What is Drug Addiction?
As evidenced by the approximately 14,500 drug treatment facilities that operate in the United States, drug addiction is a major issue across the country. Addiction is characterized by a physical or psychological dependence on substances. People who are addicted to drugs often continue with their drug use despite the harm it can potentially and often eventually does cause. In cases in which people want to stop using drugs, they often find they cannot easily cease their substance abuse.
Drugs that are Commonly Abused
Alcohol, traditional street drugs, and prescription painkillers are the most commonly abused substances. Among illicit drug, marijuana has the highest rate of abuse and dependence, with 4.2 million Americans meeting the criteria for abuse or dependence in 2011, followed by prescription pain relievers, which had an abuse and addiction rate of 1.8 million the same year. Cocaine, heroin, tranquilizers, and stimulants all were reported to have had a dependence/abuse rating between 300,000 and 500,000. It is estimated that 14 million adults have an ongoing problem with alcohol abuse. Club drugs like ecstasy (MDMA) is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
Although drug of choice may vary, symptoms that may result from abuse or addiction may include:
- Failed attempts at ceasing drug use
- Feeling like regular drug use is necessary, regardless the frequency
- Increased focus of time and energy on obtaining and using the drug
- Engaging in behavior that is out of the ordinary for the purpose of obtaining the drug, i.e. stealing, prostitution, etc.
- Making it a priority to maintain a constant supply of the drug
- Purchasing the drug despite not being able to afford it easily
- Feeling like the drug is needed to solve problems
- Driving, operating heavy machinery or doing other potentially dangerous tasks while under the influence of the drug
Symptoms of having used a drug often vary based on the substance. After using marijuana, a person may exhibit:
- Signs of drowsiness
- Lack of coordination
- Memory problems
- Slurred speech
- Slowed breathing
People who use stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, and the prescription drug, methylphenidate, may exhibit:
- Rapid speech
- depressed appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Nasal issues when the drug is snorted
A person who has been using prescription painkillers may display the following:
- Reduced sense of pain
- Needle marks if drug is injected
Those who use club drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, or MDMA may show signs of:
- Reduced inhibitions
- Decreased coordination
- Amphetamine-like effects
- Memory problems
- Poor judgment
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
People who use drugs often start by using substances recreationally or casually. Some people who become addicted to prescription drugs may originally be ordered by a doctor to take the drug and later have difficulty stopping. Some substances like methamphetamine are very addictive, and the user instantly craves more of the drug within the first few occasions of using it, sometimes even after the first time. In other cases, drug users build a tolerance over time after continuing to use their substance of choice and eventually realize they have become dependent and are unable to stop using it. In the majority of cases, people who use drugs never initially intended to become addicted, and they falsely believed they could simply stop using drugs at any time.
Dependency on drugs can cause some complications with mental, emotional, and physical health. Some short and long term health problems may occur from drug use. Some drug abusers may develop psychosis, respiratory ailments in the case of drugs that are inhaled or smoked, liver disease, memory loss, destruction of the nasal membranes when drugs are snorted, recurrent hallucinations, auditory delusions, poor dental health, neurological disorders, seizure, and a less healthy appearance overall among other conditions. Nevertheless, health problems will vary depending on the drug that is used. Taking certain drugs, like benzodiazepines can increase the risk of coma and sudden death, particularly when combined with alcohol.
Being under the influence of a drug can make a person more susceptible from bodily harm that results from another source. Driving a vehicle while under the influence increases the likelihood of colliding with another vehicle or a stationery object. People are also more likely to participate in high-risk behavior like using unclean needles or engaging in sexual practices that may increase the likelihood of contracting HIV and other diseases. Some drugs may also trigger violent or aggressive behavior that can lead a person to engage in dangerous physical altercations or other behaviors that may result in injury, death, or an encounter with law enforcement.
Having a drug addiction is typically expensive and often leads to job loss or poor academic performance, which can exacerbate unfavorable financial circumstances. People who have a drug habit, but find that they do not have enough income to afford drugs may find themselves resorting to crimes like theft, prostitution, selling, trafficking, or manufacturing drugs to support their habit and other financial needs. These activities also increase the likelihood of being incarcerated and having a criminal record that may make job prospects harder to come by in the future.
People who abuse drugs often suffer emotionally from their addiction as do the people around them. Drug dependency can lead to emotional and mental instability, which can cause a person to become frequently tardy to school and work and otherwise unable to perform required duties. Relationships with friends and family become strained, especially if friends and relatives members oppose the drug use. Drug abusers may often find themselves lying more frequently and not meeting responsibilities. An increase in friction with co-workers, employers, school staff, and loved ones can lead the drug user to experience depression, which often results in more drug use.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent drug use. Education is a major component in preventing youth and adults from abusing and becoming addicted to drugs. Good education begins at home when parents inform their children about the presence of drugs in the outside world and the mental, physical, and emotional toll drugs take on people’s bodies. They should also teach children about the reasons people do drugs and help them come up with strategies to avoid peer pressure and to be willing to behave individually and abstain in situations in which other people may favor doing drugs. Parents should also work to strengthen their bond with their children and create a relationship of trust. Children must be able to believe and trust that their parents act and advise them in their best interest, and parents must demonstrate and prove that they are motivated by a desire for their child’s well-being. Parents should also listen to children when they describe their lives outside of a home and be encouraging and supportive if a child is met by resistance from peers for choosing to avoid drugs. Parents must also set a positive example by avoiding using drug. A parent who does not live by a drug-free standard may quickly lose credibility in the eyes of his or her child when he or she makes an effort to teach the child about the importance of avoiding drug abuse. Healthcare professionals may also play a major role in helping children and adults prevent drug abuse by talking to their patients about the dangers of substance abuse and health risks that emerge when a person uses drugs.
For people who are recovering from drug addiction, it is important to take steps to prevent relapse. After undergoing drug addiction treatment or ceasing drug use through other means, a former drug user must reevaluate many aspects of his or her life. Often, it may be necessary to no longer spend time with friends and family members who do drugs or even those who are not opposed to drug use. Moving to a different neighborhood may be necessary to avoid relapse triggers such as walking by places where drugs or readily used and available or where a drug dealer may reside. It is also essential for recovering drug abusers from seeing counseling to address any underlying issues that may have led to drug abuse as well as to help them work through stressful situations and day to day emotions as a recovering drug user. People who are in drug addiction recovery may also benefit from reducing unnecessary stress in their lives, including moving out of stressful residential situations, distancing themselves from unhealthy relationships and seeking support from healthy, drug-free sources. Rebuilding healthy relationships with family and friends may be difficult; therefore, family counseling and therapeutic support are also advised. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced, nutritious diet and exercise may also is very effective in serving as a healthy, effective way to reduce tension and stress as well as supporting overall physical and mental well-being.
The issue of drug abuse is one that may affect people from all walks of life. Although addiction is a difficult condition to battle, with an approach that addresses the condition from emotional, mental, physical, and social aspects, people who become addicted to drugs may successfully embark upon the road to recovery. However, prevention is the best medicine and can be achieved through education, and active partnership between parents, children, their school, and the community, as well as adults seeking medical or psychological help when they need it and otherwise making the sound decision to avoid drug use.