Have you ever wondered how long it takes to form a new habit? While the process varies from person to person, one influential study found that it takes 66 days on average. However, some participants in the experiment were able to learn a new habit in just 18 days. This research suggests that under the right circumstances, people are capable of making long-lasting changes to their behavior in a relatively short amount of time—for better or worse.
Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month. This public health program aims to educate Americans about the dangers of alcohol use and alcohol dependence, and it comes at a crucial time this year. With many people stuck at home on account of the COVID-19 crisis, some are turning to alcohol use to pass the time. A quick search of Google Trends shows that online searches for “drinking games” have been on the rise since March, with “quarantine drinking games” and “virtual drinking games” exploding in popularity.
Although moderate alcohol consumption may be safe for some people, periods of increased use can lead to the development of dependence and other issues. And since people are capable of ingraining new behaviors over the span of just a few weeks, the ongoing lockdown provides ample time for someone’s drinking habits to change. For these reasons, it’s important that we keep track of our alcohol consumption, recognize the signs of problem use, and know where to get help if we need it.
For more information about identifying and treating alcohol use disorder, we spoke with Erin Flick, a Substance Use Disorder Specialist and Team Lead based out of our Greencastle office. In this post, Erin shares some of the most common symptoms of alcohol dependence, and she also explains how Cummins Behavioral Health has begun providing virtual outpatient services to help people with substance use disorder during the current pandemic.
Erin Flick on Identifying Problematic Substance Use
Substance use disorder (or SUD) can cause immeasurable harm to a person’s life, but one big challenge of prevention is that SUD can sometimes be difficult to detect. Although there are many signs that someone may be chemically dependent on a substance, they can be subtle and tough to spot in ourselves or others, especially early in the progression of the disorder. Knowing the signs of problematic use can help us identify and seek help for substance use disorder sooner rather than later.
“Problematic substance use may look different for everybody, but if you’re questioning whether someone is developing a problem, one thing to reflect on is what their ‘normal’ has been and if there have been changes to their normal,” Erin says. She also encourages you to ask yourself the following questions; if the answer to one or more is “yes,” then it’s possible that the person is suffering from substance use disorder:
“Does the person have a change in friends, or if they’re normally very social, are you not seeing or hearing from them as much? Has their sleep hygiene changed? For example, are they staying up all night, or do they have their days and nights mixed up? How is their energy level? Have they usually been laid-back, easy-going and task-oriented, and now they appear more energetic and focused on things that they weren’t focused on before? If the person would come home and have one beer at dinner, for instance, are they drinking a little bit more? Are they continuing throughout the evening? If they have responsibilities such as work or school, have they been neglecting those responsibilities?”
In addition to these signs, the Mayo Clinic lists the following behaviors as possible symptoms of substance use disorder:
- Having intense cravings for the substance that block out other thoughts
- Needing more of the substance to get the same effect as before
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance
- Spending money on the substance even when you can’t afford it
- Continuing to use the substance even though you know it’s causing negative consequences in your life
- Doing things to obtain the substance that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
Introducing Virtual IOT for Treatment of Substance Use Disorder
If you or someone you know develops a problem with alcohol or other substances, the ongoing State lockdown isn’t a good reason to put off seeking treatment. Early intervention has been proven effective at addressing risky substance use behaviors before a disorder can develop, so it’s crucial to get help as soon as you notice a problem. Fortunately, the option of virtual treatment makes this possible even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve spoken previously about how Cummins BHS has adopted telehealth technologies to care for our consumers, and this extends to our services for substance use disorder. Intensive Outpatient Treatment, or IOT, is one of our most popular services for treatment of substance use disorder, and it’s now being provided virtually in Montgomery and Putnam counties. “We utilize a platform called RingCentral Meetings,” Erin says. “Group members can log in through their phone or their computer, and we engage the group with the same rituals and format as we would if we were sitting in a circle together.”
Just like with any telehealth service, it can take some time for providers and group members to adjust to the dynamics of virtual IOT meetings. However, virtual sessions allow participants to continue receiving care from the safety and comfort of their own homes, and they can even provide some unanticipated benefits to the therapeutic process. Erin explains,
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback in regards to consumer engagement. Those clients that previously had barriers to get to the facility for Group seem to be the ones that are ready to go every morning virtual Group is facilitated, so it’s been encouraging to see that commitment level. And for the providers, it’s nice to get to see some of their consumers’ home environments. We hear about them and can only imagine when we’re sitting in Group, but with video chat, we have an inside look into whatever their environment is. For example, their family members or children might pop in as they’re walking through the house, so it’s a nice way to get a visual of those things.”