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In 2019, 133 people died of drug overdoses in Alaska. A total of 56% of these deaths were due to psychotropic drugs, and 80% of those were due to methamphetamines. Another 20% were related to sedatives, and 69% of those were due to benzodiazepines. Lastly, 66% of this group died of overdoses related to narcotics. Since several people were taking more than one substance, these numbers do not add up to 100%.

Drug-related deaths are a problem that needs to be addressed in Alaska. Kenai Peninsula, Juneau, Mat-Su, and Anchorage had the highest number of illicit drug-related deaths in the state. For Alaskans between the ages of 25 and 64, the death rate was five times higher than that of any other age group. When you take a closer look at the 25 to 64 age group, we find that the segment of the population that has the highest drug-related deaths is American Indian/Alaska Native females.

People do not like to discuss their drug or alcohol issues because other people are not always understanding when it comes to this topic because they do not necessarily accept that substance use is a disorder that needs treatment. Those addicted to substances must enter into a treatment facility where they know how to treat addictions to drugs or alcohol. If people with substance use disorders seek this treatment, they are likely to recover from their addictions.

Drug Withdrawal

The fact is that most of the substances that people take work directly on the “reward circuit” in the brain. As they do this, they cause the user to experience euphoria, and they release large amounts of dopamine into the brain. When the reward system operates normally, it encourages people to repeat behaviors that cause positive feelings. When dopamine is surging through the reward system, it reinforces pleasurable feelings, but it also causes people to ingest substances repeatedly.

When people take substances regularly for even a short period of time, their bodies become accustomed to receiving the substance on a regular basis. This means that they are addicted to them. After this occurs, they cannot stop taking the substance without help from a substance counselor because they may become extremely sick.

Addiction means that your loved one’s brain is malfunctioning, and the reward, motivation, and memory systems are involved. With addiction, your loved one will crave their drug of choice and then compulsively seek the drug even though it causes negative consequences. This may be the reason that your loved one cannot stop the substance use on their own.

The body needs to slowly adapt to no longer having the substance, so when your loved one suddenly stops ingesting the substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms may appear as your loved one’s brain chemicals begin to fluctuate.

Each substance causes different withdrawal symptoms, but withdrawal from opioid consumption will lead to the following:

• Goosebumps
• Diarrhea
• Anxiety and irritability
• Sweating
• Muscle aches
• Nausea

Guide to Withdrawal

Your loved one may endure withdrawal symptoms for a couple of days, but they could also last for several weeks. Your loved one is most likely to experience the worst withdrawal symptoms under the following circumstances if:

• Used their substance of choice for a particularly long period of time.
• Used a large amount of the substance.
• Have an ailment, such as hypertension, depression, or diabetes.

Even though your loved one may be able to endure the detoxification process on their own, the best choice would be to enter a drug rehab center. Drug withdrawal can be dangerous, so the best option is to undergo the process where your loved one will be surrounded by physicians, nurses, and therapists.

During the rehab process, the physician will be able to administer medications that will relieve your loved one’s withdrawal symptoms. Then, they can tolerate the process all the way to the end without losing their dreams of sobriety.

Why Get Ongoing Treatment?

The detoxification process is only the beginning of treatment for substance use disorder. After your loved one completes the detox process, they must move on to ongoing substance use treatment. It is imperative that those with a substance use disorder receive treatment that is ongoing so that they can have the best chances of becoming sober one day. They also have the opportunity to return to their jobs or obtain job training and focus on remaining employed. They can have relationships with their healthy friends and family, and they have the chance to work on themselves as well.

Ongoing treatment is highly important with substance use disorders because the substance use disorder is a “relapsing disease.” This means that people addicted to substances are likely to return to their substance use, but this is considered to be part of the recovery process.

The Possibility of Relapse

Relapse means that the person returns to using drugs or alcohol, sometimes to their former level of use. This occurs because the person is experiencing challenges. Your loved one may return to substance use after a hard day at work or because they are having trouble in their personal relationships. Sometimes, people begin to experience financial difficulties while they are working on becoming sober, and the difficulties turn out to be too much for them.

A relapse does not mean that your loved one failed in their recovery. It does mean that they need to continue with their treatment and that their doctors and counselors need to adjust it or give them an alternative treatment.

