Drug addiction is a real and serious issue facing America today. It’s impossible to prevent and treat drug addiction, as well as help those around you, without a basic understanding of the disease of drug addiction and all that it entails. Unfortunately, many harmful myths surrounding drug use and addiction perpetuate the problem. They can keep some people in a vicious cycle of addiction. Here are answers to some frequently asked drug addiction questions that can help you help society and those around you.
What is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a persistent, relapsing condition that includes compulsive drug use, even with negative and undesirable consequences. It’s categorized as a brain disorder as it causes functional brain circuit changes to the parts of the brain involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Unfortunately, such changes can last long after someone stops using drugs.
Some people are surprised to learn that drug addiction is much like other diseases, such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Drug addiction and other diseases upset the normal, healthy functioning of a body organ or area, can have severe adverse effects, and are often preventable and treatable. However, if left untreated, they can last a lifetime and result in death.
Why Do Some People Use Drugs?
There are several general reasons why some people choose to use drugs:
- To induce positive feelings: Taking certain drugs can bring on intense pleasure. For example, some drugs can provide feelings of increased energy, power, self-confidence, relaxation, or satisfaction.
- To improve mood: Those who suffer from stress, depression, or social anxiety sometimes use drugs to decrease their negative moods and feelings. Stress plays a significant role in the beginning and continuing drug use, as well as returning to drug use after stopping in those recovering from addiction.
- To improve performance: Other individuals feel pressure to improve their focus at school, work, or even their sports abilities. This can lead someone to try using drugs, such as prescription stimulants or cocaine, and also continue their use.
- Peer pressure and curiosity: Tweens and teens are especially at risk as peer pressure can be extremely strong. This stage of life is also a significant developmental period during which risk factors, such as peers who use drugs, might result in substance use.
- Most often the root cause of drug use stems from unresolved trauma. The symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD can be so intense that only using narcotic substances can alleviate the pain.
Is Continued Drug Use a Choice?
The first time someone uses drugs is usually voluntary. However, with continued use, their ability to use self-control and refrain from using drugs can become severely impaired, which is the hallmark of addiction. Brain imaging studies of those addicted to drugs reveal physical changes in parts of the brain critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. At least part of the compulsive nature of addiction is related to these harmful changes.
How Come Only Some People Become Addicted to Drugs?
The chances of developing an addiction differ from person to person, just as with other diseases and disorders. There’s no one factor determining whether someone will become addicted to drugs. Generally, the more risk factors someone has, the higher the chance that using drugs will result in drug addiction. But on the other hand, protective factors can decrease a person’s risk. Risk and protective factors may be either biological or environmental.
Drug addiction risk factors include:
- Childhood trauma
- Lack of parental support
- Low peer support system
- Family history of substance use disorder
- Other mental health diagnosis
- Drug experimentation
- Availability of drugs at school
- Community poverty
Drug addiction protective factors include:
- Self-efficacy (belief in self-control)
- Parental monitoring and support
- Positive relationships
- School anti-drug policies
- Neighborhood Resources
How is Drug Addiction Treated?
Drug addiction treatment is used to help addicted people quit their compulsive drug seeking and use. A variety of treatment settings exist. Treatment can come in many different forms and have various durations. Since drug addiction is usually an ongoing disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment is often insufficient. For many who are addicted to drugs, treatment is a long-term process involving multiple interventions and continuous monitoring. Typically drug addiction treatment can involve any or a combination of the following:
- Over-the-counter and/or prescription medications
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy, such as trauma therapy
- Addressing social, emotional, and financial problems
- Support system of other recovering addicts
- Medication for treating withdrawal symptoms
- Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
- Long-term follow-up care to avoid relapses
Effective addiction treatment should help the person do the following:
- Stop using drugs
- Remain drug-free
- Be a productive member of the family, at work, and in society
- Become involved in a recovery community
How Can You Help?
With Project Immersion, we at SRF help connect those living with substance use disorder with the necessary resources and support they need to treat their addiction. If you want to join us in our mission you can help by donating to Project Immersion or other ways here.