BEE Heard: What is substance abuse and addiction?

What is substance use, and can you become addicted? Substance use is when a person experiments with using substances such as alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamine, vape, huffing chemicals, and nicotine. These substances can affect our bodies and minds in different ways, including our brains and how we think and behave. Substance use is especially critical for youth and young adults up to the age of 24. Why is that the case? Studies have shown that our brains don’t stop developing until we’re 24 years of age and using substances earlier then 25 years old can hinder our brain’s ability to develop properly. We also know that using substances at any age can create unhealthy pathways in our brains, unhealthy behaviors, and a reduced ability to cope with normal stressors in life.

Yes, you can become addicted to these substances. When people are addicted to a substance, they continue to use despite the harm caused to their mind and body. Many people have different ideas of what addiction is and how easy or difficult it is to overcome. In reality, addiction is very complex, and substances effect each person differently.

There is good news: you can overcome addiction with support and treatment.

What is addiction? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and their Drug Facts page, addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease – people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug. For more information, check their website at:

Is substance use related to mental health? Yes. In many cases substance use and mental health disorders go hand in hand. You might hear this referred to as co-occurring disorders. According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), addiction to drugs or alcohol is a mental health illness. How? The use of substances changes our normal behaviors and even the priorities in our life.

If using substances is affecting your ability to live, love, learn, and laugh, it might be affecting your life in ways that aren’t healthy. We would encourage you to seek someone to talk to about using substances and how it has affected your life.

The takeaway message: Substance use disorders and mental health disorders can affect anyone from all walks of life. Many illnesses, including those involving substance use and mental health, are common and recoverable. Conversations with your family and friends about using substances is crucial for early prevention. The Southern Ute Native Connections Program is a great resource for those of you who might need some tips and support to talk to youth and adults about substance use. We have plenty of handouts for different age categories that can be emailed or picked up at a designated tribal pick up area.

And as always, the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division is here for you if you need someone to talk to about changing your behaviors and dealing with emotional issues that may be connected with your substance use. We can also assist you with development of a recovery plan and connection with support services in the community. Together we can be here for one another.

Want to help and be a part of the change? Looking for community members and youth to join the Prevention Coalition tasked to reduce youth substance usage, eliminate mental health stigma, and start the discussion around suicide and prevention.

Upcoming Prevention Coalition Meetings: We are going virtual! For more information please contact Precious Collins, Native Connections Program Coordinator for more information 970-306-8131.

Upcoming Training: FREE online Suicide Prevention Training- Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) for Southern Ute Tribe Employees, and Southern Ute tribal members. Let’s all learn the warning signs and what to do if someone is experiencing a crisis. Please contact Precious Collins at 970-306-8131 or email to sign up.

Upcoming Community Events: The Southern Ute Native Connections Program has a surprise that will be announced in the next coming days. Can you guess what it might be? Well I’ll give you a hint, it’s virtual and involves a popular Native American Comedian! Stay tuned!


  • Southern Ute Health Center: Behavior Health 69 Capote Drive, Ignacio, CO 970-563-4581. For local Native Americans, call to schedule a counseling appointment.
  • Southern Ute Division of Social Services: 116 Capote Drive, Ignacio, CO 970-563-2331 for local Native Americans needing assistance with child welfare needs and family support.
  • Southern Ute Police Department: Anonymous Tip Hotline Do you have information about a crime? Please call 970-563-4999. This “Tip Line” was designed to allow you the ability to provide law enforcement with information, anonymously if need be, regarding criminal, drug, or suspicious activity. The “Tip Line” is monitored around the clock by SUPD Investigators, but it DOES NOT replace 9-1-1 or the non-emergency police number 970-563-4401.
  • St. Ignatius Catholic Church: Pastor Cesar Arras, 14826 CO-172, Ignacio, CO 970-563-4241.
  • Ignacio Community Church: Pastor Randall Haynes 405 Browning Ave, Ignacio, CO (currently located inside ELHI) 970-759-3633
  • Second Wind Fund of the Four Corners: Believes that every child and youth at risk of suicide should have access to the mental health treatment they need. We match children and youth at risk for suicide with licensed therapists in their communities, 720-962-0706.
  • Women’s Resource Center: Creates personal, social, and professional growth opportunities for all women in La Plata County, 970-247-1242.


  • 24/7 Axis Crisis Line: Southwest Colorado 970-247-5245 or text 741741.
  • Colorado Crisis Line: 844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255. You’ll immediately be put in contact with a trained counselor, ready to text with you about anything.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Has both an online chat and a 24/7 phone line at 1-800-273-8255 if you are thinking of suicide or need help for a loved one.
  • The Trevor Project: Seeks to serve LGBT youth, has a 24/7 suicide prevention line at 866-488-7386.
To top