How HCPs Care for Patients Dealing with Substance Abuse and Addiction

HCP will run into many patients struggling with some form of substance abuse. This is especially the case with HCPs working in treatment facilities, but even hospitals or physician’s offices see their fair share of afflicted patients. As an HCP, you will be expected to provide medical and emotional intervention for these affected parties. This article will show you just how much substance abuse affects the American population, and how HCPs can effectively address it.

What is substance abuse? 

Before we proceed, it pays to define what substance abuse actually is. The American Society of Addiction describes addiction as “a treatable and chronic medical disease that involves complex interactions between an individual’s background, their genetics, the environment of their upbringing and the makeup of their brain.” Going further, they describe how addicted individuals end up behaving in a compulsory way; Despite all the potential consequences, they find themselves unable to stop indulging in their addictions. 

Meanwhile, Harvard defines addiction as a codependence on chemical substances. People initially start using these substances out of pleasure, but eventually they experience withdrawal, which are unpleasant symptoms that arise from not using the substance after a period of time. When someone is “addicted,” they end up continuing to take these substances to stave off withdrawal, rather than to feel good. Substances that are potentially addictive include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine, methamphetamines and other illegal substances
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription medication (OxyContin, Xanax, Valium, etc) 

Why does substance abuse develop? 

Harvard cites a number of reasons why substance abuse can develop. In some cases, people simply have weaker resistances. Some people can end up addicted easier than others, who intake around the same amount but can remain sober. 

Substance abuse can also be a product of the environment. People subject to abuse, unfavorable living conditions, or a stressful line of work often turn to addictive substances for comfort or a momentary respite. It has also been found to be hereditary. The children of addict parents are more likely to develop addictions, compared to other people. Addictions can potentially affect anyone, from any standing in life or background. 

How serious is the addiction problem?

In 2020, The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics shared alarming statistics regarding substance abuse in America. When it was written, there were 700,000+ drug-related deaths in America from 2000 to 2020. 13% of Americans 12 and above have used drugs within the last month that the findings were released. Of the 135.522 million Americans (aged 12 and above) to have drank alcohol, 20.4 percent of them have developed addictions to alcoholic substances. 

With regards to drug abuse, the situation is no less concerning. It was found that 59.277 million people have misused prescription medications or taken illegal drugs. For reference, this is 21.7% of people from this demographic. 25.4% of people who use illegal drugs have a drug disorder while 24.7% have an opium disorder stemming from prescription medication. On a related note, 57.277 million people were found to regularly use tobacco and other nicotine-based products. 

What can HCPs do in this situation? 

Substance abuse remains a serious issue that afflicts millions of Americans, every day. It is also an extremely sensitive topic, as some patients do not want to admit they are addicted, or are hesitant to open up. To properly care for patients struggling with these conditions, HCPs need to adopt the right mindset and approach. 

Recognize symptoms of addiction

You cannot take your patient’s word for it, everytime. Good HCPs can recognize signs of withdrawal at an early stage, before performing the correct interventions. Withdrawal symptoms can vary based on age, prior medical history, the substance they are addicted to, and more. Generally speaking, a number of common withdrawal symptoms include (but are not limited to): 

  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Random pains and aches 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Volatile mood swings
  • Depression
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Vomiting, nausea
  • Diarrhea 

Point to relevant resources

An HCP cannot look after their patient 24/7. Recovering from addiction is a struggle that patients must bear, everyday. HCPs can help by providing helpful resources or programs available that are accessible to them. Examples include therapists, inpatient substance abuse treatment plans, crisis hotlines, and a number of other mental health providers. Consider a patient’s situation, disposition and specific needs, before you refer them to these options.

Be patient and empathetic 

Patients struggling with addiction are going through a sensitive time. Because of that label, they can end up embarrassed or shunned by their peers. As was mentioned earlier, some patients attempt to hide their addiction to “spare themselves the humiliation.” As an HCP, building trust is everything. Without it, patients will not share important information to improve care plans, or allow you to care for them at all.

To create that touchpoint, you need to be sensitive, patient, and empathetic. You need to communicate clearly the current situation and treatment options, while considering any concerns that may arise. You need to be respectful and deliberate with your tone, as you support them along this difficult journey. By fostering an environment of kindness, patients eventually become more open to the healing process. 

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