Understanding Drug & Alcohol Addiction
Addiction is a complex condition that involves a number of factors. Addiction does not play out as simply in real life as it seems to in the movies or on TV. There’s no single face to addiction, and those suffering from it should not simply be dismissed as out-of-control addicts or criminals. There are very human issues that lie behind a drug or alcohol addiction, and those are what addiction treatment and recovery interventions should focus on.
Getting treatment for addiction is not easy for either the person suffering from it, or for their loved ones. However, once treatment is completed, those who suffer from addiction have a chance to return to healthy, meaningful, and productive lives again. Awareness, compassion, and commitment to responding quickly are all needed in the fight against alcohol and drug addiction. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a condition that affects millions of Americans. Individuals who struggle with addiction are unable to stop themselves from engaging in potentially harmful activities, like drug or alcohol use.
While you can be addicted to a variety of substances (both legal and illegal), addiction manifests with some common signs. These include:
- Increased tolerance for a substance
- Physical side effects when the substance wears off (nausea, shaking, dizziness, irritability)
- An inability to stop using the substance, even if you want to
- A loss of interest in people or things you used to enjoy
- Engaging in risky behavior (stealing, dangerous activity) to get more of the substance
In addition to the symptoms and behavioral signs above, you may also be able to detect drug or alcohol addiction in another person from the following signs:
- Extreme changes to physical, mental, and emotional health
- Neglect of physical appearance (Certain substances, such as methamphetamine, are infamous for extreme changes to the physical appearance like “meth mouth.”)
- Problems at work or school
- Becoming increasingly at odds with their family, friends, or romantic partners
- Financial issues
Addiction is a complex issue that can develop from a variety of causes. In many cases, there are neurological factors at play; the American Psychiatry Association reports that brain imaging studies on people struggling with addiction reveal changes in their brains that affect judgment, decision-making, memory, learning, and self-control.
At its core, addiction is a mental health disorder. People with this condition need addiction treatment from qualified professionals to overcome their addiction and live in recovery. Better Addiction Care strives to connect individuals and their loved ones to the treatment centers that will give them the greatest chance of lifelong success.
Common Drugs that Lead to Addiction
People can develop an addiction to anything — drugs, food, sex, exercise — and all these things have the potential for harm if the individual overindulges. However, when most people talk about addiction, they are referring to alcohol and drugs
Which substances are among the most common culprits for drug or alcohol addiction? Below is a briefer on the different classes, along with examples.
It can be easy for some people to ignore alcohol problems because it is not an illegal substance. However, alcohol is one of the most common causes of addiction. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that nearly 15 million Americans age 12 or older had some kind of alcohol use disorder.1
This isn’t entirely surprising; drinking alcohol causes an overload in both the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, which makes a user want to repeat those experiences by drinking more. Unfortunately, it’s easy for alcohol misuse to evolve into alcohol addiction or a point in which alcohol has begun to interfere with everyday life.
Marijuana, THC, and Cannabis-containing Substances
Well-known examples of this class are marijuana or hashish. Cannabis can be smoked, inhaled in a vaporized form, or taken in edible form. Long-term chronic use of this drug can decrease one’s mental sharpness and cause permanent problems in performance at work or school. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that 30% of people who use marijuana have some kind of marijuana addiction.2
Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, and Hypnotics
These comprise a class of central nervous system depressants that can only be obtained through doctor’s prescriptions but are often misused. Examples include:
- Phenobarbital and secobarbital (Seconal)
- Sedatives like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin),
- Prescription sleeping medications like zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata)
Addiction to these substances can cause memory problems, lack of inhibition, and changes in mood. Other side effects include lack of coordination and mobility, which in turn can cause accidents and serious injury. While you do need a doctor’s prescription to get barbiturates, medical professionals write more than 10 million prescriptions for these drugs each year. This makes it much easier for people to access these substances and develop an addiction.
This class of substances is known for strong highs that users often try to channel into their work performance or social life. They may also be used with the intention to lose or gain weight. Examples of drugs under the class of stimulants are the following:
- Methamphetamine or meth
- Amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
Some of these can be obtained by prescription, but some are commonly purchased illegally. Side effects include dangerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. A user may also experience irritability, paranoia, insomnia, and depression when the high inevitably tapers off.
