Chronic Drug Addiction Info and Treatment
In 2005, researchers completed a long-term study in Amsterdam, attempting to determine how often people were able to recover completely from their addictions. The results of that study shed a bright light on the chronic nature of drug addiction. According to a summation the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology, of those studied between 1985 and 2002, at least 27 percent had died. Of those that survived, only an estimated 27 percent were able to maintain abstinence for at least four months. As these results make clear, addiction in some people translates into a chronic and heated battle, which might take years to fully win.
Experts caution, however, that results like this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that addiction treatments do not “work.” Instead, medical experts believe that addictions should be treated in much the same manner that other chronic conditions are treated. Just as no one expects a person with diabetes to miraculously heal when given therapies to control the disease, no one should expect someone with an addiction to drugs to spontaneously resolve all addiction issues within a treatment period. Instead, people with addictions may need to spend the rest of their lives working on their addictions, and they may face a relapse from time to time.
This article will outline the chronic nature of addiction as it relates to specific substances. If, at the end of this article, you’d like more information on how chronic addictions can be successfully managed, please contact us at Alta Mira. In our California facility, we offer lifesaving approaches that can be revolutionary in helping people overcome the challenges they face. Please contact us to find out more.
Chronic Marijuana Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the illicit drug most commonly abused in the United States. While the drug has been approved as a medication in some states, it’s still considered illegal by the federal government, due to its significant addictive properties and potential for abuse.
Marijuana contains the active ingredient THC, and recently, researchers determined that specific portions of the brain have receptors that can pick up and bind with THC. When the THC is connected in this way, a series of chemical reactions take place, causing a sense of relaxation and euphoria to sweep over the user. THC receptors don’t only connect to the brain’s cognitive ability, however. The drug can also cause the heart to beat both rapidly and irregularly, and this has been linked to death in some people. In addition, marijuana smoke has been linked to lung damage in some people.
While the short-term effects of use might be pleasant, marijuana can cause some long-lasting changes in the way a person thinks and feels. These changes might be most apparent when a person decides to stop using marijuana. According to a study published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, people who attempted to stop using marijuana experienced:
- Low mood
- Poor appetite
Some people felt these symptoms for 10 days, and then began to feel better. Others felt these symptoms for up to 28 days. It’s easy to see how these symptoms might drive a person back into abuse, as a simple puff of marijuana could make the sensations disappear. The marijuana puff could also make psychological cravings for the drug abate.
Treatment for this sort of chronic addiction sometimes involves the use of medications that can improve mood and reduce the sensation of irritability and anxiety. Treatment also involves therapy, allowing the user to more fully understand the nature of the addiction, and how an adjusted response in thought patterns and behavior can help to make cravings decrease. For some people, therapy sessions take place on an intensive basis for months, and then they return for periodic touch-up sessions of therapy when the need arises.
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Severe Opiate Abuse and Addiction
The term “opiate” can refer to a wide variety of drugs, from prescription medications to heroin. For some people, the addiction begins with a prescription medication, and then the user slowly transitions to heroin. For other people, the addiction starts and ends with heroin. No matter what route people take, however, the end result is much the same.
Opiates are extremely powerful drugs that are similar in structure to chemicals the brain produces naturally. In fact, when a user takes in an opiate, the brain can become fooled and believe that the opiate is actually a natural substance, and it will not move to shut down or remove the drug from the user’s body. The opiate attaches to receptors in the brain and produces a sense of euphoria.
While this process is occurring, the brain attempts to adjust, believing that it is producing too many chemicals of its own. The brain may stop producing specific chemicals, or it may shut off certain receptors in the brain altogether, so it can no longer be overwhelmed. This is a process that’s been replicated in a rat’s brain in as little as 39 days, according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, and it may go a long way to explaining the chronic nature of opiate addiction. With receptors shut off and the brain not responding, the person has created a chemical environment in which opiates are simply necessary. Without them, the brain can’t function properly.
So while people with an opiate addiction will also be given therapy for their addictions, to help them change their behavior, they will likely also be given medications that mimic the work of opiates. Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine do not cause a “high” or a feeling of sedation, when used properly, and they can help to limit the cravings a long-term addict feels. People with chronic addiction problems may need to stay on these medications for years, and perhaps even for life. It’s the best way to prevent a relapse to drug use.
