Drug Addiction

Most cases of drug addiction begin with social use, experimentation, or even legitimate dosage (as in the case of prescription drugs). When used repeatedly, drugs begin to trigger a series of chemical changes in the body that render the user addicted to drugs. Drug addiction affects individuals of all ages–across all socioeconomic, racial, and geographic boundaries–often with psychologically and physically devastating effects. In many cases of drug addiction, users will continue to abuse drugs until they have been successfully treated or die.

Signs of Drug Addiction

Hallmark signs of drug addiction include increasing use with building tolerance, failed attempts to stop drug use, and withdrawal cravings during periods of abstinence. Drug addicted individuals tend to ensure that they have a supply of drugs lined up for the next use, and grow anxious when their supply runs low. Thoughts of drugs begin to preoccupy their thought lives, and they often feel they need drugs in order to weather emotional or interpersonal interactions and challenges.

Drastic measures may be taken to finance continued drug use–including debt, borrowing, theft or even prostitution. High-risk activities often accompany drug addiction, such as driving under the influence or purchasing street drugs from strangers to get high.

The Process of Drug Addiction

Whether swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected, drugs begin to alter brain chemistry within a short window of ingestion. After repeated use, the body begins to exit its state of natural balance–known as homeostasis–in an attempt to adapt to the presence of drugs. These alterations in the brain create chemical imbalances, causing the user to feel normal only when high, and experience withdrawal symptoms when drugs are absent. Drug addiction also activates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, creating a strong association between drug use and euphoria. The result is the duality of drug addiction–with both physical dependency and psychological addictions at play.

Physical Effects of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can have lasting–and fatal–physical consequences. Many addictive drugs seriously impact the central nervous system, leading to seizures, tremors, or dysregulation of the body’s automatic functions. Drug addiction can cause serious complications such as respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, organ failure, stroke, and coma. Drug addiction can contribute to the development of cancers, autoimmune conditions, and heightens the risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses such as HIV and Hepatitis. Drug addiction can also lead to death by overdose, even in veteran users, due to drug tolerance, polydrug use, and combination of drugs and alcohol.

Psychological Effects of Drug Addiction

Depression, anxiety and dissociative disorders can all be triggered by drug addiction. Even serious mental illnesses–such as schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis–can be activated by heavy drug use. Drug addiction can also contribute to low self esteem–and in severe cases, can lead to suicidal ideation. Drug addiction can also lead to mood swings, memory loss, dementia and aggressive or violent behavior.

Drug Addiction & Relationships

In relationships, drug addiction can lead to loss of physical and emotional intimacy as well as a breakdown of trust. Relationships that involve drug addiction often involve high levels of conflict, isolation, and codependency as one or more partners escalate into uncontrolled drug abuse. Relationships involving drug addiction also tend to have higher incidences of break-ups and divorce due to lack of coping skills, financial stress, arguing and infidelity. Drug addiction can also contribute to child abuse and neglect, as well as partner violence and domestic assault.

Drug Addiction Detox

As the first stage of the recovery process, drug addiction detox allows the body to return to homeostasis through a period of monitored abstinence. Drug detox patients can be treated to alleviate withdrawal symptoms as their bodies purge harmful toxins that have accumulated during the period of drug addiction. In general, there are two approaches to drug detox: natural detox and medical detox. Medical detox includes the use of other drugs to mitigate withdrawal symptoms, while natural detox favors medical supervision as the body detoxifies–without the use of potentially addictive drugs.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug addiction recovery programs fall into two main categories–inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. Outpatient rehabilitation generally is state-funded, and provides group counseling and drug awareness education for a limited number of hours each week. Inpatient rehabilitation programs tend to be full-service, providing on-site medical, therapeutic, and addiction treatment staff while patients reside onsite. Outpatient drug rehabilitation centers tend to require drug detoxification prior to attendance, while inpatient recovery centers can provide onsite detoxification services. In general, inpatient drug rehabilitation programs tend to be better suited to enduring or serious drug addictions–and generally experience higher success rates than outpatient programs.