicine, alcohol, or other substances can take over the pleasure/reward centers in your brain and entice you into desiring more of each one. If you’re addicted, your emotional danger-sensing circuits can shift into overdrive, resulting in anxiety and stress when you’re not taking the desired substance. At this point, people frequently use certain substances so they don’t feel bad instead of for their pleasurable effects. What’s even worse is that continued use of drugs can harm the critical decision-making control room at the front of your brain. This is the prefrontal cortex, the region that normally helps you identify the harms of taking addictive substances.

What Makes Substance Use Disorder Worse?

Numerous factors can make substance use disorder worse and are different for everyone, the same as triggers that may contribute to someone becoming addicted in the first place. Top candidates for making substance use disorder worse include:

  • Your family history. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies of families with identical twins, fraternal twins, adoptees, and siblings indicate that up to one-half of someone’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other substances is linked to genetics.
  • If you have a mental health disorder, it can make substance use disorder even worse. This increased severity includes depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Using the desired substance can create the illusion of coping with anxiety, sadness, and loneliness but likely makes such feelings even worse.
  • Substance use disorder can be triggered or worsened by peer pressure, especially in the case of teenagers. If you find yourself in a situation where most of your peers use a particular substance, it’s hard to say no.
  • Lack of family involvement and parental supervision can make substance use worse. In many cases, living in a household where a parent or adult caregiver also has an addiction can influence or make substance use worse for someone else, particularly a child or young adult.
  • Some drugs and other substances can result in faster addiction than others, and continuing to use them can make efforts to quit and get treatment more difficult. Substances that are the most addictive can result in the worst problems, including opioids, alcohol, and others.
  • Financial problems can worsen substance use disorder. In one study, there was a direct link between variations of financial distress and heavy alcohol use, especially among older men.
  • Stress can worsen substance use disorder. It can hasten the use of a substance, make addiction more likely, and make it harder to stop using the substance and begin to recover.

If you have symptoms, see your healthcare provider or mental health specialist for diagnosis. Various treatment options may be available, including ketamine therapy.

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James T. Leathem, DO

Dr. James Leathem is a board-certified anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He was born and raised in Connecticut and graduated from Florida Southern College with a bachelor of science in marketing management with minors in sociology and communications. He obtained his medical degree from Midwestern University’s Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency in anesthesiology at Michigan State University and its affiliated McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital.

In 2015, after residency, Dr. Leathem returned to Arizona to practice anesthesiology. He joined Red Mountain Anesthesiologists and worked primarily at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa, performing 100% of his own cases. He was made partner in the group after demonstrating 3 years of anesthesia excellence and administering over 4,000 anesthetics. In 2019, a corporate change occurred and an opportunity presented itself in which he was able to transition out of the hospital to surgery center and clinic-based anesthesia.

Dr. Leathem realizes that the only constant in life is change. In 2020, amidst the global pandemic, his career took a different direction. This change led him to collaborate with Dr. Wong and Dr. Sharma and they founded Advanced Wellness and Pain (AWAP). Their mission is to provide a variety of state-of-the-art procedural services that improve patients’ quality of life and overall physical and mental well-being.

Dr. Leathem believes that we are all a work in progress and that each day, one should strive to make positive changes in their life. He is here to help empower each patient on their journey to be their best self and live their best life. When you are being cared for by Dr. Leathem, you can be assured that he will give you his undivided attention and time.

Gregory Wong, MD

Dr. Wong is a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of both the American Society of Anesthesiology and the Arizona Society of Anesthesiology. He did his undergraduate training at the University of California at Davis, Davis, California; doctorate training at The University of Health Sciences of the Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, IL; and his post-doctoral training at the Integrated Program at the University of Arizona, Phoenix, AZ. He has spent his whole 24-year career practicing in Arizona.

Dr. Wong grew up in the Bay Area of California. He is married and is raising three daughters. At the early age of 12 years old, he knew he wanted to become a physician. His love of the human spirit, intrigue of human physiology, and compassion for human suffering led him to the path of anesthesiology and pain medicine.

Today, Dr. Wong realizes patients need a holistic biophysical-mental-spiritual care. This philosophy has brought him to the studies of regenerative medicine and infusion therapies. He has firsthandily witnessed the overwhelming success of these therapies for treating chronic pain and depression and the return of patients of “life-functionality.”

“There has never been a time more important than now to advocate for our patients in these difficult times. We owe it to our patients to offer these state-of-the-art treatment modalities that weren’t available before.”

Deepak Sharma, MD, MBA

Dr. Sharma is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He completed three degrees at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA: a Bachelor in Finance, a Master in Business Administration, and a Doctor of Medicine. He went on to complete residency at the Mount Sinai Morningside-West Hospital System in New York, NY and post-graduate fellowship at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA.

Dr. Sharma is committed to treating his patients as a whole with a comprehensive biophysical-mental-spiritual approach. He is a lifelong learner and is constantly researching cutting-edge therapies backed by scientific studies. He has taken a particular interest in regenerative and infusion therapies after witnessing firsthand their significant benefits on those suffering from chronic pain and depression. In his free time, Dr. Sharma enjoys spending time with his family and friends, hiking, traveling, reading, and meditation.

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