Worried About Substance Use? Here’s How to Seek Help

It’s not always easy to know what to do when substance use becomes a concern. Here’s some important information and a how-to guide on getting help from a behavioral health expert.

When you — or one of your kids — break a bone or get an infection, you know that it’s important to seek medical help. Urgent care, ER or doctor’s office, you know where to go to get help. But what if you suspect you’re reaching for that glass of wine or marijuana edible more evenings than not? Or you notice that a loved one is retreating more and more into substance use? Maybe that loved one is even your own teenager.

“We all agree it’s OK to have a head cold. It’s even OK to say we are depressed. But we’re not yet at the point where people are willing to accept that alcoholism and substance use is a health problem. And that makes it harder to know how to get help,” says Jaimie Clayton, President and CEO of Oakland Family Services.

We caught up with Clayton to learn more about how to recognize when drinking and drug use is concerning, and where to go to get help.

Is my substance use a problem?

Maybe you’re not sure if your habits, or those of a family member or friend, are actually a problem. But if you are even asking the question, it’s probably time to reach out for help, Clayton says.

“Maybe you used to drink or smoke socially and now it’s all the time, that is your inflection point,” she says. “If you’re asking yourself if you’re using substances too much, that’s your answer.”

Or, if you have noticed that something has changed with a friend or family member and they seem to be operating in their world in a different way, your instincts could be spot on.

“You know that your friend drinks wine and suddenly they’re drinking a whole bottle. Or your teen’s behavior is different and you’re wondering why they won’t come near you when they get home. These are some moments of truth,” Clayton explains.

Each person is an individual and even if you’re certain that your substance use isn’t at crisis level, it may be that it’s just more than you want. “If you’re falling asleep because you’re drinking more and you don’t want to do that,” you can still get help, says Clayton. You can even start by checking in with a trusted friend or family member to share your concern, but bear in mind that nothing can replace professional help when it’s needed.

‘No wrong door’ for help

Today, primary care physicians are better trained to help with substance use disorder, Clayton says, so just as you’d make an appointment to get treatment for a sore throat, you can make an appointment with your doctor to talk about substance use.

“They should all know where to send you for help. It used to be that physicians didn’t know about behavioral health, so substance use disorders were carved away from physical health. But there’s been a push to integrate them and part of this is the understanding that addiction is a brain disease and not a moral failing,” she explains.

Just as you’d use a substance to help you cope with stress, that substance rewires your brain — and that’s a physical change. “Just as chocolate sets off serotonin release, substances can do the same thing. There’s a brain chemistry change that occurs,” she says, quoting former U.S. representative and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy to “Get a ‘checkup from the neck up,’ because you can’t cut brain chemistry away from the rest of your physical being.”

The understanding of the brain’s response to substance use has been a fairly recent, but game-changing, breakthrough.

“Over the past decade, one of the best things that has happened is our understanding, through PET scans and scientific studies and medicine, what truly happens in a person’s brain when they are using substances,” Clayton says. “But people are less likely to get help if they feel they have a moral failing. That’s why destigmatizing treatment and substance use and dependency is so important.”

If you have insurance or Medicaid, you can “turn your insurance card over and call the 800 number and say ‘I want to talk about getting help for myself, or for my 16-year-old daughter,’ and get a referral to an approved, credentialed substance use disorder specialist,” Clayton suggests. “If you don’t have insurance or don’t know if it covers help, you can contact Oakland Community Health Network. Just because you don’t have insurance doesn’t mean you are not eligible for help.”

Alternatively, you can search the internet for “licensed substance abuse treatment” in your town, which will return a list of providers.

What help can look like

Similar to a doctor’s appointment, you’ll begin with an in-depth intake where the licensed professional can learn your social and family details and your history with substance use. “The goal here is to understand if you are misusing substances, or if you are depressed and using substances to deal with that underlying depression — or is it both? It’s an assessment process,” Clayton says.

Then, you’ll receive a therapy plan which might include individual therapy once a week, or might also include group therapy, which, because it includes sharing stories and holding each other accountable, can be a very successful part of a treatment plan.

If you need a higher level of care you may need medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which can be successful, particularly for the use of opioids like heroin or oxycontin. “It’s a controlled medical replacement, and there are varieties of types, even a couple for alcohol now,” Clayton says.

“It’s important to engage in a treatment process that is individualized to meet your needs. If it’s recommended to come three times a week, but you are not ready for that, it won’t be helpful for you. There are stages of change and your therapist will look at where you are in readiness for change,” she says. “Maybe you know you have a problem and are all in.”

Specialized treatment through Oakland Family Services

Through confidential, research-based therapy, people of all ages can get treatment for anxiety, depression, trauma and addiction in a program called Day One, a mental health and substance use counseling program at Oakland Family Services.

Day One recognizes that special populations, like teens, pregnant people and mothers, benefit from specialized treatment. They can get various levels of specialist care through this program.

You’re not alone and treatment works

“So many people feel alone and stigmatized. There has been a lot of isolation during the pandemic and we have seen an increase in use and overdoses,” Clayton says. “But people who have mental health and substance use disorders are not alone. It’s OK if you are feeling like you’re drinking too much or smoking marijuana too much, we are not here to judge but to help you feel better and function better.”

The good news is that brain changes caused by substance use can be undone and you can get better.

“This two-word message is so important: Treatment works,” Clayton says. “Change is real. Recovery is possible.”

Content sponsored by Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN). Learn more at oaklandchn.org

​​OCHN leads a provider service network that assists about 23,000 Oakland County citizens at more than 300 service sites across the county. People who receive public mental health services through OCHN’s provider network include those who have an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health challenge or substance use disorder. The majority of these individuals have Medicaid insurance coverage.

OCHN’s goal is to ensure these individuals are aware of and have access to services and supports that will improve their health and quality of life, as well as ensure their engagement in full community participation. Its mission to “inspire hope, empower people and strengthen communities” reflects an unyielding belief in a “Valuable System for Valued People.” Programs and supports provided by OCHN’s service network are available at oaklandchn.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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