Understanding Drug Addiction

drug abuse

Millions of people in America are experimenting with drugs like marijuana and cocaine. While some people are able to remain casual drug users, many people go on to abuse drugs. In order to understand drug abuse, we must first understand the difference between drug use, drug abuse and drug addiction.

What is Drug Abuse?

Substance abuse begins when someone takes a substance to change the way they feel currently. Everyone knows what kind of damage illegal substances like heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine can do, but prescription drugs can also be abused when people use them for non-medical reasons or outside of the amount they are prescribed.

Although drug addiction and drug abuse are closely linked, there is a difference between the two conditions. For instance, if someone doesn’t only abuses drugs three or four times a year, they may show signs of drug abuse but not addiction. However, if someone regularly abuses a substance and makes their entire life about using and obtaining the substance, that person shows signs of addiction.

Even when a prescription drug is prescribed for a medical reason, sometimes patients can become chemically dependent on the drug – especially opiates or benzodiazepines. While there is a difference between a drug dependence and a drug addiction, these two conditions often go together as well.

Commonly Abused Drugs

There are many categories of drugs. Each substance affects the user differently. However, they all have one thing in common in that they are addictive. Here is more information about some of the most popular substances that people abuse.

Alcohol isn’t an illegal or controlled substance, and it has become prevalent all over the country, even the world. When a person drinks alcohol, their brain reward centers are altered to release “feel good” chemicals. This release of chemicals causes your brain to give you a chemical “reward” whenever you drink alcohol. Physical symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart irregularities
  • Severe dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous with risks including seizures and death, so medically assisted detox is highly recommended.
Cannabis or marijuana is the most commonly used drug in America. Although it is now legal in some states, it still retains the same risks. When abused, cannabis is likely to cause:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lowered sperm count in men
  • Emotional addiction
  • Lowered immunity
Benzodiazepines are medications that help reduce anxiety and improve sleep.  Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium and Ambien. While these medications can have a positive effect when used to treat anxiety, they are often abused. Depressants when abused can cause:
  • Impaired memory
  • Confusion
  • Increased risk of death when used together
  • Poor concentration
Stimulants are drug that increase a person’s alertness and energy. The most popular illegal stimulants are drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. There are also prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse. While these prescription drugs can be positive when taken as directed for attention-related disorders, when used outside of the prescription, they can produce the same negative effects as illegal stimulants. When abused, stimulants can cause:
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
Opioids or opiates are medications designed to reduce pain. Opioids are usually taken in either pill form or injected. There are both illegal opioids (like heroin) and opioids that are legal when prescribed (like morphine and oxycodone). Prescription opioids are the most commonly abused prescription medications. When abused, opioids can cause:
  • Coma
  • Arrested breathing
  • Brain damage
  • Death
Dissociatives like PCP and ketamine affect one’s sense of reality. When taken, it may cause a user to believe they are living outside of their body. This can lead to unusually risky behavior. When abused, dissociatives can cause:
  • Memory loss
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Accidents due to risky behavior
  • Addiction
Hallucinogens like psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) or LSD cause the user to see and experience things that aren’t actually there in reality. For example, a hallucinogen may cause someone to see spiders crawling in front of them when there actually aren’t any spiders. When abused, hallucinogens can cause:
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

While the symptoms and signs will be different depending on the particular drug that is being abused, there are certain symptoms that are similar with multiple substances.

Physical symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Skin problems
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Unnaturally pale skin
  • Unusual odors
  • Shallow breathing
  • Frequent nausea

Psychological and behavioral symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-isolation
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Stealing money or medications
  • Uncharacteristic lying

Causes of Drug Addiction

Many different factors contribute to drug addiction. For example, family background, genetic makeup, neurological factors, social influences and environmental issues may all play a role. Growing up in an environment where drug use is generally accepted or having a family member who has an addiction to drugs can increase a person’s propensity for addiction. Co-occurring mental illnesses can also increase a person’s chance of developing a drug addiction.

No matter the substance, the more you use, the more your body and brain will come to depend on this substance to produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, pleasure or excitement. When repeated use of a substance changes a person’s brain so that they can no longer function normally without using the substance, drug addiction is present.

Drug Abuse Treatment

If you currently suffer from substance use disorder, you are certainly not alone. Here at The Recovery Village Ridgefield, we treat many patients for drug and alcohol addiction – helping them to find healing and find their way back to recovery. Our beautiful campus – convenient to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington – provides a serene backdrop for patients to really focus on their health and wellness.

No matter what your story is, it’s never too late for you to ask for help. Call us today, and speak to one of our compassionate and understanding addiction specialists about the best treatment option for you.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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