Drug addiction is a complex disease that involves both physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms. Overcoming drug addiction is much more than a matter of choosing to quit taking drugs. It is not about willpower or making ethical decisions. Prolonged drug use actually changes the chemicals and structures of the brain, stacking the odds against the user and making it more difficult to quit, even if he or she wants to. The good news is that advances in neuroscience have led to great improvements in treatment that can help those suffering from drug addiction.
Describing Drug Addiction
Addiction is a chronic and most often relapsing disease that affects the brain, resulting in both a compulsive pursuit of drugs and drug use. An addiction persists in spite of the potentially damaging consequences that occur as a result of drug taking – such as deteriorating relationships or poor performance at work or school. While most people choose voluntarily to take drugs at first, with prolonged use the brain changes and the individual is left with a consistent impulse to take the drug that becomes more and more difficult to overcome without the aid of professional treatment or therapy.
Signs and Symptoms
No matter the drug, the symptoms of addiction are alike. Addiction often occurs after prolonged drug abuse. The following questions can help you to determine whether you or someone close to you is struggling with a drug addiction. Ask yourself:
- Have you built up a tolerance to the drug? Do you need more than you once did to experience the same “high”?
- Have you experienced withdrawal when you stop taking the drug? (Withdrawal symptoms may include insomnia, depression, anxiety, shaking, nausea, restlessness, or sweating.)
- Do you take the drug in larger quantities or more often than you planned? Have you desired to quit but found you couldn’t or felt trapped by your drug use?
- Does taking the drug consume most or all of your time? Does your life revolve around thinking about taking drugs, finding them, or recovering from the effects of taking them?
- Have you stopped doing things you once enjoyed as a result of your drug use? (For instance, hobbies, sports, or social activities.)
- Do you feel that taking drugs is affecting your mental health and yet you continue to use? Have you experienced depression, anxiety, paranoia, or other side effects that haven’t stopped you from taking drugs?
If you identified with any of the questions listed above, you should seek the help of a physician in order to receive a diagnosis. Treatment can take a number of different forms, but research has indicated that a combination of medication-based treatment and behavioral therapy is most likely to be successful. Often, treatments are tailored to the type of drug, the patient’s history and pattern of use, and any other mental, medical, or social problems that occur at the same time. While relapse is common with drug addiction, as it is with other chronic diseases, treatment can offer the hope of managing the addiction.