A Delve into Substance Abuse

Photography by Diana Spencer

Content Warning: This editorial contains language that may be a trigger for those closely associated with substance abuse and mental health concerns, including the names, uses and habitual behaviors of certain drugs.

A strong inclination to do, use or indulge in something repeatedly is the cornerstone of addictive habits. According to the National Institute of Health, "addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control."

Recent drug epidemics, such as the rapid adoption and use of e-cigarettes, showing that addiction is ever present.

David Reetz, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at RIT, stressed the importance of bringing such a widespread occurrence to a more individual level, where underlying reasons for drug use occur. He explained that substance abuse usually starts with the use of a drug to cope with anxiety or a similar stressor.

“The more a substance is used, it starts to take over time, energy and attention, then that can create all sorts of other problems in one's life,” said Reetz. “It's a sort of a cycle, they start to struggle with other aspects of their life and feel bad about it, so they use more substances to deal with those feelings and functioning gets even worse. It’s just a downward spiral.”

“It's a sort of a cycle, they start to struggle with other aspects of their life and feel bad about it, so they use more substances to deal with those feelings and functioning gets even worse. It’s just a downward spiral.”

Although strategies towards overcoming addiction have been around for years, the stigma surrounding being a struggling addict is still a barrier towards a higher rate in treatments. An addict is still likely to be seen as a junkie who messed themselves up rather than as a person with a treatable psychological condition, which lessens the likelihood that they will get the treatment they need. According to American Addiction Centers, “only 1 in 10 individuals with addiction received any form of treatment at a facility, and 60% of those who perceived a need for treatment made no effort to get treatment.”

Getting Help

So, how would someone at RIT get help if they need or want it?

Students can make appointments with RIT's Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS). Their services range from verbal therapy, group meetings and a bridge to professional help if needed.

In the context of drug-related issues, Reetz also assists students who come to him to gauge whether or not their use of any kind of drug is to an unhealthy extent.

“We ask every student that comes in to fill out a questionnaire, and it specifically asks about alcohol use,” he explained. “And every time a student comes in we ask about their alcohol use. So we're gathering information on that, but that's up to the student to disclose it or not.”

Students can also fill out a self help screening on the RIT CaPS website. Using the tool, they can quickly assess what level of risk they’re at and receive follow up recommendations if the results necessitate them. Once they're at a level to which they desire help, they can begin their recovery by scheduling an appointment with a medical professional.

"We do the initial assessment, some brief treatment and we can be a bridge to other intensive services,” Reetz explained when describing the role CaPS plays in overall treatment. “Our average individual treatment model is about six visits. If it's an addiction, the answer is going to be something more intense than that.”

CAPS also holds a weekly group meeting every semester, called Smart Recovery.

“It's mostly about substance but also any type of addictive concerns,” he said. For example, somebody with a gambling problem can also attend the meetings, and not just someone dealing with substance abuse.

Students can schedule appointments on the RIT Wellness Portal or contact us at 585-475-2261. Provided services are accessible to all students.

The Core of the Problem

Reetz likens substance abuse to an abusive relationship.

“At first, it starts out with some curiosity and some interest and you explore it,” he explains. “It's really exciting and fun, and it seems like it works, so you spend more time together.”

A core tenet of a relationship is the ability to work out problems and issues had by each partner, and toxicity comes from their inabilities to do so.

“It's the same way with substances, a substance might feel good at first, but over time you don't break up, you stay in that relationship with the substance, even though it's like not bringing any joy and pleasure in life,” he said.

Both relationship and substance abuse rely on a similar emotional attachment.

“You feel like you can't leave it because it now feels like it's a part of you,” Reetz said.

“You feel like you can't leave it because it now feels like it's a part of you.”

Relaxation and anxiety relief are commonly used to rationalize the behavior to the extent of the unhealthy relationship, especially with alcohol or cannabis abuse.

The vicious cycle of substance abuse creates an unhealthy coping mechanism, which prevents people from being able to actively confront their conflicts.

“We have a little bit of anxiety that drives us to do that and motivates us. We take care of ourselves, we learn stuff, we do things, we engage in the world and we try to become a better person,” he stated.

Anxiety is a healthy emotion to feel, but constantly feeling overwhelmed by it, to the point where you need substances to relax, suggests a more serious, underlying problem.

The question Reetz poses to people who feel unmotivated or overanxious is: “How can we figure out how to deal with our anxiety and productive ways in ways to actually make us better?”

“We have to feel those things to be able to tolerate feeling them so we can work through them in effective ways,” he stated. “Substances block that growth process.”