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What is Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?
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What is Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction? 2018-09-04T13:50:57+00:00

Understanding Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction

What are drug abuse and drug addiction?

Drug abuse, or substance abuse, is the use of a mind- or body-altering substance in a pattern that creates harm to the person using it or to others. Drug abuse is considered by health professionals to be part of a larger set of conditions called substance use disorders, which includes use, misuse, abuse and dependence. Drug addiction, as outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, involves the loss of control over the use of a substance, cravings for a substance, feeling compelled to use it, and an impairment in recognizing the consequences of such use. The term “drug addiction” is roughly equivalent to the severe form of a substance use disorder.

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Which Drugs Get Abused?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (a mental health reference book, often called the DSM-V) describes nine different substance categories for substance use disorders:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis (e.g., marijuana)
  • Hallucinogens (e.g., LSD)
  • Inhalants (e.g. sniffing glue, paint thinner)
  • Opioids (e.g., heroin, fentanyl)
  • Sedatives, Hypnotics and Anxiolytics (e.g. Xanax, Ambien)
  • Stimulants (e.g. cocaine, amphetamines)
  • Tobacco

Caffeine is excluded by the DSM-V in diagnosing a substance use disorder, which makes alcohol the most widely consumed “substance of abuse,” followed by tobacco and cannabis.

Detailed information about commonly abused substances is available here.

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

Addiction is considered by most health professionals as a chronic illness. This is because it shares many similarities with long-term conditions like diabetes or asthma. Like these other conditions, drug addiction tends to run in families, though its course is heavily influenced by a person’s environment and behavior. As with any chronic health concern, addiction generally requires long-term care, and it sometimes comes back even if it had been previously controlled. Similar to these other conditions, addiction usually gets well managed (rather than directly “cured”) with appropriate treatment.

How Does Drug Abuse or Addiction Happen?

A person often uses a drug to either feel good or to feel normal. In either case, most researchers believe that the brain’s “reward center” is activated with each use. This releases massive surges of a messenger signal for pleasure called dopamine, which reinforces the behavior of using the drug. The result is twofold: First, the brain adapts and reduces the ability of the reward center to respond to the drug, requiring the user to take more to achieve the same effect. Second, with continued use over time, the brain devotes an increasing amount of its hardware toward obtaining the reward of the drug. The brain circuits that would normally govern healthy behavior are overtaken. Eventually, the circuits for memory, decision making, planning, motivation, stress regulation and other important functions reorganize themselves to prioritize the pursuit of the drug. They establish this priority as the brain’s new normal condition—and the brain may no longer find as much pleasure in activities that were previously considered to be important and enjoyable. The resulting changes in behavior are the characteristic signs and symptoms of addiction.

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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?

The criteria that health professionals use to describe a substance use disorder are in the DSM V.  The criteria have four main categories:

1. Loss of control

  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down use
  • Using more or longer than intended
  • Spending resources getting, using or recovering from drug use
  • Intense, all-consuming cravings

2. Dangerous usage

  • Repeated use in physically dangerous situations (e.g., driving while intoxicated)
  • Repeated use despite evidence of physical or psychological harm (e.g., continuing to drink despite having liver problems)

3. Functional impairments

  • Usage that causes interpersonal problems
  • Usage that continues despite problems at work, home or school caused by using
  • Important or meaningful activities given up or reduced due to drug use

4. Physiological indicators

  • Tolerance: needing more drug to achieve the same effect, or a reduced effect with the same amount of drug
  • Withdrawal: the body’s response to the stoppage or reduction of a drug after it has developed tolerance

Only two of the above criteria need to be met in order to diagnose a substance use disorder, and six must be met (and must include tolerance, withdrawal or both) to meet the criteria for a severe disorder.

What are the Medical Consequences of Addiction?

Addiction can be fatal, either as a direct effect of the drug on the body or as a result of an action taken by a person suffering from addiction. Alcohol and opioid use account for the overwhelming majority of deaths from drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that out of 307,400 deaths from substance use in 2015, alcohol use disorders accounted for 137,500 deaths, with opioid use disorders rapidly gaining at 122,100 deaths.

Among many others, medical consequences can include:

  • Stroke (from stimulant use)
  • Seizure (from alcohol or sedative/hypnotic withdrawal)
  • HIV/AIDS (from intravenous drug use)
  • Liver disease (primarily from alcohol use)
  • Heart disease (from stimulants and alcohol use)
  • Gastrointestinal damage (from alcohol or opioid use)
  • Neurological damage (several drugs)
  • Pregnancy complications (several drugs)

How is Addiction Treated?

As with most chronic conditions, prevention of the condition is the first and best treatment. Additionally, it is critically important that a person who has an addiction talk with a health professional to help identify any coexisting medical and mental health conditions that may both affect and be affected by the presence of addiction. More information about addressing co-occurring disorders can be found here.

Several effective treatments are available. They fall into three categories, which are often integrated with each other: psychological treatments, medication treatments and peer support treatments.

Psychological approaches to treating drug addiction generally try to slowly address behavior over time to make the drug less essential. One approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBD), which aims to reshape unhealthy behavior by challenging the thoughts, emotions and actions from which the behavior stems. Others include motivational interviewing (asking non-judgmental questions to help a person who is using drugs to gently examine their motivations and confront their behaviors) and mindfulness training (teaching a person how be attentive, tuned in and at peace with current feelings in the moment, without compulsion to act on them or change them). Psychotherapy is often important to help a person with an addiction deal with the shame and guilt of damaging consequences, and to help create accountability and awareness around his or her behaviors. These types of treatment can be adapted for group or individual work, and are available in outpatient settings, hospitals and in specialized addiction treatment centers.

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Medication support is often necessary when a person with a drug addiction is being treated, especially in the cases of alcohol, opioid or sedative/hypnotic withdrawal. Several medications are available to help reduce cravings or to reduce the effect of addictive drugs when they are taken, and many more are in development.

Finally, mutual support groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery have been shown to be highly effective in helping people stop or reduce drug use. Twelve-step programs are widely available and have been a staple of recovery efforts for several decades.

Explanations of the types of treatment available at Transformations Treatment Center for drug addiction are available here.

Transformations Treatment Center utilizes all of these approaches to provide comprehensive, compassionate treatment for drug addiction. For anyone who believes he or she may have a drug addiction or substance use disorder, a team of caring and professional staff is available for consultation. Call 877-560-7980 to find out more about available programs.

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What is Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?
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What is Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?
4.5 (90%) 4 votes

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