About Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease that is marked by compulsive drug seeking and use. Although addiction stigma suggests that addicted individuals simply lack morals, principles, or the willpower to stop using drugs, these substances actually change the structure and function of the brain, making it extremely difficult for a person to stop using drugs on their own.
When a person first begins using drugs, they may experience pleasurable effects such as euphoria or a “high” that occurs after using. This is a result of the brain’s reward circuit being overstimulated and flooded with dopamine. These pleasurable feelings encourage them to continue using drugs, despite the harmful consequences.
Over time, the drug use becomes uncontrollable and the person develops a physical dependence on the substance, needing more and more of it to feel good or to function normally. Eventually, the person begins to prioritize their drug use above all other things, including family, friends, employment, and activities they used to enjoy. They also isolate themselves so they can continue fueling their addiction without feeling like they are being judged by others who voice their concern.
Drug addiction causes severe physical, social, and psychological damage and can even result in overdose or death.
Addiction Risk Factors
Addiction does not discriminate based on age, sex, race, or ethnicity—anyone can become addicted to drugs. Even still, there are some risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing a drug addiction, such as:
- Biology – Gender, ethnicity, and mental disorders can all increase a person’s risk of developing a drug addiction. If a person has a parent or close family member who is addicted to drugs, he or she is also more likely to suffer from addiction.
- Early drug use – A young person’s brain is still developing, impacting their ability to make sound decisions and practice self-control. For these reasons, the earlier a person begins using drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction later in life.
- Environment – Economic status, quality of life, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, and lack of parental guidance are all environmental factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction.
Although no single factor can predict a person’s future drug use habits, the more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to become addicted to drugs.
Why Do People Use Drugs?
The motivation behind a person’s drug use will vary depending on his or her situation, but in most cases, a person will start using drugs for one or more of the following reasons:
- To cope with life issues. Stress, trauma, depression, and anxiety are all common reasons people resort to drug use. Drugs temporarily mask the pain and distress associated with these issues and provide an escape from reality.
- To fit in. Drug use often begins as an effort to fit in with a certain social group or to make friends. This is very common with teens and young college-age adults.
- To improve their performance. Some individuals may find that certain substances increase their performance academically, socially, sexually, or athletically. They may start using drugs primarily for this reason but may very easily become addicted.
- To feel good. Many drugs and addictive substances stimulate the brain’s reward circuit, creating pleasurable feelings and motivating the person to repeat the behavior again.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20.1 million people ages 12 or older have a substance use disorder. Among those individuals, 37 percent are addicted to illicit drugs, 75 percent are addicted to alcohol, and 12 percent are addicted to both illicit drugs and alcohol.
Commonly Abused Substances
2016 survey results published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that over the past year:
- 37.6 million people used marijuana
- 18.7 million people misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs
- 11.5 million people misused prescription opioid pain relievers
- 5.1 million people used cocaine
- 4.9 million people used hallucinogens
- 1.7 million used inhalants
- 1.4 million used methamphetamines
- 948,000 used heroin
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), other commonly abused drugs in the United States include:
- MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
- Demerol (Meperidine)
- Dilaudid (Hydromorphone)
- Dolophine/Methadose (Methadone)
- Duramorph/Roxanol (Morphine)
- Opana (Oxymorphone)
- OxyContin/Percodan/Percocet (Oxycodone)
- Vicodin/Lortab/Lorcet (Hydrocodone)
Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers
- Ambien (Zolpidem)
- Ativan (Lorazepam)
- Halcion (Triazolam)
- Limbitrol (Chlordiazepoxide)
- Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
- Sonata (Zaleplon)
- Valium (Diazepam)
- Xanax (Alprazolam)
Recovery from Drug Addiction
Effective treatment for drug addiction typically requires long-term rehab and several episodes of ongoing treatment. Most often this includes medically assisted detox, residential drug and alcohol rehab, intensive outpatient treatment, sober living, and aftercare programs.
Although there is no quick and easy “cure” for addiction, individuals can overcome their drug addiction with an evidence-based drug and alcohol rehab program. These treatment programs are typically offered at an addiction treatment center for 30, 60, or 90 days, but long-term rehab programs of 90 days or more are associated with more positive treatment outcomes.
- Help the person accept the fact that they have an illness.
- Address the root causes of the person’s addiction.
- Learn and practice effective life skills and coping strategies to prevent future relapse.
- Heal damaged relationships in the person’s life.
- Learn how to build healthy relationships.
- Maintain long-term or lifelong abstinence from all addictive substances