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FAQs Related to Drug Addiction:

Drug addiction is a psychological state that leads an individual to a compulsive and excessive use of drugs despite having knowledge about the negative consequences. Previously, a little was known about drug addiction, its causes, its consequences and its treatment. It was thought that some individuals simply lack willpower that keeps them from quitting the drug. The reality is very different. The usage of drug modifies the brain in certain ways that make the process of quitting very difficult even for the ones with great will power. Now that we know much more about it, we can help the individuals with this menace in a much better way. If you are someone who is struggling with drug abuse or want to help someone close, here is a brief insight about drug abuse to help you understand the situation in a better way:

The concept of abuse and addiction is often confused but in fact, these two are very different terms.

Drug use:

The first step towards dependence is the use of drug and gradually it progresses to abuse and addiction. At this stage, the person is in control of how much and how often should he use the drug. Sometimes the user might end up using it in larger amounts or for longer periods of times than intended but it is still regarded as recreational use. For example, planning to smoke only two cigarettes but ending up smoking more.

Drug abuse:

At this stage, the user spends significant time on obtaining and using the drug. The use is no more recreational but now cravings are forcing the user to obtain the drug and satisfy the need. The abuse of drug starts to affect everyday tasks such as not being able to show up for work, failing to meet the deadlines and fulfilling commitments etc. Side effects like nausea, headache, paranoia and muscle pain also start to appear. The user starts to develop tolerance and now it takes more amounts of drug to get the same effects. The user starts using the drug in amounts and methods that are harmful for him but the pleasurable effects produced by the drug outweigh the negative consequences and user fails to quit despite the efforts. The drugs that are widely abused include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine and more.

Drug addiction:

The abuse finally turns into addiction when the user has lost all the control over himself and he would give up on anything to get his fix. He needs to regularly use the drug to keep himself functioning. He keeps using the drug despite major problems in his casual and professional relationships. Any attempts to quit the drug result into severe withdrawal symptoms that may vary depending upon the drug of use. These may include nausea, vomiting, tremors, body aches, fever, insomnia, high blood pressure and even seizures and depression. This forces the user to go back to using the drug to avoid unpleasant symptoms. It takes a proper recovery program and medical detoxification to help the user recover and even after the recovery, the user is prone to relapsing so he needs constant attention.

Drug abuse and addictions are among the most common reasons people seek psychological help for. This indicates their occurrence is not very rare. The facts and figures elaborate that this issue needs to be addressed. According to a survey conducted by World Health Organization, about 3% adults from all over the world are struggling with drug abuse. There are about 6.1% American citizens that suffer from drug abuse as per the data of National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program. These figures are not as small as they seem to be. Many people go unnoticed for the mental problems they are going through. Any individual who have used any drug for recreational purpose is prone to developing addiction.

The terms drug addiction or substance dependence generally refer to the compulsive and uncontrollable usage of any of the drugs available such as cocaine, meth, barbiturates, benzodiazepines etc. The drug addictions are different from each other in ways they produce the pleasurable sensations and withdrawal symptoms. Here are some of the most commonly used drugs and the effects produced by them:

