Addiction is a dangerous disease that often requires intensive treatment in a professional setting. But how does a person become an addict and what substances, when abused, can cause addiction? It is important to be aware of these facts, especially if you or someone you know has been misusing dangerous drugs.
The first step of recovery is to find safe, effective treatment catered to your needs.
What Is Addiction?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” A loved one’s substance abuse may start out as voluntary, but the drug itself changes the way the brain works when it used repeatedly. This can lead to tolerance and dependence or addiction making it feel physically and psychologically impossible to stop using the drug, even with the best intentions to quit.
Long-term abuse of drugs intensely affect the brain composition, in most cases, flooding the brain’s reward pathway with dopamine. This eventually changes the ability for normal pleasure and happiness to be gained without the use of drugs. As a result, an addict will not feel “good” from any normal experience, activity, or interaction except for substance abuse. Long-term substance use can cause problems with:
- Memory loss
- The ability to learn new things
- The ability to cope with stress
- The ability to make decisions
Why Do Only Some People Become Addicted?
Addiction is not an issue of lacking moral principles or willpower like some people believe. In the long-term, those who abuse drugs or alcohol undergo a chemical change that affects their brain and causes them to succumb to the disease—not by choice, but by physical and psychological change. However, this change doesn’t happen to every person who abuses drugs.
According to NIDA, there are certain risk factors that make a person more susceptible to addiction. These can include biological factors such as:
- The presence of certain mental disorders
Environmental factors can also lead to a heightened risk of addiction. These may include:
- Past physical or sexual abuse
- Peer pressure
- Early exposure to drugs
Developmental factors may also lead to heightened addiction risk. These factors can include:
- Taking drugs at an early age
- Lack of parental supervision
Developmental reasons such as these are some of the strongest reasons why some people become addicted to drugs while others do not. Still, the longer an individual misuses a dangerous substance, the more likely they are to become addicted to it. It is important to remember that substance abuse is ALWAYS dangerous, no matter what your situation or background may be.
The Signs of Addiction
When you become addicted to a substance, there are often clear behavioral and physical signs of the problem. According to the National Library of Medicine, these signs can include:
- Making excuses to use more
- Missing school or work in order to use drugs
- Exhibiting a downturn in work or school performance, often ending in a reprimand, firing, loss of scholarship, etc.
- Sudden episodes of violence after having never acted this way before
- Constant confusion and difficulty with memory, judgment, etc.
- Secretive behavior
- Hostile behavior, especially when asked about substance abuse
- Consistent physical issues for which the individual will not want to visit a doctor
- Neglecting their hygiene and appearance
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Apathy toward people and activities that once mattered to them
Addiction affects every area of your life, including the professional and personal realms. When substance abuse gets to this point, addiction treatment is necessary.
Which Substances Are Most Often Abused?
The substances most likely to be abused and create a serious addiction are listed by the NIDA. These drugs and other substances can all cause severe issues for the user, especially the more often they are abused and the higher the doses are.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had an [alcohol use disorder] in 2012.”
Alcohol addiction––or alcoholism––is one of the oldest and most widespread addiction issues in the world, and many individuals still struggle with this issue today.
Those who misuse alcohol for a long time and become addicted often need to stop drinking completely in order to avoid any additional issues with their substance use disorder.
In addition, alcohol dependence can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that often require hospitalization and can be deadly if the individual is not properly treated.
According to the NIDA, cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. It can be found as a white powder that is often injected or snorted or as a rock crystal formation, which is usually smoked.
Heroin is another extremely dangerous and addictive drug that is illegal to abuse. It is an opioid and can either be found as a powder or a sticky goo that is known as black tar heroin.
Those who misuse this drug often inject it, which puts them at risk of contracting dangerous diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Ecstasy is often referred to as a club drug because it is abused mostly in clubs and bars. It has both hallucinogenic and stimulant properties.
A person who overdoses on ecstasy can become dehydrated and suffer heat exhaustion.
Though some states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the drug, when abused, can still cause an addiction syndrome as well as other concerning physical and psychological effects.
Marijuana is a green and brown mix of crumpled, dried leaves that is usually smoked.
Also known as meth or crystal meth, this drug is a powerfully addictive stimulant that causes a number of other severe side effects like dental problems, malnourishment, and psychosis.
People can often create meth with materials that can be easily purchased in stores, which makes the drug extremely available and dangerous.
This drug class includes substances like:
- Psychedelic mushrooms
Hallucinogens cause an individual to experience intense hallucinations and sensory alterations. Though some of these drugs are not actually addictive, they can still be extremely dangerous to those who abuse them.
Inhalants are chemicals that can often be found around one’s household. The vapors are inhaled in order for the individual to experience an intense high.
Severe brain damage, lung damage, and even sudden death can occur with the abuse of inhalants.
Addictive prescription drugs often fall into one of three categories:
- CNS depressants
Many people start out taking these drugs as prescribed but then end up abusing them in order to experience an intense high or because they have built up a tolerance to the drugs’ effects.
According to the NIDA, “Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are, after marijuana (and alcohol), the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.”
Still considered one of the most widespread addiction syndromes, tobacco use still leads many individuals to seek treatment every year.
Our understanding of the long-term issues of smoking and chewing tobacco has become greater over the years, and the greater risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and other severe issues should also be understood by those who continue to smoke.
How Do I Get Help for Addiction?
If you or someone you love has been abusing any of the substances listed above and needs help, it is time to seek professional treatment. Rehab centers offer many treatment options to patients so that they can safely navigate their recoveries, put an end to their substance abuse, and avoid relapse. These treatment options can include:
- Behavioral therapies that allow patients to learn new life skills in order to better cope with cravings and stress
- Medications that can minimize cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and allow patients to stay maintained as they live their daily lives without substance abuse
- Holistic methods that utilize different concepts in order to further treat addiction, including:
- Art and dance therapy
- Animal therapy
- Massage therapy