This class gets its name from the clubs, parties, or concerts where the drugs are commonly distributed. Examples include:
- Ecstasy or molly (MDMA)
- Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol or “roofies”)
Side effects of club drugs include chills and sweating, tremors, reduced consciousness, and poor judgment. They are also closely associated with misconduct and assault in social settings — particularly Rohypnol, which bears the nickname “the date rape drug.”
Opioid painkillers are drugs that are either made from opium or synthetically. Prolonged use of these addictive painkillers can result in long-term effects on one’s sense of pain, depression, confusion, and problems with attention or memory. This class of substances includes:
Opioid addiction has been a hot-button topic in the United States for several decades. Since the 1990s (when pharmaceutical companies informed the medical community that opioids were non-addictive), prescription rates for these drugs have skyrocketed — and the rates of addiction climbed just as high. The U.S.Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid addiction a public health crisis in 2017, but this disease still impacts over 10 million people each year.3
The most common in this class of substances are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP). Magic mushrooms, which contain psilocybin, also fall under this category. Addiction to hallucinogenic drugs can cause permanent changes in one’s mental perception, repeat experiences of hallucinations, rapid shifts in emotion, and impulsive behavior, among others.
The substances listed above are either illegal or (in the case of alcohol and prescription drugs) widely-known to have a risk of addiction. However, there’s also a class of substances that are not necessarily illegal, but can still cause addiction. The following can be inhaled and used to generate a high:
- Paint thinner
- Felt-tip marker fluid
The toxic nature of these substances when inhaled can cause dizziness, rashes, poor coordination and slurred speech, and irregular heartbeats.
What Are the Causes of Addiction?
Just as people can be addicted to a variety of substances, there are a variety of reasons why a person might develop an addiction. Some people might be using drugs or alcohol to escape past trauma. Others might be self-medicating a mental health disorder. Others still might have developed an addiction completely by accident (for example, the millions of people prescribed opiates by their doctors).
But even though the causes behind addiction vary, the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites the top reasons people get addicted to drugs or alcohol as the following:
- To feel good and to experience a “high,” or a pleasure that they don’t get anywhere else.
- To feel better, or to relieve the stresses of a person’s everyday life.
- To do better, or to get energy and to improve their performance at work or in their social life.
- To fulfill their curiosity and to see what their peers think is so great about it.
The avenues through which a person can discover addictive substances vary wildly — and therefore, addiction treatment must be just as varied in its approach. There are many different types of addiction rehab centers, all of which offer different ways to uncover the root causes of one’s addiction and learn how to overcome it.
At Better Addiction Care, we will take your specific story into consideration and help you find the treatment program (for example, inpatient vs. outpatient treatment) that will best meet you in your current emotional and mental state. This can make a world of difference for your treatment and help you stay sober long after your time in rehab ends.
What Factors Contribute to Higher Rates of Drug & Alcohol Addiction?
Part of what makes addiction such a complicated problem is the number of contributing factors involved. A person struggling with an addiction may have been predisposed to it for one or more reasons, including the following:
- The type of substance taken. Some substances, such as stimulants or opioid painkillers, are more addictive than others.
- Genetic predisposition. If someone in the user’s family has a history of drug or alcohol addiction, it may make them more vulnerable to addiction as well.
- Early use of substance. If someone is introduced to an addictive substance at an early age, their brain may have developed an increased likelihood of addiction.
- Lack of parental supervision or family involvement. It may have also been easy for someone to continue their drug or alcohol habit because of lack of supervision or involvement at home.
- Mental health disorder. The person may have turned to substances to try to cope with a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
- Socioeconomic circumstances and environment. In many communities, drug and alcohol addiction arise because of poverty and unemployment. It is just as important to address these social causes as well as the addiction itself.
Side Effects of Addiction
Though the particular complications of addiction depend on the substance, the person, and other factors, common complications include the following:
- Memory loss
- Brain damage
Moreover, if an addiction goes unaddressed for too long, it may result in the following issues:
- The person may make themselves and others around them more vulnerable to communicable diseases, such as HIV.
- There’s an increased chance of the person or the people around them getting gravely injured or dying in an accident because of their state.
- A person dealing with addiction may also have to deal with the consequences of breaking the law, such as paying fines or being incarcerated.
- The addiction may also leave lasting financial problems, like a buildup of debt.
- Those struggling with addiction are also at greater risk of death by suicide.
