Addictions counselor explains ‘substance abuse continuum’

To get a better sense of the behavior of habitual drunken drivers, the Journal-World interviewed licensed clinical addiction counselor Lisa Carter, who works for DCCCA.

Carter explained the “substance abuse continuum,” which outlines varying stages of alcohol addiction, and how individuals in those stages respond to negative consequences, such as being arrested for a DUI.

Here’s how Carter explained the five stages:

No use or abstinence: Individuals who do not drink.

Nonproblem users: Those who drink occasionally, but who don’t experience any negative effects related to their drinking. Commonly referred to as “social drinkers.”

Misuse: When nonproblem users experience a negative consequence of drinking, they shift into this category. Those consequences can range from relationship problems to legal trouble. In this stage, a negative consequence is sometimes enough to make a person curb problem drinking.

Abuse: Misusers who continue to experience negative consequences but drink anyway. Carter said that at this stage, friends and family begin noticing the problems, and the drinking can cause problems in nearly every aspect of someone’s life. Some are still able to cut down on their drinking at this stage, and slide back into one of the lesser stages.

Dependence: In this stage, a person is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. At this stage, negative effects of drinking are not enough to persuade someone to stop drinking. Consequences don’t matter.

Treatment varies, depending on what stage someone is in, Carter said, and can range from outpatient therapy for misusers to intensive inpatient treatment for those in the dependence stage.

The new Kansas DUI law has provisions to increase treatment for offenders, such as standardized substance abuse assessments for all offenders. The new law also designates funding to send offenders to inpatient substance abuse facilities.