Understanding Drug Addiction and Use
It is amazing to hear after so much time and experience with drug addiction, and some people don't understand the full impact of substances and their devastating influence. Instead of truth and fact, it seems lies, and rumors continue to fill the air.
Drug addiction and substance use are incredibly common public health issues. Answers and resolutions for the issue do not come easy, but building a fundamental understanding of drug use, abuse, addiction, and dependence helps treat the problem.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a complicated issue to cover because it looks different in every situation. Some people will face a sharp and rapid decline of health and functioning due to addiction, while others can maintain their lifestyle for an extended period.
In simple terms, drug addiction is a state of mind where substance use consumes a person. Their thoughts center around getting and using the drug, and their actions involve doing whatever is needed to secure the substance.
People with drug addictions are out of control and unable to control their thoughts or behaviors. Instead, the psychological power of the alcohol or drug makes the decisions.
A person indeed has the choice to prevent addiction by never using a substance in the first place, but no one asks to become addicted to a drug. The person addicted cannot just choose to stop taking drugs because the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are too strong to deny.
When addicted, a person chooses the drug and drug use over all the other pleasurable aspects of life. With time, friends, family, work, school, fun activities, and life goals all take a back seat to addiction.
Addiction, Tolerance, and Dependence
Addiction is a huge concern, but it is not alone. It frequently occurs with tolerance and dependence as well.
Many confuse addition and dependence as the same problem, but in reality, they are very separate issues. Perhaps the biggest difference is that:
- Addiction is a psychological issue
- Dependence and tolerance are physiological issues
All drug use changes the structure and function of the brain. Every time a drug reaches the brain, it triggers a strong release of chemicals that rewards use and encourages it to repeat.
As a response aimed at maintaining balance, the brain tries to counteract the influence of the drug. For example, when someone uses cocaine, the drug triggers a massive release of brain chemicals that make someone feel alert, energetic, and extremely happy. Over time, the brain begins to limit the release of these chemicals and even begins to produce more chemicals to negate the effects of cocaine.
Now, the person wants cocaine, but they need more as the brain turns down the effect. This process is called tolerance.
With steady use, though, the drug creates a "new normal" in the brain. If the person stops using the drug, the brain will be out of balance with too little of some chemicals and too much of others. In this state, the person is dependent on the drug and can feel very uncomfortable if none is available.
Why Use Drugs in the First Place?
As mentioned, the only way to avoid addiction and dependence is to prevent substance use in the first place. For some, this plan is not so easy.
People use drugs for a variety of reasons like:
- To feel good. Whether in a party-like atmosphere or a normal day at home, people will abuse drugs to experience the euphoric high or other effects the substance is capable of producing.
- To feel better. Other people use drugs to feel "normal." Someone with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions will hope substances make them feel and function like everyone else.
- To perform better. Performance-enhancing drugs are not only for professional athletes. People may use drugs to help them perform better in academic, social, or athletic situations.
- To experiment. This group of drug users are fueled by their curiosity about the substance and the effects it creates.
Over the years, another source of addiction has developed – prescription drugs. A person may receive a valid prescription for a drug, like an opioid painkiller or a benzodiazepine sedative, only to become addicted to it.
Often, the process begins with the person using the substance as directed, developing a tolerance, and then becoming dependent on the substance. At some point, the prescribed dose is not enough, or the prescriber decides to end treatment. Either situation may lead to the individual exploring other methods to get and use the drug because they feel compelled to keep taking it.
People at high risk for substance use include those with:
- Various physical health conditions
- Mental health issues
- Difficult childhoods with inconsistent parenting and dangerous environments
- Experience with abuse, neglect, and trauma
- Anger problems
- Poor housing and finances
Other people grow up in settings where substance use is a normal part of life. In these situations, they see others using drugs and alcohol as a normal way to cope with the struggles and stresses of life.