Drug Addiction

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is when you continue to use a drug even if it harms you. You lack the ability to stop. In many cases, stopping use of the drug causes intense withdrawal symptoms. This may include strong physical or emotional pain.

How People Become Addicted

Typically, people first engage in drug use without addiction and grow into a dependence over time. Many addictive drugs work by stimulating the reward system of the brain. The key component is usually stimulation of dopamine, the brain's natural reward chemical.

Through repeated drug use, dopamine floods the brain in levels of two to ten times the normal range. To protect itself, the body responds by downgrading dopamine receptors in the brain. This means the effect of the drug decreases with repeated use. To achieve the same level of stimulation, drug users need to increase the dose. This phenomenon is normally described as tolerance. Ultimately, drug users may need the drug to function normally. That's the point at which a person becomes dependent.

Signs and Symptoms You May be Addicted

If you want to know if you're addicted to a drug, then here are some common symptoms:

  • Neglecting Responsibilities - Missing work, failing classes or neglecting children
  • Risk Taking - Driving after using drugs, unprotected sex or sharing needles
  • Legal Trouble - Getting arrested, DUI or theft
  • Relationship Problems - Fights with your spouse, family members, coworkers, friends or bosses
  • Tolerance - You need more of the drug to get high
  • Withdrawal - You experience sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, shaking, nausea or sweating when you stop using
  • Powerlessness - You find yourself taking the drug more often than you planned
  • Fixation - You spend too much time thinking about drugs, acquiring them or recovering from the effects
  • Failing Health - You continue to use even though you black out, get infections, experience mood swings, become paranoid, lose or gain excessive weight or suffer physically

Signs and Symptoms in Friends or Family

If you have a friend or family member you suspect may be using drugs, here are some signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Bloodshot Eyes
  • Sudden Weight Loss or Gain
  • Slurred Speech
  • Shaking
  • Strange Smells or Excessive Use of Perfume or Cologne
  • Unexpected Financial Emergencies
  • Getting into Trouble - Fighting, auto accidents or legal trouble
  • Dramatic Mood Swings - Fearful, paranoid, anxious or lethargic
  • Loss of Motivation - Dropping out of activities or social circles
  • Changing Friends or Social Groups
  • Periods of High Energy, Hyperactivity or Agitation

Types of Treatment for Drug Addiction

The first step in treating drug addiction is to help the person stop using. This is known as detoxification. The process can be sudden or gradual, depending on the substance. Doctors may prescribe drugs with less harmful side effects to lessen the pain of withdrawal.

After removing the physical use and dependence on the drug, a continuing course of counseling or support helps prevent relapse. 12-step programs have been very effective at keeping former users from going back. Because most drug use begins with a heavy social aspect, it's important to feel included within a group of those also recovering.