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There’s one thing that can help everyone understand why some develop an addiction to drugs and others don’t: accurate information. It’s important to clarify the misinformation and false perceptions that surround this disease. In fact, we’ll start with that.
Drug addiction is a disease that affects the chemicals in the brain. Some mistakenly believe that drug addiction is caused by a lack of morals among the afflicted. The same is true with willpower or mental strength. It’s incorrect to believe that one person develops an addiction and another doesn’t because one person is weaker than another.
What does “drug addiction” mean?
Drug addiction is a chronic, complex, relapsing disease characterized by drug use that is compulsive, difficult or impossible to control and involves drug-seeking behavior despite harmful physical, financial, and/or social consequences. The National Institute on Drug Abuse goes on to describe addiction as a “medical illness” that is considered both a “complex brain disorder and a mental illness.”
The official diagnostic term for addiction used by clinicians is “substance use disorder,” which is then ranked as mild, moderate, or severe.
Common Reasons People Use Drugs
An addiction starts somewhere, and although there’s no single reason why people use drugs for the first time, there are a few common ones.
- Mental health issues: It’s not uncommon for people to use drugs as a form of self-medication to help cope with issues related to anxiety or depression. Alcohol, for example, is often used to help someone temporarily cope with social anxiety. When a chemical shortcut is continuously used without the mental health issue ever being properly addressed, someone can get trapped in addictive behavior.
- Misuse of prescription drugs: Many think that prescription drugs are “safe” because they are prescribed by a doctor. However, there are several prescription drugs (OxyContin for example) that alter brain chemicals. When they are used in any way other than as prescribed or by anyone other than for whom the prescription was written, prescription drugs can lead to addiction. The misuse of prescription drugs and the rise of the number of prescriptions written for painkillers is currently a common reason why many start using drugs.
- Recreation and experimentation: Whether alone or with a group, using drugs for recreational and/or experimentational reasons is common. Sometimes it’s peer pressure that leads to experimentation, and sometimes it’s just one’s natural sense of curiosity.
Common Causes of Drug Addiction
Addiction-forming drugs alter the chemicals in the brain. Most drugs cause the brain to release unusually high amounts of dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals. The euphoric feeling is desirable, and people repeat the behavior (drug use) to experience that high again. Over time, the brain adapts and more of the drug is needed to create the euphoric feeling that was initially felt. This is called developing a tolerance to the drug.
The chemical change in the brain not only affects the increased drug dosage needed to create a high; it affects the brain’s ability to derive pleasure from common activities like food, sex, or social events. At this point, the brain is dependent on the drug to produce the “feel-good” chemicals, and it will continue to need more of the drug as the brain adapts to the drug’s effects.
Other factors that influence the likelihood of addiction
Upbringing and environment: If someone grows up in a household that accepts drug use as normal behavior, the child is more likely to use drugs. Other environmental factors like peer pressure, physical or sexual abuse, stress, and guidance affect one’s likelihood to use or abuse drugs.
Biology: Genetic composition including gender, ethnicity, and presence of mental disorders, plays a relatively large role in determining one’s risk for addiction.
Development: Taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction; however, the earlier drug use begins, the more likely addiction will develop. This is especially concerning for teenagers because their brains are still developing, and areas responsible for decision-making and self-control may lead them to take drugs.
10 Signs That Someone Might Have a Drug Addiction
If you’re not sure whether you or someone you know has an issue or maybe in the process of developing a problem with drugs, there are certain signs to look out for that might help.
- You continue to use a drug for a previous medical issue when it’s no longer needed.
- You develop a tolerance to the drug and need to take more of it to feel the same effect.
- Even if you want to stop using the drug, you are unable to.
- Despite the negative consequences the drug use has had on your life, you continue to use it.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug’s effects wear off. These may include headaches, depression, trouble with sleep, appetite issues, shaking, and more.
- You borrow or steal money to help pay for drugs.
- You become socially withdrawn.
- Normal everyday tasks become difficult to manage.
- You hide the drug use from others and become more and more secretive about your activity.
- Your habits have changed: you sleep more or less than you used to, you have a new group of friends who use drugs, you eat less or more than you used to.
If you’re unsure, ask a medical professional, speak to an addiction therapist, or talk with a colleague who has previous experience in this area. There is no harm in asking; there’s greater harm in not.
Getting Help for a Drug Addiction
No matter the reason why someone started to use drugs or why the addiction progressed, it’s important to treat it for what it is: a disease. Just as you would with any other disease, seek professional help. Do not try to manage the addiction on your own. Working with professionals in a setting dedicated to treating the underlying causes of addiction is the best way for you or your loved one to take back control of your life. Call Beach House today to learn more about drug detox and rehab treatment programs.