  • Marijuana: According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, the continued use of marijuana can lead to addiction so unlike popular beliefs, it is an addictive drug. Also, it is among one of the most widely used and easily available drugs in United States. A research conducted on Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States showed that despite the overall use of marijuana staying the same in the decade from 1991 to 2002, the abuse of drug was significantly increased. It highlighted the fact that there is a need to introduce effective programs to help the individuals out of this situation. It is the most widely used illicit substance available in the United States. The negative effects produced by marijuana include impaired leaning abilities, reduced productivity and an increased risk to abuse other drugs. It also affects respiratory and cardiovascular systems adversely.
  • Cocaine: This drug manipulates brain’s reward centers. The sensation produced by cocaine is intensely pleasurable and highly addictive. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment describes the exact mechanism by which this drug works. Crack is a more potent and dangerous form of cocaine. A 2006 National Survey on Drug Use showed that around 35.3 million Americans ranging from age 12 and older reported that they have use crack. About 6.9% individuals ranging from age 18 to 25 claimed that they had used cocaine and crack in the last year while among high school students, 8.5% of twelfth graders had already used the drug at some point in their lives. Cocaine continues to be the most commonly abused drug in the United States even to this date.
  • Methamphetamine: Also commonly called as ‘speed’, ‘meth’, ‘ice’, ‘chalk’, ‘crystal’, ‘glass’, ‘tina’, and many other slangs, it is a very potent central nervous system stimulant having long lasting effects on the brain. It affects the brain by creating a feeling of pleasure and elevating mood and energy levels. Long term effects of meth abuse include changes in the brain structure and function, declined thinking and motor skills, increased distractibility, mood swings, dental problems, weight loss, memory loss and psychotic symptoms including paranoia, hallucinations and repetitive motor activity. When attempted to quit, severe withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue appear. According to a research conducted on Prevalence of Nonmedical Methamphetamine Use in the United States in 2005, the overall prevalence of use of methamphetamine was estimated to be 0.27% and it has been increasing ever since. The estimated lifetime use of methamphetamine among individuals aged from 18 to 49 was 8.6%. It is quite an alarming situation that needs to be addressed.
  • Opiates: Also named as opioids and narcotics, it is a group that includes all the drugs obtained from opium, a compound extracted from a plant opium poppy. These drugs are used medically to treat pain. The group includes a number of compounds named in order of increasing strength: Codeine, Hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl. Opiate use produces a sense of happiness and euphoria that can be pretty addictive. Even people who use it as a medication to cure pain are at a risk of developing addiction since tolerance develops over the time and more amount is needed to achieve the same effect. The withdrawal of the drug may have severe symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, cold sweats, body aches, nausea and more but it is not fatal (unlike the withdrawal of alcohol and benzodiazepines). A study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that by 2007, around 2 million opiate addicts were present in the US and figure still continues to grow.
  • Hallucinogenic drugs: These drugs are psychoactive agents that can alter the perception of reality for the user. Hallucinogens can be extracted from certain plants and mushrooms and can cause hallucinations when used. They are classified into two broad categories that include classic hallucinogens such as LSD and dissociative drugs such as PCP. Usage causes emotional swings and the person starts to experience things and hear noises that are not actually there. The use of hallucinogens is common in nightclubs. Previously, these were considered non-addictive drugs but the recent research shows that use of hallucinogens like ecstasy can cause dependence as well as withdrawal symptoms when user quits.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs: with the continued use of prescribe medications; users develop tolerance that leads to addiction. Among the therapeutic drugs, opiates are most widely abused. The studies conducted on opiate addiction conclude that many of the addicts developed the habit from clinical use. There is an increase in Deaths from the Use of Opioid Analgesics in United States with each passing year. Apart from narcotics, other prescription drugs such as sedatives from benzodiazepine group are also addictive. Alprazolam, lorazepam, clonazepam, diazepam and temazepam are the most widely prescribed and most commonly abused benzodiazepines. Sleeping pills, psychotics and amphetamines are also widely known to cause dependence.

There are a number of factors that determine if the user will become addicted to the substance he is using or not. Some people are more vulnerable than others. These are the factors that determine the chances:

  • Genetics: The genetic disposition combined with environmental factors plays a major role towards the determination of addictive or non-addictive behavior.
  • Psychological Health: Mental illnesses increase the vulnerability. People suffering from anxiety, depression etc are at a higher risk of becoming an addict.
  • Environment: Living in an environment where drug addiction is common or having a family member with drug addiction can greatly increase the chances.
  • Emotional Trauma: A traumatic event in the past such as sexual abuse or losing a close person can lead a person to resort to drugs to lessen the emotional pain.

It is evident that some people are at a greater risk of becoming an addict than others. Even to this date it is a prevalent concept that lack of willpower and morals leads to addiction but medical science now believes that using drugs can alter the structure of brain in such a way that quitting becomes harder despite the efforts. The repeated use of drugs makes the brain of user dependent on drugs to function normally.

Dependence on a drug starts to affect every aspect of an addict’s life. He wants to get the drug at the cost of his time, relationships, professional life, hobbies and other every day activities. The signs and symptoms produced by drug dependence are physical, mental and behavioral.

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Insomnia and lethargy
  • Lost or increased appetite
  • Involuntary tremors
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Strong and unusual body odors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slow and stammering speech
  • Needle marks on venous sites
  • Persistent flu like symptoms
  • Frequent twisting of the jaw
  • Carelessness towards hygiene

Behavioral signs and symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Overall changed personality
  • Poor performance at school/office
  • Lack of motivation and lowered self esteem
  • Suspicious behavior
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Change of company
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Stealing money and household stuff to get the fix

Mental signs and symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Look for these signs and symptoms in yourself or a loved one and if you spot enough of them, seek help as soon as possible.

