What is Drug Addiction? 

Drug addiction, at its core, is the loss of control over your behavior relating to using a substance. Those with drug addiction will find that they keep using a substance, even when they realize there are negative effects or even though they would like to stop using that substance.

The Science Behind Addiction

Drug addiction is considered a disease and occurs because of the chemical effects that drugs have on the brain. The brain uses chemicals called endorphins to create pleasure. Endorphins may be released after completing a challenging task at work, while watching a sunset, during sex, making a baby smile, or eating something sweet. Endorphins are produced by the brain to reward behaviors and to help ensure that these behaviors are repeated again in the future. 

Many times, the behaviors that release endorphins and cause pleasure are useful and beneficial to repeat. Pleasure after completing a challenging task, for example, can make you more likely to take on challenging tasks that help you to be more productive and successful.

The brain’s reward system, however, can have a negative side. Addictive substances stimulate the chemical release of endorphins in the brain artificially. This creates a sensation of pleasure simply from using the substance, and many times this pleasurable sensation is much more intense than pleasure that is derived from normal activities. This pleasurable sensation is called a high. The endorphins that are released and cause a high will modify your behavior to use this substance in the future. 

As the behavior of using a drug becomes repeatedly reinforced by the artificial release of endorphins, it becomes harder to avoid using, and addiction develops. Addiction is considered a medical condition that occurs because of the chemical changes in the brain. Addiction is not the same as drug use, and while people that use drugs may become addicted, the use of drugs in itself is not addiction.

Types of Drugs

A drug is any substance that alters the function of your body. Tylenol, caffeine, anesthetics, heroin, and alcohol are all considered drugs. Drugs in the context of addiction typically refers to any substance that stimulates the artificial or chemical release of endorphins. Drugs in the context of addiction typically includes five different categories:

  • Depressants - These are drugs that suppress the central nervous system, slowing the body’s functions. The most commonly used depressants are alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.
  • Stimulants - These drugs increase the activity of the central nervous system, speeding the body’s function. Commonly used stimulants include cocaine and amphetamines. Caffeine is also technically a stimulant, but does not cause any negative addictive effects.
  • Opioids - Also called narcotics, opioid drugs are similar to suppressants and interact with opioid receptors in the brain to alter the sensation of pain while also producing a high. Some opioids are used in the medical setting to control pain. Commonly used opioids include morphine, fentanyl, and heroin. 
  • Hallucinogens - These drugs cause an altered perception of reality and lead to hallucinations. Common hallucinogens include LSD, ketamine, and MDMA (also called Ecstasy).
  • Cannabinoids - Cannabinoids is a unique class of drugs that includes natural and synthetic marijuana. Cannabinoids heighten your senses, make you feel more relaxed in lower doses, and may cause hallucination in higher doses.

While each category of drug has different effects on the body, the basic effects on the reward system in the brain are similar, causing them to become addictive.

Effects of Drug Addiction 

Drug addiction has several negative effects that can occur. The types of effects caused by drug addiction can be divided into two main categories: physical effects and psychosocial effects.

Physical Effects of Addiction

Two important effects that occur with prolonged drug use, especially when addiction occurs, are tolerance and dependency. Tolerance happens because your brain adjusts to the effects of a drug. As a drug stimulates the release of endorphins, your body adjusts and reduces the amount of endorphins that are released. This dulls the effects of a drug, making it necessary to use a higher amount of the drug to obtain the same effect. The cycle repeats itself, causing people to use higher amounts of drugs or to move on to stronger, more dangerous drugs.

Dependence happens because your body adjusts to the presence of the drug. Your body recognizes that a drug is in your bloodstream and changes its normal function to include the presence of the drug. Your body comes to depend on the drug being in your system to function normally. This causes withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug, as your body readjusts to working without the drug in your bloodstream. In some cases, these symptoms can be dangerous, or even fatal, if not managed by professionals.

Other physical effects of drugs vary based on the drug and the way that the drug is used. The use of intravenous drugs increases the risk of additional problems, with infection and damage to the veins becoming a problem. Most drugs have short-term physical effects that occur from the drug being present and long-term physical effects as damage to the body accumulates with prolonged use.

The most dangerous physical effect is the risk of overdose. Overdose can occur when someone uses too much of a drug to obtain a high. An overdose pushes the body beyond its limits and can lead to serious, permanent injury or to death.

