Drug Addiction and Abuse

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Drug addiction tends to occur in two parts: physical dependence and psychological dependence. Increasing tolerance is one aspect of physical dependence, while using drugs at the expense of other aspects of your life is part of psychological dependence. People turn to drugs for a variety of reasons. They may have grown up in an environment where drugs were common, they have experienced something traumatic, they want to fit in with a peer group or they just want to try drugs and end up becoming addicted. In short, the reasons for drug addiction come down to biology, development and/or environment. Here is a look at the signs of abuse, the drugs used most frequently, and ways to get treatment and rehabilitation.

Symptoms of Drug Abuse

The signs of drug abuse are both physical and emotional. On the physical side, for example, someone may have:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Slurred speech

On the emotional side, someone may turn to substance abuse and neglect critical areas of his or her life: jobs, family, socializing and hobbies. Thoughts center on drugs and on how to get the next hit. Finances may take a dive as someone withdraws savings to spend on drugs and then turns to measures that are even more desperate (stealing money, for example).

Most Common Main Drugs

Some drugs are more abused than others, and treatment approaches such as medication type may differ depending on the drug or drugs in question.

Marijuana (Pot)This drug has become increasingly legal across the United States for both recreational and medical purposes. However, marijuana abuse is still possible, and negative side effects from overuse may include damage to the lungs and brain cells.
CocaineThis drug, often snorted, is hugely addictive. Signs include damage to the interior of the nose and drastic weight loss.
HeroinAnother very addictive drug, heroin can be taken as a sticky gel or as a powder. Damage can be extensive, both internally and externally.
InhalantsGasoline and nail polish remover are two examples of inhalants, which are, as the name implies, inhaled. Damage has the potential to be serious, affecting mood and body tone.
EcstasyThis “party” drug is frequently popular among young people. It can produce powerful hallucinations and keep people partying for hours. Many people take it with more-powerful substances such as LSD.
LSDLSD and counterparts such as mushrooms and PCP also cause hallucinations. They can severely alter a person’s perception, for example, leading someone to fall out of a window. People have to take increasing amounts of LSD to experience the same sensations, such as bliss, again. “Bad trips” are fairly common and may lead to panicked reactions.
Methamphetamine (Meth)The effects of meth abuse include death, and to a less-serious extent, the appearance of premature aging as well as tooth decay/loss. People use dangerous chemical substances such as drain cleaner to make the drug.

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Treatment and Rehabilitation Approaches for Drug Addiction

Too much of the time, drug abuse goes untreated, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, figures from the department indicate that as many as more than 90 percent of the people who need treatment do not get it. Treatment and rehabilitation approaches are varied and include methods such as behavioral therapy, medication and drug treatment centers. Here is a look at each approach.

MedicationMedication can be used to help in stages such as withdrawal to minimize the physical effects. It can also be used in treatment itself to help prevent relapse, restore normal brain function and to minimize cravings. Different types of medication work better for different types of drugs.
Behavioral TherapyThis type of therapy can be inpatient or outpatient. It involves identifying triggers for drug abuse and changing lifestyle factors to prevent triggers and to better deal with situations such as relapses. It can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy and positive reinforcement.
Drug Treatment CentersThis approach is often equated to residential treatment programs because patients live at the centers for some time. The center community, comprised of people such as psychologists, counselors, nutritionists and motivational staff, band together to support drug rehabilitation efforts. Many treatment centers are specialized or have specialized programs, for example, focusing on treatment of women, pregnant women or women who are mothers. The ultimate aim of most drug treatment centers is for clients to re-enter the world and eventually lead a lifestyle that does not include drugs. Recovery housing is one way for people to slowly transition from a drug treatment center into normal life.

Treatment for drug addiction also occurs inside the criminal justice system and is not always voluntary.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to stop substance abuse by mere willpower. Drug abuse is very complicated, rewiring the brain and fostering compulsive behavior. Treatment can be effective, although some people may need several attempts before breaking an addiction to drugs for the rest of their lives.