Substance abuse

Did you know 1 in 6 Americans has a substance abuse problem? Here’s what to look out for

Bartender Brian McGee demonstrates how to make a Dirty Gin Martini with two olives at the Koval Distillery’s tasting room Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Chicago. Spirits have surpassed beer for U.S. market share supremacy, led by a resurgent cocktail culture including the popularity of ready-to-drink concoctions according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Department of Health and Human Services reported earlier this year that 16.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 and older  – over 46 million people – met the criteria for having a substance abuse disorder in 2021, the latest data they have. Further, they found that nearly one and four adults 18 and older and one in three adults aged 18 to 25 had a mental illness during that year.

Aubrey Werzner, a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with Ascension Seton, said that the COVID-19 pandemic, which was challenging for many people, led some to use substances as a coping mechanism. 

“With everything being shut down, we’ve had less access to resources – fewer options for other healthier ways to cope. Therefore, substance use kind of filled in that gap. And for some people, it’s taking a toll on them,” Werzner said. 

The best way to determine if your substance use is becoming a problem is by examining whether your use is interfering with the important responsibilities in your life, Werzner said. 

“My general philosophy on most things is ‘it’s only a problem if it’s a problem,’” she said.  “If you find that your substance use is getting in the way of you doing other important things in life, or if it’s taking a toll on your physical health, then maybe it’s time to start addressing it.”

This may be tricky, as people tend to be pretty good at justifying behaviors. Wezner gave an anecdote of a client who drank a case of beer every night but wasn’t showing up to work drunk or driving while intoxicated, so they didn’t think it was an issue. 

One issue may still be “showing up hungover or you’re missing meetings, showing up late or not operating at your normal capacity,” Werzner said

Generally, if drinking or substance use is holding you back from reaching goals, Werzner said it may be a good idea to try to get some help. 

Texans have many options if they realize they have a substance abuse problem and need help. For those without health insurance, there’s the Outreach, Screening, Assessment and Referral (OSAR) program –a good resource for Texans who need help accessing services but are unsure where to begin. 

Werzner said going to your primary care physician can be a good option too. Ascension Seton has behavior healthcare navigators who can assist in pointing folks in the right direction. 

Another good place to start is by confiding in someone that you are struggling so that you have a person to check in with and encourage you. 

“[Substance use] is a brutally effective coping skill,” Werner said. “It tends to come with some collateral damage, but it is a coping skill. So when you find yourself reaching for more and more substances, if you can try to hone in on, ‘What is it that I’m trying to cope with? What is it that I’m trying to fix by doing this?’”

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