These side effects are harrowing to think about — especially if you or someone you love is currently struggling with addiction. But in order for a person to prevent these side effects, it’s necessary to turn their life around. Admittedly, addiction recovery is a massive challenge. But with the right support network of friends, loved ones, and addiction treatment professionals, you can make lasting and life-saving changes.
Addiction Rehab Treatment and Management
Because addiction is a disease, it is diagnosed and treated just like other illnesses—that is, with much care and much attention to the person’s individual circumstances. Treatment must be overseen by a health professional who is familiar with addiction, ideally in an addiction treatment center.
Going to rehab is often the best recourse to fight—and ultimately win—against addiction. Those struggling with addiction can undergo the rehabilitation process with medical professionals, licensed alcohol and drug counselors, and their peers.
Rehab offers the following benefits to those battling addiction:
- A safe, quiet, and controlled environment in which they can recover, as well as work on their health, diet, sleeping habits, and exercise habits
- A way to safely undergo detoxification and mitigate withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision
- An opportunity to learn about their condition, which can be hugely beneficial for the patient as well as their loved ones
- Access to therapy and counseling, where patients can address personal issues that may have had a hand in the addiction, such as family or work problems.
- A network for sustained recovery efforts, such as nearby sober living homes or local AA or NA groups.
What is a Treatment Plan for Addiction?
Treating addiction is a multi-layered process that depends largely on the individual’s current state when he or she enters a treatment program. However, most people treating addiction go through the following steps during their time in rehab:
Drug Detox: When a person first enters an addiction rehab center, it’s likely that he or she has some drugs currently in their system. Before they can begin treatment in earnest, they must get all substances out of their system — but this can be a difficult and uncomfortable process. Therefore, many individuals start their rehab experience in a detox center. These facilities help patients safely through withdrawal, and may even prescribe medication like anti-nausea medication or anticonvulsants to treat withdrawal symptoms.
Inpatient Rehab: After the withdrawal period passes, a patient can enter an inpatient rehab facility. In these centers, they will work on learning more about their addiction. This can include understanding the harm they’re doing to their body, uncovering the emotional triggers that contribute to their addiction, and learning valuable skills that can help them fight their addiction in the long run. Most addiction treatment centers offer individual and group therapy sessions, as well as other classes like art or music therapy.
Outpatient Rehab/Addiction Management: After treatment, the person may be advised to live in a substance-free environment like a sober living home or a halfway house. They may also choose to enroll in 12-step self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous if their community has a local chapter.
How Long Does Overcoming Addiction Take?
Most people who enter an addiction treatment center for inpatient care stay 90 to 120 days. However, it’s important to remember that addiction is a lifelong struggle. Even individuals who have been drug- or alcohol-free for years will often still refer to themselves as “in recovery,” because they are still using the skills they learned in rehab to maintain their sobriety.
When Should You Seek Medical or Emergency Help?
One thing everyone should know about addiction is when the problem merits medical or emergency help. Medical intervention is needed in the following cases:
- When the person can’t stop using the substance and experiences withdrawal without it.
- Even as the substance causes the person harm, they continue to use it.
- Substance addiction can already be tied to unsafe and harmful behavior, such as unprotected sex and the sharing of drug paraphernalia.
These signs are your cue to seek out either primary care or the services of a doctor whose specialty is in addiction medicine.
On the other hand, the following signs merit emergency medical care. In these cases, you should call for an ambulance or drive the person straight to the emergency room.
- The person has had an overdose.
- The person is having trouble breathing.
- The person is experiencing seizures or convulsions.
- The person is exhibiting signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure.
Some Tips for Preventing Addiction
As with many other illnesses, the best approach to take with addiction is to work for their prevention. You can do so in the following ways.
- Advocate against the use of addictive substances. Encourage your loved ones to socialize, have fun, relax, and overcome their problems even without the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Set a good example. Be a sterling example, especially among your children, friends, family members, coworkers, and your community at large. Your actions can influence others, so make sure that you use your influence for the good.
- Treat everyone with compassion. It’s important not to dehumanize those who are undergoing addiction, as you often do not know of the hardships they have had to face.
Get Help Today with Better Addiction Care
If you or someone you love has fallen victim to this devastating disease, know that you are not alone — and that Better Addiction Care is here to help you.
Our treatment advisors are available 24/7, and calls are always free and 100% confidential. We will help you find rehab locations near you, so you can help yourself or your loved one take the first steps toward lifelong recovery. Call (800) 429-7690 today to learn more.
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