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Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug that can be snorted, smoked, swallowed or injected. It’s an extremely powerful drug that can provide an intense rush lasting between five and 30 minutes, followed quickly by a sensation of deep and profound depression when the drug finally wears off. According to the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research, methamphetamine is so addictive, in part, because the sensations the drug provides are so very intense. An extreme high followed by an extreme low is very difficult to adjust to, and it can lead to repeated use as the user attempts to mellow out the two extremes.
Chronic methamphetamine abuse has also been linked to long-term changes in portions of the brain that deal with memory, learning and decision-making. These problems may be most evident when the person is under the influence of the drugs, but the problems can persist long after the person stops using methamphetamine. For example, a study published in the journal Neurology found that people who had not used methamphetamine for about 4.25 months still had specific changes in their brains that showed up on brain scans, when compared to people who had never used methamphetamine. This seems to indicate that people who abuse methamphetamine are functioning at a reduced rate of intellectual activity most of the time. They may not be able to make good decisions on their own.
There are no drugs that have been specifically developed to assist with methamphetamine addiction, but there are some therapeutic approaches that have been shown to be beneficial. In some cases, these therapy approaches take a global view of addiction, looking at the entirety of the person’s life, such as:
- Education level
- Parenting skills
- Legal issues
- Interpersonal relationships
Since methamphetamine is so destructive, chronic addicts may have trouble in some, or even in all, of these areas. As a consequence, their lives may be completely unmanageable, and they may simply retreat to drug use after therapy is complete, as the rest of their lives don’t support a healthy lifestyle. By providing therapy that assists with all of these areas, real change can be accomplished.
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Severe Cocaine Abuse and Addiction
Cocaine can be sold as a white powder that can be sniffed or snorted, or it can be sold in a crystalized form that can be heated up and injected. This synthetic drug works directly on the reward system in the brain, causing this system to release a significant amount of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. This neurotransmitter is commonly called the “feel-good” chemical, as it tends to make a person feel happy, contented and joyful. Cocaine then blocks the action of another brain chemical that normally recycles dopamine. More dopamine is being released, and none is being removed. The user is flooded with sensations.
Cocaine is similar to methamphetamine, in that long-term use of the drug has been associated with long-term brain damage and loss of cognitive function. For example, a study in the journal Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology found that people who used cocaine weren’t able to remember as many words in a memory test as people who did not use cocaine. It’s clear that the drug can do a significant amount of damage, even in a short period of time, but researchers suggest that higher doses are related to higher levels of damage.
There are no medications that are designed to specifically treat cocaine addiction, but an innovative therapy known as contingency management has been shown effective for cocaine abusers, according to the NIDA. In a contingency management program, the user is asked to submit periodic urine samples, along with attending therapy sessions and group meetings. Each time the person submits a clean urine sample, or performs one of the actions required as part of the recovery process, the user is given a voucher for a prize. The longer the user stays compliant, the bigger the prizes become. It’s unclear why this specific form of therapy is so effective in cocaine abuse, but it could be that contingency management allows cocaine users to feel immediate benefits of sobriety. These people are accustomed to sudden rewards: “I use drugs, I feel better.” Sobriety isn’t rewarding in quite the same way, as some benefits take months or even years to really become clear. Contingency management, with its clear rewards, puts a bit of immediacy back into the idea of sobriety and therapy.
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Chronic Addictions, Long-Term Solutions
As these examples demonstrate, therapy can help people with chronic conditions to improve and leave their addictions behind. Some therapies are designed to take place immediately, while others are designed to work slowly and build up effects in a cumulative manner. Therapy sessions, for example, teach lessons that might take weeks or months to learn, and sometimes, people need to repeat those lessons months or years down the road. Most top rehabilitation programs allow for this sort of touch-up therapy, so that the chronic nature of addiction can be addressed multiple times, if needed.
At Alta Mira, we offer our clients a lifetime of services. Clients can return for inpatient care, if a severe relapse occurs, or they can come in for a few sessions to help them get through a tough time. Please contact us to find out more about these services that address chronic addiction issues.
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