- Is Drug Addiction a Disease? Why Do People Get Addicted to Drugs?
- What Risk Factors Increase Likelihood of Drug Addiction?
- How Do I Recognize the Symptoms and Signs of Drug Addiction?
- What are the Short-Term and Long-Term Consequences Caused by Drug Addiction?
Is Drug Addiction a Disease? Why Do People Get Addicted to Drugs?
Drug addiction — also referred to as substance use disorder — is a disease similar to alcoholism that affects the brain and involves a chemical dependency. For some, it may begin with casual drug use in social situations and eventually progresses into more frequent use. Many people are exposed to what are known as gateway drugs — like alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana — before moving on to harder substances including cocaine, heroin or meth. Others may become addicted after a single exposure to a very addictive substance, such as an opioid that has been prescribed for pain. The frequency of use does not necessarily define drug addiction. It’s more about losing control and not being able to stop using the drug despite the dire consequences.
Many drug users are addicted to the way the drug makes their body feel. This is what is known as a chemical dependency. Your brain releases a chemical called dopamine when you experience intense feelings of pleasure. Drugs such as methamphetamine cause your brain to release dopamine in large amounts at first. But over time your body becomes accustomed to the dopamine because the drugs actually break down and destroy your brain’s dopamine receptors, and it may require larger and more frequent doses of the drug each time to produce the same chemical high.
Once a person becomes addicted to a drug, intense cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms caused by their chemical dependency may prevent them from quitting.
Certain drugs have higher risks for addiction than others, which can also affect how long it takes to become addicted to them. At Wyoming Recovery, we commonly treat patients with addictions to the following kinds of drugs:
What Risk Factors Increase Likelihood of Drug Addiction?
Anyone can become a drug addict, but there are specific risk factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of developing a drug addiction, including:
- a genetic predisposition (family history of addiction among parents, grandparents, or siblings);
- having a mental health condition (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.);
- exposure to trauma (physical, sexual, or emotional);
- early exposure to gateway drugs and peer pressure;
- lack of family involvement/supervision throughout adolescence; and/or
- easy access to addictive substances through family or job.
How Do I Recognize the Symptoms and Signs of Drug Addiction?
Not everyone with heightened risk factors will become addicted to drugs, just as not everyone who uses a drug will become an addict. Statistically speaking, men are more likely to develop drug addictions, although women tend to progress from a mild addiction to a severe addiction at a more alarming rate. Symptoms of drug addiction will vary from person to person and by drug type; however, according to most medical and behavioral experts, these are the most common signs of drug addiction:
- experiencing intense cravings for the drug (could be daily urges);
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug, including: headaches, tremors, seizures, insomnia, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, fever, fatigue, nausea or mood swings;
- increasing tolerance for the drug causing you to take more than intended;
- continuing to use the drug despite being able to see the consequences of your actions;
- increasing social isolation from friends and family and giving up other interests;
- allowing the drug to interfere with responsibilities and relationships with others;
- missing work or school and neglecting grooming, eating habits, etc.;
- using the drug despite being in a high-risk situation (such as operating a vehicle);
- spending money on the drug even if you can’t afford it;
- engaging in illegal activities to get more of the drug (lying, stealing, forging a prescription, visiting a drug dealer, etc.); and/or
- desiring to stop using the drug but being unable to do so through willpower alone.
If you suspect someone you know may have a drug addiction, there are physical signs of recent use that you can look out for. These signs too will vary from person to person and the drug involved. Signs include:
- decreased mental sharpness;
- slurred or rambling speech;
- dilated or constricted pupils;
- chills or sweating;
- involuntary tremors or shaking;
- reduced inhibitions;
- increased panic attacks and anxiety;
- lack of coordination and muscle control;
- changes in breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, or body temperature;
- erratic mood swings and behavior (may become violent);
- increased paranoia;
- unexplained weight loss; and/or
- increased energy or restlessness.
Signs of a drug overdose include seizures, difficulty breathing, a possible heart attack, and/or changes in consciousness. If you think someone is suffering from an overdose, you should get emergency medical help right away.
Diagnosing drug addiction requires a thorough assessment by a team of physicians, psychologists, and other licensed alcohol and drug counselors. Additional diagnostics in the form of blood or urine tests may be ordered to assess drug use and potential damages to the body.
What are the Short-Term and Long-Term Consequences Caused by Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction has many short- and long-term consequences to your mental and physical well-being, including:
- increased risk for heart or lung disease, cancer, liver and kidney disease, and more;
- increased risky sexual behavior resulting in sexually transmitted diseases;
- increased risk of conflicts with family or domestic partner;
- Increased risk of losing custody of children;
- poor work or school performance resulting in the eventual loss of employment;
- legal issues from arrests, drug possession charges, or driving under the influence;
- financial problems caused by spending money on drugs;
- increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident; and/or
- increased risk of accidental overdose or death.