Teenage boy at meeting with female professional doctor psychologist

Meet the Challenge of Addiction and Substance Abuse

Mental health issues rank among the biggest risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing addiction and substance abuse problems. With their understanding of this connection, professional counselors play a key role in helping those with mental health issues avoid slipping into substance abuse as a way to “self-medicate.”

For those who already have developed addiction and substance abuse problems, mental health addiction counselors can help patients overcome their dependencies and become more self-sufficient and productive. This includes recognizing and avoiding situations that can act as addiction and substance abuse triggers.

Statistics show the enormity of the challenge at the national level. Almost 58 percent of U.S. residents over the age of 12 reports using alcohol, tobacco, or an illicit drug in the past month in 2021, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 14 percent of adults in 2021, or 40 million people, reported using an illicit drug.

Common Addiction Risk Factors

While more than 20 million people in the U.S. have an addiction, only 10 percent receive any type of treatment, according to the National Drug Helpline, which also reports $600 billion in drug and alcohol-related costs in the U.S. each year.

Of all the different population demographics, teens face the biggest risk of developing addiction and substance abuse problems. Even among adults, nine out of 10 who have substance abuse issues started drinking or using drugs before they turned 18.

A variety of issues can make a person more likely to develop addiction and substance abuse challenges. They include the following, according to the American Addiction Centers.

  • Genetics account for 40 percent to 60 percent of a person’s drug addiction risk.
  • Environmental factors such as a chaotic home environment that includes abuse, parental drug use, or a permissive parental attitude toward drugs can increase the chances of substance abuse later in life.
  • Peer influence, community attitudes toward drugs, and poor academic achievement are also contributing factors.
  • Teenagers and people with mental health disorders are more at risk for developing drug abuse and addiction than other populations.

Pandemic Increased Substance Abuse Problems

The global COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the nation’s mental health and substance abuse issues. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health report found that nearly half of the adults with a serious mental illness said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.

For those already experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, the pandemic may have increased the likelihood that they turn to substance abuse.

A report on the issue done by three nurse practitioners and published by Clinical Advisor compared the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and substance abuse to “the effects of a disaster (natural or environmental), war or traumatic event.” As an example, they cited a report that found a 30 percent increase in the use of alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes by New York City residents in the immediate aftermath o the 9-11 terrorist attack.

For those concerned about developing addiction or substance abuse issues, some of the symptoms are listed by the American Addiction Centers include.

  • Increased aggression or irritability
  • Personality and attitude changes
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Posting very different messages on social media
  • Dramatic changes in habits or priorities
  • Criminal activity

Physical symptoms include bloodshot and glazed eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, too little or too much sleeping, and sudden weight changes.

Touro University Worldwide’s MA in Addiction Counseling

Graduates from Touro University Worldwide’s Master’s in Counseling – Addiction Counseling Specialization Program prepare themselves for a career where they help people find relief from their mental health issues especially relevant to addiction and substance abuse. Graduates also gain the knowledge and skills needed to become licensed substance abuse counselors in California or wherever the student lives, based upon students verifying the specific licensure requirements for their state of residence. Every student must check license requirements for their state.

The 100% online program addresses important areas required by California for aspiring counselors, including case management, physiology and pharmacology of alcohol and other drugs, law and ethics, and counseling best practices. The program also features a clinical component, including a series of clinical practicums and internships with clients under supervision that allow students to apply concepts they have learned from the courses. Full-time students can complete the 60-credit-hour program in two years.

The instructors and group supervisors in the program are scholar-practitioners with years of experience in the substance abuse counseling field, thus imparting expertise in theoretical approaches to addictions and substance abuse counseling as well as how to apply those theories to real-world scenarios. 

The online Master of Arts in Counseling: Addiction Specialization program curriculum is aligned and incorporates the educational requirements of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. In addition, the program is aligned with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards that may lead to licensure as a Professional Counselor, Professional Clinical Counselor (LPC/LPCC), or Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

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