Addiction is a menace that shrinks a person to a mere object who wants nothing but his fix. The addictions affect the body adversely and some of the harmful effects produced by them are:

  • Increased or decreased heart rate for prolonged periods of time
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Stroke
  • Fever
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Muscle spasm
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Respiratory problems
  • Seizures
  • Seizures
  • Increased risk of blood borne diseases for addicts using intravenous injections

These symptoms indicate the physical dependence on the drug. If the addict is treated, severe withdrawal symptoms such as involuntary tremors, vomiting, muscular cramps etc appear that can be really painful.

Addictions alter the brain in such a way that brain fails to produce and use neurotransmitters in a normal way. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine etc and eventually, the brain fails to work without the drug. The physical changes induced by the drugs include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity and talkativeness
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Decreased learning abilities

If the condition is allowed to progress, the addict fails to complete even simple everyday tasks so this situation really needs to be addressed. The drugs interfere with the functioning of the parts of the brain that are associated with learning, memory, reasoning and judgment, producing an irreversible damage over the time.

Prolonged drug addiction has serious consequences. There are many physical, mental and emotional effects produced by drug addiction that can reduce a person to a mere shadow of their previous self.

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, addictions can damage all parts of the body. Some of the consequences are mentioned here:

  • Kidney damage and even failure in the case of meth and heroine
  • Liver failure. Caused by alcoholism as well as the use of Vicodin and OxyContin
  • Heart diseases and heart failure as noticed among the cocaine users
  • Lung damage is a well known consequence of smoking. Crack, cocaine and meth are also associated with lung damage
  • Dental problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Problems with fertility
  • Intravenous drug injections may result into collapsed veins and damaged tissue at the injection site

The emotional and psychological effects of drugs are just as damaging as physical ones. The mental problems caused by drugs have far reaching consequences. Mental health issues produced by drugs can range from mild to severe depending upon the drug and the period of time dependence is extended on.

  • Depression is a common consequence of drug dependence is caused when the user fails to get the same sensation even with the extended amounts of drug. The feelings of shame and regret also start to overtake the addict.
  • Anxiety is noticed in addicts while waiting for the next fix. They fail to focus on anything and feel restless.
  • Paranoia is experienced by the users of marijuana and cocaine.
  • Forgetfulness, panic attacks and low self esteem are experienced by the addicts even after years of quitting the drug.
  • Anhedonia, a condition described as an inability to feel pleasure or happiness, is often associated with addicts who have quit drugs.

There is not any definite period of time that would take for a person to become an addict. In fact, it varies greatly from person to person and drug to drug. Like it has been mentioned earlier, some people are more vulnerable to become an addict than others. It depends upon the genetic disposition, environment, and other psychological factors. For some people, it can take just a few uses to become an addict while others don’t become one even after repeated use because they lack the genes for this trait.  Another important factor that determines the time to become an addict is the type of drugs being used. Some are most addictive than others. For example, cocaine, heroin, meth and all the prescription drugs that belong to benzodiazepine family are found to be very addictive.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms varies from one drug to the other. While some drugs do not produce severe symptoms, the others can prove to be fatal. The severity of withdrawal symptoms is determined by the following factors:

  • The type of drug used
  • The amount of drug used
  • The period addiction was extended over
  • Genetic disposition
  • Method by which the drug was used e.g smoking, snorting, injecting or swallowing
  • Physical and psychological health

The withdrawal symptoms differ depending upon the drug.

  • Heroin: The withdrawal symptoms start to appear as early as within the 12 hours after the last use and reach to the maximum within 48 hours.
  • Prescription opiates: Withdrawal symptoms start to appear within 12 hours of the last use and may last for as long as 5-10 days.
  • Benzodiazepines: Withdrawal symptoms start to appear after 1-4 days and last for months in some cases.
  • Cocaine: Withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours and may last from one week to several weeks.

A proper treatment program is needed to completely detoxify the body but the chances of relapse always remain.

