Drug addiction is one of the most devastating of all psychological and physical disorders that can affect a family. Unlike diseases without a stigma, drug addiction can bring up issues of blame that often lead to the addict falling deeper into the cycle of abuse. In order to successfully counteract the psychological implications of drug addiction, it is important to understand what drug addiction is and how it affects the human brain.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” By this definition, the abuse of drugs, while generally voluntary in the beginning, falls out of the user’s control once addiction takes hold. Regardless of the effect on family members, himself or the community, the drug addict will continue to seek and use drugs as often as he can.
Many People Addicted to Drugs Suffer From a Dual Diagnosis
The question of why people would choose to begin using drugs has been asked many times since the epidemic of drug addiction began in modern society. This isn’t a new problem and sanatoriums have existed for the drug addicted for centuries. However, modern society has studied the issue and discovered that by treating the reasons that an individual uses drugs, rather than only treating the addiction itself as a primary disease, more people are finding peace in recovery.
A dual diagnosis means that the addict suffers from drug addiction as well as another underlying condition. These conditions range widely between drug users and a single drug user may suffer from multiple disorders, including:
- Bipolar disorder or other major depressive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorder
- Low self-esteem or negative body image
The Difference Between Physical Dependence and Drug Addiction
There are many individuals who take legally prescribed drugs, often in doses higher than the directions provided by their doctors, who suffer from a physical dependence upon the drugs they take. These individuals provide for their families. They might meet social obligations, but sometimes fall short of them. They do not buy drugs off the street, nor do they “doctor shop”—a method for obtaining prescriptions for opiate painkillers or other medications from more than one doctor at a time. However, they will dedicate a great deal of time to ensuring they have the drugs they need and will worry about whether they may “run out” before their next appointment for a new prescription.
By the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) definition, these individuals are not addicted to the drugs they are prescribed; however, if they were to stop taking their prescriptions, they may suffer the same withdrawal symptoms as an addicted individual. Worse, if these individuals continue to take their prescriptions incorrectly, they will develop a tolerance for the drugs they are prescribed. As the tolerance increases, more of the drugs will be required to have the same analgesic effects and addiction can soon follow.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, there is no difference between addiction and dependence.
Types of Addictive Drugs
In today’s modern society, there are many classes and types of drugs that can cause an addiction problem. The lines between the drugs and the demographics that have historically used them have begun to blur. For instance, heroin is reaching the suburbs and several states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. The classes of drugs are broken down into the following categories:
- Stimulants (cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, amphetamine)
- Depressants (opiates including heroin, hydrocodone and others)
- Hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin, PCP and others)
Each type of drug comes with its own set of socioeconomic and short- and long-term health effects.
Signs and Symptoms of Abuse or Addiction
An individual who chooses to use drugs over the welfare and benefit of their own children, the needs of their families, or their employment and ability to earn a living are suffering from drug addiction by the accepted definition. Many of these individuals will deny they have a problem until they are faced with outside influences. Knowing the signs and symptoms of drug addiction and abuse can help a family determine whether they need to confront a loved one. The signs and symptoms might include:
- Changes in sleep routines
- Changes in appetite, including significant weight gain or weight loss
- Unexplained shaking or trembling
- Lack of personal grooming habits, significant changes in desire to look one’s best
- Odd smells on clothing, hair or breath
- Glazed eyes, bloodshot eyes or change in pupil size
- Unusual mood swings and periods that include excessive irritation and being quick to anger
Initially, the effects of drug addiction are felt on an economic and social level. Besides the obvious risks of impaired judgment, which leads to unwise choices concerning driving while under the influence of drugs or unprotected sexual encounters, the addict may find himself without funds or resources. This can lead to imposing upon family and friends on a regular basis to help them meet their obligations, such as rent and utility payments. Eventually, the addict may use these legitimate needs as a way to obtain more money to support their drug use, leaving their financial obligations aside completely.
There is always a risk of overdose, which often leads to death, even in the earliest stages of addiction.
As the drug abuse continues, the short-term effects increase in risk and frequency. Additionally, the addict will begin to suffer more health related disturbances, including:
- Lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases
- Heart attack
- Brain damage
- Destruction of nerve cells
- Open sores on the face
- Irreversible ticks and spasms
The long-term social effects of addiction can be just as devastating with entire families being separated and destroyed. Studies have also shown that children of drug addicts are more likely to suffer addiction when they reach their teens or adulthood.
Myths About Drug Addiction
There are many prevailing myths about drug addiction that have led to a misconception and stigma concerning this life-threatening disease. Knowing the difference between a myth and the facts can help to save the life of an addict.
- A drug addict chooses to use drugs. They can quit if they really want to.
This is one of the more dangerous myths concerning drug abuse and addiction. Once the drug user has reached the point of addiction, they have very little control over the disease itself. Without help, they are most certainly in a position to relapse. This is due to the effects of physical withdrawal, and in many cases the lack of treatment for the underlying psychological condition that has driven them to use drugs. A drug addict needs help to stop using drugs and learn to remain drug-free for the rest of their lives.
- Some drugs are safer than others. Pot is harmless.
All drugs can have life-threatening effects. No drug is harmless, including marijuana. Marijuana has been shown to be psychologically addicting and is often a gateway drug or drug of first use for addicts who will progress to harder drugs in the future.
- Rehab has failed for me in the past, so there is no reason to try again.
Many drug addicts must undergo several attempts at recovery before they are finally in a position to defeat their illness. Relapsing is part of the definition of drug addiction; therefore one should never give up their attempt to become sober because they have not yet reached that point in their lives. Instead, another attempt at recovery may be the final victory that leads to a life full of opportunity and happiness.
- A drug addict must hit rock bottom before they will be ready for treatment.
With the advent of the intervention, more and more families are raising the bottom for their drug-addicted family members. With the help of a professional interventionist, addicts are more likely to see the effect their addiction is having on them, their families and friends, and their abilities to live normal, productive lives. While some addicts will agree to treatment during an intervention only to leave treatment before it is complete, many will take those steps necessary to turn their lives around.
Types of Treatment Available
There are several programs available for the treatment of drug addiction. Some of these options are conducted on an inpatient basis while others are outpatient. Some provide a hospital setting while others are of a residential nature, with private rooms and luxury accommodations. Many top drug treatment programs today offer holistic and alternative approaches to recovery, including equine-assisted therapy which uses the calming and determined influences of horses to help the addict figure out new ways to solve problems. Still others operate on the 12-step principles outlined by established recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Choosing the best drug treatment program is a personal decision, but one that is necessary for an addict to get the support he or she needs to enter recovery and successfully redirect their lives.