What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the drug addict and those around them. Drug addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Although it is true that for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can impair a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time create an intense impulse to take drugs.
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, there are treatments that help people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects and regain control of their lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medications, when appropriate, with behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for most patients. Treatment approaches that are tailored to each patient’s drug abuse patterns and any concurrent medical, psychiatric, and social problems can help achieve sustained recovery and a life without drugs.
As with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed effectively. Yet, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. Relapse does not signal failure; rather, it indicates that treatment should be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed to help the person regain control and recover.
How common is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of drug addiction?
The common symptoms of drug addiction are:
- Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — this can be daily or even several times a day
- Having intense urges for the drug
- Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
- Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
- Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it
- Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
- Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
- Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
- Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug
- Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes drug addiction?
Like many mental health disorders, several factors may contribute to development of drug addiction and dependence. The main factors are:
- Environmental factors, including your family’s beliefs and attitudes and exposure to a peer group that encourages drug use, seem to play a role in initial drug use.
- Once you’ve started using a drug, the development into addiction may be influenced by inherited (genetic) traits, which may delay or speed up the disease progression.
Changes in the brain
Physical addiction appears to occur when repeated use of a drug changes the way your brain feels pleasure. The addicting drug causes physical changes to some nerve cells (neurons) in your brain. Neurons use chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate. These changes can remain long after you stop using the drug.
What increases my risk for drug addiction?
There are many risk factors for drug addiction, such as:
- Family history of addiction. Drug addiction is more common in some families and likely involves genetic predisposition. If you have a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with alcohol or drug problems, you’re at greater risk of developing a drug addiction.
- Being male. Men are more likely to have problems with drugs than women are. However, progression of addictive disorders is known to be faster in females.
- Having another mental health disorder. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re more likely to become dependent on drugs.
- Peer pressure. Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and abuse drugs, particularly for young people.
- Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.
- Anxiety, depression and loneliness. Using drugs can become a way of coping with these painful psychological feelings and can make these problems even worse.
- Taking a highly addictive drug. Some drugs, such as stimulants, cocaine or painkillers, may result in faster development of addiction than other drugs. However, taking drugs considered less addicting — so-called “light drugs” — can start you on a pathway of drug use and addiction.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is drug addiction diagnosed?
Diagnosing drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) requires a thorough evaluation and often includes an assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Blood, urine or other lab tests are used to assess drug use, but they’re not a diagnostic test for addiction. These tests may be used for monitoring treatment and recovery.
For diagnosis of a substance use disorder, most mental health professionals use criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder include a behavior pattern of drug use that causes significant problems and distress, regardless of what drug is used.
You may have a substance use disorder if at least two of these issues occur within a 12-month period:
- You often take larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended
- You want to cut down or quit, but haven’t been successful
- You spend a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
- You have intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
- You aren’t meeting obligations and responsibilities because of your substance use
- You keep using the drug, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life
- You give up or cut back important social, occupational or recreational activities because of your substance use
- You use the substance in situations that may be unsafe, such as when driving or operating machinery
- You use the substance even though you know it’s causing you physical or psychological harm
- You develop tolerance, which means that the drug has less and less effect on you and you need more of the drug to get the same effect
- You have physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug, or you take the drug (or a similar drug) to avoid withdrawal symptoms
How is drug addiction treated?
The treatment options explained below can help you overcome an addiction and stay drug-free.
Chemical dependence treatment programs
Treatment programs usually offer:
- Individual, group or family therapy sessions
- A focus on understanding the nature of addiction and preventing relapse
- Levels of care and settings that vary depending on your needs, such as outpatient, residential and inpatient programs
The goal of detoxification, also called “detox” or withdrawal therapy, is to enable you to stop taking the addicting drug as quickly and safely as possible. For some people, it may be safe to undergo withdrawal therapy on an outpatient basis. Others may need admission to a hospital or a residential treatment center.
Withdrawal from different categories of drugs — such as depressants, stimulants or opioids — produces different side effects and requires different approaches. Detoxification may involve gradually reducing the dose of the drug or temporarily substituting other substances, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.
As part of a drug treatment program, counseling — also called talk therapy or psychotherapy — can be done by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed alcohol and drug counselor with an individual, family or group. The therapist or counselor can:
- Help you develop ways to cope with your drug cravings
- Suggest strategies to avoid drugs and prevent relapse
- Offer suggestions on how to deal with a relapse if it occurs
- Talk about issues regarding your job, legal problems, and relationships with family and friends
- Include family members to help them develop better communication skills and be supportive
Many, though not all, self-help support groups use the 12-step model first developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, help people who are addicted to drugs.
The self-help support group message is that addiction is a chronic disorder with a danger of relapse. Self-help support groups can decrease the sense of shame and isolation that can lead to relapse.
Your therapist or counselor can help you locate a self-help group. You may also find support groups in your community or on the Internet.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
le changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage drug addiction?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with drug addiction:
- See a therapist. Pay attention to your mental health. Drug addiction is linked to a number of problems that may be helped with counseling, including other underlying mental health concerns or marriage or family problems. Seeing a therapist or psychiatrist may help you regain your peace of mind and mend your relationships.
- Seek treatment for other mental health disorders. People with other mental health problems, such as depression, are more likely to become addicted to drugs. Seek immediate treatment from a qualified mental health professional if you have any signs or symptoms of mental illness.
- Join a support group. Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, can be very effective in coping with addiction. Compassion, understanding and shared experiences can help you break your addiction and stay drug-free.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Drug addiction. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/definition/con-20020970. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Drug Abuse, Addiction, and the Brain. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/drug-abuse-addiction#1-2. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Review Date: September 8, 2017 | Last Modified: September 8, 2017