Psychosocial Effects of Addiction

Psychosocial effects refers to the effects on your mental health and social life that drugs can create. Drug addiction raises your risk of developing a mental health disorder and the struggle with addiction can lead to depression and anxiety. The effects of drugs or their withdrawal effects can also worsen any underlying mental health conditions, even in people who never previously had an apparent mental health problem.

From a social aspect, using drugs is a problem many people wish to hide and creates guilt. This causes them to be more withdrawn, negatively impacting their relationships with others. The use of drugs and the time spent high or recovering after use can take up a significant amount of time, interfering with your social life and work or school obligations. Drugs are also expensive and increase your health expenses, creating financial problems. Many drugs are illegal or cause you to do things that you would not do otherwise, leading to increased legal difficulty and the potential of incarceration.

Secondary Effects

The use of drugs may lead to secondary effects that are not caused directly by the drug, but are caused by using it. An example would be someone who falls while drunk and hits their head. Injuries are more likely to occur while high due to decreased inhibition and decreased ability or coordination. Drug use can also lead to infectious diseases like HIV.

How Can You Tell When a Drug Addiction is Present? 

Knowing when an addiction is present can be difficult to tell. Ultimately, only a doctor can say for sure that someone has an addiction. If you think that you might have an addiction, the main way to tell is to ask yourself if you are using a drug even though it has created some kind of negative effect on your life or even though you want to stop

If you suspect someone you know has an addiction, it may be harder to tell. The physical signs of addiction may include altered mood, either more hyper and active for a few days followed by a period of tiredness or more slow and sleepy. Slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, slowed responsiveness, hyperactivity, strange or abnormal conversation, and decreased coordination are all common physical signs of drug use. 

Some of the psychosocial signs of drug use may include being more withdrawn, more prone to emotional swings, or making excuses to avoid activities that they previously would have been part of. The biggest thing to look for is significant changes in behavior, specifically behaviors that seem more withdrawn or secretive. Poor performance at work or school may also be an indicator of drug addiction.

How is Drug Addiction Treated? 

The first and most important step in drug addiction treatment is for the person with the addiction to recognize the need for treatment and accept the help treatment offers. Often those with addiction will find it difficult to recognize that they have an addiction and need help.

Once the person with an addiction has recognized the need for treatment, the first part of treatment will be to detox. Depending on the type and severity of addiction, this may be done at a rehab center. Detox involves allowing the body to process and eliminate all the drug in its system, while not using any more. During detox, withdrawal symptoms will occur. Detox can be unpleasant, but does not normally take more than a week at the most.

After detox, treatment focuses on learning how to cope without the drug and how to regain control of their behaviors. This can involve one-on-one therapy, group therapy, medications, and other types of treatment. This part of treatment focuses on making a plan to stay sober after sobriety has been achieved.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab involves checking into a treatment center where detox and the initial therapy will occur. This form of rehab helps to remove you from your normal environment and have access to more intensive support during the initial weeks of recovery. Inpatient rehab centers can provide 24 hour medical care with withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox and will also provide a more structured environment for learning how to cope and stay sober in the long-term.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab involves visiting the office of a doctor or therapist to obtain rehab services. This form of rehab allows you to continue your normal lifestyle while undergoing treatment, but is only best as a primary treatment for people with a mild addiction who are undergoing treatment for the first time. Outpatient rehab is often used to provide additional, ongoing support to those who have completed inpatient rehab.

Finding Drug Addiction Treatment 

Finding the right drug addiction treatment option may seem daunting. When seeking the right addiction treatment option, there are several factors that you should consider:

  • Cost - Rehab can be expensive, and understanding what is covered with your health insurance or healthcare benefits is important. 
  • Location - One goal of inpatient treatment is to remove you from your normal environment, so choosing a rehab center that is accessible but not in your hometown may be helpful.
  • Reputation - Finding reviews from past patients and knowing the rehab center’s overall reputation should be an important consideration.

While the specific factors that matter to you individually will be unique, these basic factors will be important to most people seeking treatment.

Transformations Treatment Center

Transformations Treatment Center, located in sunny Delray Beach, Florida, has a strong reputation of providing outstanding, caring treatment for those fighting addiction. Our expert team is dedicated to your success and will help you to navigate the cost and complexities of seeking addiction treatment. Reach out today to learn more about what we can do for you.

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