Substance Abuse is Not the Problem: It’s the Symptom


As part of National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week (January 22-27), Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Health Services Manager Mike Rizzo wants everyone to know that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral issue.

“Be careful not to judge yourself and just seek out the help that you need. There’s no shame in any of it,” Rizzo says.

The week brings teens and scientific experts together online to discuss scientific facts about drugs and alcohol and their potential health effects. Among the areas typically covered are the effects of drugs and alcohol, how to help friends or family who are abusing substances, and what causes addiction.

“People who have gone to addiction are no longer using drugs or drinking to have a good time. It’s become their coping skill,” Rizzo points out. “The substance is not the problem, it’s a symptom. The problem is the underlying stresses and using drugs and alcohol to cope with them. It’s important to learn new coping skills.”

For anyone who is struggling with drugs and alcohol, Rizzo offers the following tips:

  • Take a close look at the role that drugs and alcohol play in your life.
  • Learn the basic steps of how to stop using drugs and alcohol and how to stay clean.
  • Address the holes in your life you may be trying to fill with drugs and alcohol.
  • Develop a sober support group.
  • Seek help through a 12-Step program, from a recovery program, or from a therapist or psychiatrist.

“Support becomes really important in recovery. Much like we create a lifestyle around our substance abuse, we have to create a lifestyle around our not using,” Rizzo says.

If you’re struggling with substance abuse, the Center has many programs and services to help. These include confidential, one-on-one therapy and therapy groups run by professional substance abuse counselors. The Center is also home to a wide variety of 12-Step group meetings. Go to for more information.

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