TAMPA, Fla — Substance abuse and addiction - it's a hard topic to conquer. But, don't worry, you're not alone.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 19.7 million Americans ages 12 and older battled a substance use disorder in 2017, according to the American Addiction Centers website.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is "a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence." This can include alcohol, drugs, and other substances which can become so severe, they can take over lives.

Talking about addiction

"One of the first things that research supports is finding a way we can just have a conversation about [drug abuse and mental health]," said Gary White, the Associate Director of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance. "Mental aid first aid is similar to CPR - it's about knowing how to respond and knowing how to recognize the symptoms."

He says the biggest thing for someone who knows someone else who may be struggling with substance abuse or addiction is encouraging them to reach out for help.

For someone who has acknowledged they are struggling with addiction or substance abuse, White said he would like to emphasize they are not alone, and there are plenty of resources available.

"Don't try to go at it alone," he said. "The percentage of people who can quit 'cold turkey' is very minimal - the rest of the people who might be suffering from an addiction challenge need support and counseling."

He adds the outcomes of support and treatment are much more successful for people who seek out help and receive counseling and support throughout.

Counseling

White says for anyone who is on the fence about seeking counseling for their substance abuse or addiction concerns, there are non-judgemental counselors and people who want to help in this community.

"We have to acknowledge seeking counseling, and mental health and addiction, make people feel not wanted or make people not want to seek out help due to the stigma," he said. 

He adds there are good counselors and practitioners who can help without perpetuating the stigma. 

Resources and Treatment

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 8.5 Americans suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder, or co-occurring disorders in 2017, according to the American Addiction Centers website.

White says since mental health and substance abuse are "two horses out of the same stable," it can be helpful to try to tackle both at once.

"Usually one horse does not leave without the other - a person who may have a substance abuse may also have a mental health challenge," he said. "Sometimes people use substances to self-medicate, or treat themselves for self-trauma, and it goes into a cycle."

He says this is the reason why some professional practitioners come equipped to handle both.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a free, confidential hotline available 24/7, 365 days a year for people and families dealing with mental and/or substance use disorders, according to their website. The hotline can be reached at 1-800-662-4357.

The Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance's website says people can get help with resources by calling 211. Click here for a full list of resources on their website. 

White adds that the Central Receiving Facility at Gracepoint can handle both and can get people connected to the appropriate healthcare resources and practitioners.

According to its website, Gracepoint provides resources for mental health, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health concerns for both adults and children. 

For people facing financial burdens, whether they are unemployed or uninsured, White says there are still programs that will help, including Gracepoint.

FreeRehabCenters.org provides a list of free resources to treat alcohol and drug use. It also lists other rehab options in Tampa. 

The Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance recommends two specific substance abuse organizations, including DACCO Behavioral Health and ACTS. Both organizations treat symptoms of substance abuse, like marijuana and opioids, and offer behavioral health services for children and adults.

For a more complete breakdown of mental health questions or concerns, White says there is a Mental Health First Aid course that helps people identify, understand and respond to mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Click here for more information or click here to contact the program directly

There is also a Youth Mental Health First Aid program that teaches adults how to work with adolescents aged 12 to 18 dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. It also shows adults where to turn to connect them to the appropriate care. 

The National Council for Behavioral Health provided a video surrounding conversations about mental health and learning how to respond to someone who tells you they're not ok. 

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