Throughout your loved one’s treatment process, they must be periodically evaluated to make sure that the treatment approach is still the best one for them at that time. If not, your loved one’s physician or counselor can modify the treatment so that it will keep them on the right track. This is like the treatment for physical ailments. For example, a person with hypertension will remain on their treatment as long as it is working. When the physician detects that it is no longer beneficial, they will make adjustments to the medications.

Similarly, if your loved one relapses, their treatment is not a failure. Instead, the physicians and counselors will know that they must administer an alternative treatment. The treatment of substance use disorder is similar to the treatment of any other physical illness.

Types of Treatment Available

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy, and it is used in treatment centers to address the problems that people with substance use disorders are experiencing. According to this treatment modality, people’s thoughts and feelings cause them to behave the way that they behave. The counselor focuses on the issue at hand so that the person can solve their own problems. The therapist also helps the client with their thought patterns so that they can change the way that they react to stimuli.

How Does It Work?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy uses both cognitive theories and behavioral theories at the same time. It is based on the idea that the person is more aware of the way that they are perceiving a situation and not on the true nature of the situation. Because the perceived reality is at the forefront, the person will use the perceived reality to react to it. Therefore, a person’s reality may be influenced by their current distressing or discouraging feelings.

The therapist will change the way that a client thinks or feels about a situation so that they can change their responses to the stimuli. Because it is a therapy that deals with the present, the therapist asks the client to describe what they are feeling and thinking at that very moment. If the thoughts are distressing or discouraging, the therapist will help the client determine whether or not these feelings are warranted. Clients learn to be involved in their own therapy so that they know that they can make improvements in their lives if they decide that they are going to think different thoughts and address their difficulties in a different manner.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing addresses each person’s reluctance to make changes in their lives. The therapist helps your loved one discover their own interest in leaving alcohol or drugs behind. Clients learn to talk about the changes that they want to make so that they can put them in their own words. They also learn to understand why they are ambivalent about making changes. Then, they learn to plan to make changes and begin the process. Most importantly, their therapists encourage them to make a strong commitment to change and stick with it.

Motivational Incentives

Also known as “contingency management,” motivational incentives is an intervention based on behavior therapy in which participants receive incentives after they have demonstrated that they are meeting their treatment goals. For example, they receive incentives after they pass their drug tests or attend their group meeting sessions. It is another treatment that will address your loved one’s reluctance to stop their drug use and move them in the direction of a non-substance lifestyle.

What Is the Purpose?

Some people are wary about motivational incentives because they believe that clients are receiving prizes for taking actions that they should be taking without physical rewards. Once people begin to receive incentives, they begin to lose the reluctance they felt for participating in the program. In the beginning, the rewards need to be small and few and far between. The reward is a way of recognizing the fact that the client is doing the right things in their therapy sessions. The best rewards occur after the client is living a sober life. As a matter of fact, the research discovered that people involved in motivational incentives remain in treatment longer, and they remain abstinent for longer periods of time as well.

Drug Rehab in Alaska Guide

Alaska has every treatment possible for your loved one. Your loved one may need a few of the following steps or several.

Step 1 – Intake

When your loved one arrives at the rehab center, the first thing that the staff will do is intake. It involves filling out paperwork and allowing your loved one to ask any questions that they may have. The staff will search your loved one for substances and give them a questionnaire that will let the center know exactly what your loved one needs.

Step 2 – Withdrawal

This is the managed withdrawal. The treatment center offers clients medication-assisted treatment or MAT. It uses medications to relieve the withdrawal symptoms, but it also offers your loved one treatment with behavioral therapies.

Step 3 – Residential Treatment

Residential or inpatient treatment provides your loved one with the most support that will take them toward recovery.

Step 4 – Outpatient Treatment

Your loved one may be able to return home and visit the rehab center in an outpatient program.

Step 5 – Ongoing Support

After a stay in a residential treatment center, your loved one may enter into a sober living home and receive ongoing treatment in peer groups, employment programs, and self-help groups.

While it can be overwhelming to deal with addiction, treatment is widely available throughout Alaska and the rest of the United States. With the help of dedicated physicians, counselors, and addiction specialists, long-term sobriety is possible for anyone who seeks it.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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