Why Getting Sober Early In Life Is Important
Addiction, like many other conditions, is a progressive disease; meaning it worsens over time. The longer somebody uses drugs or alcohol the more likely they are to not only develop a substance use disorder, but also a host of severe health conditions. Additionally, addiction can cause significant damage to other areas of a person’s life, including intimate personal and social relationships, loss of jobs, failures in education, legal and financial issues, and ultimately loss of life. While the best way to avoid any of the consequences of drug or alcohol abuse is abstinence, getting sober early in life significantly reduces risk.
Getting sober at any age is a vital part of long-term recovery; however, the earlier in life someone stops using drugs or alcohol, the less likely they are to experience harmful side effects, such as health conditions or relationship difficulties. The risk for addiction increases the earlier someone starts to use and can increase even more with the amount of substances one consumes, the duration it is taken, the frequency of usage, and the route the drug is administered. In short, the earlier and longer someone uses, the worse the outcome usually is.
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Four Reasons To Get Sober Early In Life
For many people, the motivation to get sober comes in the form of realizing the potential harm drugs and alcohol can cause down the road. For example, someone who smokes cigarettes may be motivated to quit to avoid developing lung cancer or other health complications. Someone who struggles with alcohol may decide to get sober after hearing a news story about a deadly car crash involving a drunk driver.
Because of this, understanding the potential risks, whether those be mental, physical, or emotional, can be an important tool to help some people get sober early in life. While sobriety looks different for everyone, there are some general benefits most everyone experiences once they’ve given up drugs and alcohol.
1. The Numerous Health Benefits
As we age, drugs and alcohol have a compounded effect on the entire body. Older individuals with substance use disorders often experience accelerated, advanced, or even sudden onset of cognitive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Moreover, older individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol also experience a worsening of pre-existing medical conditions.
Chronic, long-term use of substances has numerous negative health effects. For example, alcohol use has been tied to various types of cancers and cardiac disorders, and cocaine can contribute to sudden death and stroke. Additionally, chronic substance abuse can cause physical body issues such as heart palpitations, chronic pain, diarrhea, seizures, diabetes, and more.
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2. You Will Develop Healthier Relationships
Developing healthy relationships is one of the core building blocks of long-term sobriety. Making connections with others can be tough on its own, and adding drugs or alcohol into the mix only complicates things. Some people become so consumed with their addiction that they devote all of their time to drinking or doing drugs. Many people in the throes of addiction will lose interest in things they once enjoyed and may even recuse themselves from public life altogether.
For others, drugs and alcohol can actually be a way to meet others, which may not always be the healthiest of relationships. Those who frequent bars or spots where drug use is common may meet others who struggle with addiction. This can make quitting or staying away from environments that trigger drug or alcohol use difficult.
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3. Your Mental Health Will Improve
Substance abuse and mental health go hand-in-hand. Research has shown that nearly 50% of people who struggle with an addiction also have a mental health condition, and vice versa. Addiction is a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time. For those with mental health concerns, referred to as dual diagnosis, a worsening addiction can lead to worse mental health outcomes as well.
Things like sleep quality, diet, and physical health are all directly correlated with mental health. Once you’ve gotten sober, you’ll find that your mental health improves as well. Without drugs or alcohol, and with the help of mental health counseling, you can learn how to deal with stress, anger, trauma, and other emotions in a healthy, substance-free way.
4. Your Brain Can Fully Develop
For younger people, particularly those under 25, drug and alcohol abuse can severely impact the development of the brain. The chemical compounds found in many commonly used drugs, like Stimulants, Nicotine, Opioids, and alcohol, all enter the bloodstream and the brain when used. Once this happens, they can have severely damaging effects, especially on the developing brain.
One of the major reasons drugs and alcohol affect the developing brain is their effects on neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals that carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body, become altered when drugs or alcohol are present in the brain. For younger brains, this can permanently alter the brain chemistry, which can have lasting effects.
Drugs and alcohol can also alter the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for making decisions, interacting with others, and controlling yourself. When young people use drugs or alcohol, this area of the brain can become “stunted” and fail to fully develop.
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In general, when someone has developed a substance use disorder, treatment methods are generally the same regardless of how long they have been using. However, the longer someone uses, the more damage is done to their body, and the harder it is to stop. For someone who has been using drugs or alcohol for a prolonged period, treatment then entails focusing on the additional biological, physical, social, and psychological problems that have occurred due to long-term exposure.
In these instances, treatment can become more complicated, as the risk of potential co-morbidities caused by prolonged increases, thus more resources are needed. In short, the longer someone uses drugs and alcohol, the more likely it is they will need a higher level of treatment, such as inpatient rehab.
Inpatient rehab offers patients a safe, secure environment to detox from drugs and alcohol while under constant medical supervision. After detoxing, an inpatient rehab stay will typically include a period of 30, 60, or 90 days of treatment, where patients attend different therapy sessions, such as group therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These therapy sessions, combined with medication management if needed, provide patients with the tools and resources to build healthy, substance-free coping mechanisms that promote healthy recovery.
Whether you’re looking to get sober early in life, or you’ve been a long-time user and are ready to start your recovery journey, know there is help available. To make that first step, contact a treatment provider today for free to learn more about treatment options.
Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Addiction Center’s Medical Content Director, Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO is an accomplished physician, addiction medicine specialist, and psychiatrist with over 20 years of medical and administrative leadership.
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