It takes a lot of hard work and patience to help a loved one out of drug addiction. They need your constant support and attention. Do not hesitate to make a move. Here are a few things you can do to help them:

  • Talk to them: Talk to them affectionately. Have an honest discussion about what led them to resort to the drugs. Assure them you stand by their side and that they will get rid of this menace. At first, they can be denial of the fact because of the shame or regret but make sure to talk to them in such a way that they open up.
  • Seek professional advice: Consult counselors and therapists regarding your situation and let them help. Take your loved one for therapy sessions. Assure them that you love them anyway.
  • Look for recovery options: It is never too late to mend. Start looking out for treatment before the damage becomes irreversible. There are proper medications and rehabilitation programs available. Enroll your loved one in one of them and support them throughout. Do not isolate them.
  • Do not blame them: They might be at fault somewhere but blaming them won’t help. It will only push them deeper in the pit of darkness.
  • Learn how to deal with them: It is a general behavior among the addicts to deny the reality or to refuse getting treated because of the pain and shame associated with it. It is important to stay patient and seek the help of a therapist to confront your loved one about the consequences of the addiction.

It can be a difficult task to break this painful news to your loved ones, but at the same time, it is important to be straightforward and upfront about it to let them know about the severity of the matter.  Be prepared to receive any type of reaction. They can be more supportive than you ever imagined or exactly opposite to it. Develop a plan regarding how you are going to talk to your loved ones about it. Educate them about how the addictions work and that it is not always addict’s fault. Arrange a combined session with the therapist to help them understand the situation in a better way. No matter the consequences, the best available option is to let your loved ones know.

Just like any other disease, the treatment and recovery from drug addiction is possible. Extensive treatment programs are offered for the addicts. Most of them usually start from detoxification and medical treatment. Detoxification is a procedure by which body is cleansed of any remains of the drug and the physiological effects of drug withdrawal are dealt with. But detoxification alone is not enough to get rid of addiction and deal with the physical, mental and emotional effects of drug dependence. Therefore, a number of recovery programs are designed for the addicts.

  • Seeking therapy: Therapy and counseling is one of the most initial measures. It not only helps the addict understand the severity of matter and the consequences but also teaches his loved ones how to handle the situation.
  • Medications: A number of medications are used to facilitate the recovery and make the process less painful. Medications are also used to suppress the appearance of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Long term Partial hospitalization treatment: It includes a constant 24/7 provision of care to the patient, in a setting especially designed for addicts. The best proposed plan for long term Partial hospitalization treatment is therapeutic community or TC. The addicts are made to stay there for 6 to 12 months. During the treatment, the rehabilitation of the addict is focused. The staff and other addicts have a major role in the treatment process.
  • Short term Partial hospitalization treatment: It also includes detailed care but for relatively short periods of time. It is a 12 step approach that includes a 3 to 6 week Partial hospitalization treatment phase that is later replaced by outpatient treatment. The patients are also made to engage in aftercare programs and self help groups to reduce the risk of relapsing.
  • Outpatient treatment programs: Outpatient treatment programs cost less than Partial hospitalization treatment programs. However, the patient is not being monitored 24/7 so there is a greater chance of relapsing. These are designed keeping in mind the needs and requirements of every individual patient. It is more suitable for patients who have already completed an Partial hospitalization treatment program. Those, who want to opt for it as the main program should have a strong support system at their back.

Medications are used to facilitate the process of recovery since they lessen the pain and make the withdrawal symptoms less severe. The medications used for the treatment of addiction are addictive themselves so it is important to provide constant medical supervision to the patient. According to National Institute of Drug Abuse, following drugs are approved to be used for the treatment of drug addiction:

  • For opioid addiction, methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone are the drugs approved by FDA. They target the same centers in the brain as opioids such as heroin and morphine and this way, relieve the pain produced for withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is particularly effective for the treatment of heroin addiction. It helps the addicts to quit heroin gradually.
  • Buprenorphine helps the addicts to resist the cravings and successfully defeat the desire to take the drug again.
  • Naltrexone is used to block the pleasurable effects produced by opioids so even when the patients takes the drugs, he fails to achieve the same pleasurable sensations.
  • There are a number of other drugs prescribed by the specialists to ease the withdrawal symptom and help with body aches and tremors. They basically reduce the pain that a patient goes through during the course of treatment.
  • Medications are also prescribed to help the patient avoid relapsing.

With the help of proper treatment programs, many addicts are living a drug free, happy and successful life. Recovery is possible for everyone; it just takes time, patience and determination. Even after the full recovery, there are very high chances for a relapse. Partial hospitalization treatment as well as self help programs have been found to significantly decrease the relapse rate. Getting rid of addiction is a painstaking task and relapse is an indicative of this fact. It is important to not to take it lightly and opt for Partial hospitalization and aftercare programs. Relapse prevention programs are also available for the addicts to help them effectively avoid the relapsing.

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