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For some people, experimental use of prescription drugs or other substances such as marijuana or cocaine never really turns into a major concern, Physical dependence is not a factor and addiction never sets in to cause problems at work, home or school. But for others, the consequences of using drugs, even just a few times, can wreak havoc on their lives for many years to come often leading them down a long and very difficult road filled with addiction, grief and pain.
Understanding Drug Addiction
It’s hard for those who are not addicted to understand what it is that would make an individual become addicted. In fact, it’s even difficult for an individual who is suffering from drug addiction to grasp the reality of what it is that brought them to the forces of such a terrible disease. According to NIDA, “it is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack morals principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior.” Unfortunately, the reality is that drug addiction is a very complex illness that isn’t only difficult to overcome, it’s potentially deadly too.
People who abuse drugs, repeatedly or for a prolonged period of time are at an increased risk of developing a drug dependence which will subsequently make it difficult for them to quit using. Medline Plus claims that, “drug abuse can lead to drug dependence or addiction. People who use drugs for pain relief may become dependent, although this is rare in those who don’t have a history of addiction.” As such, nobody who takes a drug, be it for treatment of pain or for any recreational purpose, is safe from the potential downfalls of drug dependence and addiction.
How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain
Drug addiction affects the brain in a number of different ways. Some drugs will cause chemical changes in the body and the brain that prevent feelings of happiness without the use of the drug, others can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, while others can cause changes in the perception of pain or comfort. According to NIDA for Teens, “all drugs that are addicting can activate the brain’s pleasure circuit. [this] biological, pathological process that alters the way in which the pleasure center, as well as other parts of the brain, functions,” can have a lasting impact on the user.
Drug addiction has the following effects on the brain:
- Intensified stimulation of dopamine production
- Changes in the long-lasting ways of the brain
- Transformations of thought
- Blocking of neurotransmitters that pass messages through
- Blunting the response of dopamine system to everyday stimuli (according to National Institute of Health)
Recognizing Drug Addiction in a Loved One
If you suspect that someone you love might be addicted to drugs or may be abusing drugs, the best thing that you can do is seek immediate help for him or her. According to the National Institute of Health, “people with drug problems might act differently than they used to.” Some of these signs of drug use may be relatively simple to spot in someone that you are close to. Potential signs that someone you know may be abusing drugs include:
- Spending time without friends or family
- Avoiding activities that were once fun or enjoyable to the individual
- Acting as if they no longer care about their personal appearance, being unkempt or otherwise unclean
- Acting tired, sad or upset all the time
- Being nervous or in a bad mood much of the time
- Sleeping odd hours such as during the day and then staying awake all night
- Having problems at work or home that are unusual
- Eating more or less than usual
- Missing important events, appointments or times
- Acting irrationally or behaving oddly
Signs & Symptoms of Drug Abuse & Addiction
Many different signs and symptoms can become evident when drug abuse and addiction take over. If you suspect that you may have a drug problem, consider asking yourself whether these events pertain to you:
- Do you think about drugs most of the time?
- Do you try to quit using drugs but always seem to fall back into the old habits?
- Do drugs run everything that you do, consuming your life?
- Do you use drugs to mask your emotions?
- Do you take one drug to counteract the effects of another drug?
- Are you taking drugs at work or at school?
- Do you use drugs in risky situations such as while driving or operating heavy machinery?
- Have you taken drugs even after you promised someone you love (or yourself) that you wouldn’t?
- Have you been arrested for your drug use, possession of drugs or another crime related to your use of drugs?
- Have you been hospitalized for drug use?
- Has your use of drugs caused problems in your relationships?
If you answer yes to any or a few or more of the above questions, and you still use drugs then you have a problem that may warrant a need for professional help.
Finding Help for Drug Addiction
Finding help for drug addiction is mostly just a scary process because of the fear of the unknown. You don’t know what it will be like to be sober nor do you know what it will be like to go through treatment—these two situations alone can be very scary for a user no matter how tough you are. According to NIDA, “being addicted makes you afraid of what will happen if you don’t keep taking the drug. People often won’t try quitting until they’re forced to, because it seems to hard.” If this sounds like you, don’t fret—there is help available and you’re not the only one in the world who feels like this.
Many treatment options exist to help you along your path to drug addiction recovery. This complex illness requires a focused approach to treatment that often utilizes a series of medical intervention, counseling and therapy, supportive care and similar techniques to help people just like you to get sober. Some of the treatment options that are available to you in drug addiction recovery include:
- Medications that are provided during withdrawal to suppress symptoms during detoxification.
- Medications that are provided long term, such as Methadone or Suboxone, to help suppress cravings and provide a foundation for recovery.
- Behavioral treatment such as CBT, Multidimensional family therapy, Motivational interviewing, or Motivational incentives. Each of these can be used to help curb poor behaviors and teach new, positive reactions.
- Residential therapy in a facility in which counseling and therapy are provided on site to patients who live in the facility.
- Outpatient treatment in which the patient will come to the facility for treatment on a scheduled basis.
According to NIDA, there are certain principles of effective treatment. Some of these principles include:
- Understanding that no two people are alike and will respond the same to treatment.
- Making treatment readily available.
- Providing counseling and medications as a part of treatment.
- Making sure that patients remain in treatment for an adequate period of time which is generally no less than 90 days.
- Recognizing that many people suffering from drug addiction also suffer from mental illness.
- Providing additional support for patients in other areas such as health, vocational or socially.
- Assessing treatment plans continuously for improvement and to keep in line with patient progress.
Drug Addiction Recovery
Even after you stop using drugs, you’ll have a lot to learn and a ways to go before you can consider yourself sober and healthy again. Drug addiction recovery takes time and effort on your part. Know that it’s ok to accept that you cannot do it all alone and that asking for support and help is completely acceptable. Once you stop using drugs, your recovery efforts will involve:
- Having to learn how you can live without drugs
- Having to learn how you can cope with feelings, emotions, events and life’s stress without drugs
- Having to work on problems that may have caused your drug use such as marital problems, relationship problems, family problems, underlying trauma or stress and anything else that may have been at the root of your addiction
- Having to avoid people who you used to abuse drugs with, even if that means steering clear of people that you genuinely love
- Having to avoid the places where you used to use as these places could trigger drug use
- You have to learn how to be happy without drugs
- You have to learn new hobbies and fun things to do that do not involve the use of drugs
- You have to learn how to seek help for underlying problems such as mental illness or physical impairment that could lead you to drug use if you were to attempt to self-medicate
You have to remember that even in drug addiction recovery there will be times when your attention to sobriety will be challenged. If you relapse, which most people will at some point, don’t think that you did it all for nothing or that you’re a failure. Pick up the pieces as soon and as quickly as you realize that you made a mistake and get back on the road to recovery.