Drug addiction can occur though the use of both illegal or recreational drugs and though the use of prescription drugs. Although many people who take drugs, of either sort, do not become addicted, for others the problems can be enormous. People who are addicted to drugs frequently experience difficulties in their personal relationships, problems at work and can lose track of reality. They can act unpredictably and even become violent, both as a result of the drugs themselves or as a result of their need to obtain them. Financial problems can also ensue as all of an addict’s money is spent buying drugs.
Drug addiction can ruin people’s lives. The effects of addiction take their toll not only on the addict, but on their families, friends, workmates and sometimes even on strangers. Help is available, so if you are addicted to drugs or know someone who is, getting the facts about the problem and the ways you can obtain help is vital.
Understanding the use and abuse of drugs, and drug addiction
Drugs can be addictive. Sometimes it takes a long period of time before the person using the drug becomes addicted to it, but in others the addiction can happen very quickly.
Not all drug addiction comes about through the use of recreational drugs. Many people become addicted to pain killers or other drugs like sleeping tablets that they have been legitimately prescribed by a doctor.
Other drug addictions come about through experimentation. It is common among young people to experiment with drugs, particularly soft drugs like cannabis. It’s almost a rite of passage for many students or teenagers. They may try the drugs out of curiousity, having heard so much about it and wanting to experience the effects for themselves, or they may begin taking the drugs as a result of peer pressure. To them, the dangers seem far removed at this time. Having no experience of addiction and its power, they think that they can safely take drugs for a short period of time and not become addicted. The ‘I can stop when I want’ syndrome is very common in this demographic. But, not all of them can.
Other reasons for taking drugs can be to develop muscle for sports or body building.
Addiction can occur at anytime during drug use. It is less about the way you take the drug than it is about the effect that that drug has on you, on your body and your life. If your use of drugs is causing difficulties in any area of your life, whether it be at home, at college, at work, or in your social or financial life, you have an addiction problem no matter how little you actually use. Think about it logically: If you find yourself in denial of that fact. If drugs are causing you problems, why wouldn’t you stop if you could?
What causes addiction?
This question is more complicated than it may first appear. There are many factors that can predispose a person to addiction, in addition to the addictive properties of the drug used. Some people have what is often termed ‘an addictive personality’, while others may find that casual drug use turns to addiction during a time of particular stress.
The following factors should be considered when looking at a person’s vulnerability to addiction.
- Is there any family history of addiction?
- Is there any history of trauma in childhood? Was the person abused, or did he suffer grief and loss at an early age?
- Does the person suffer from any mental illness? Conditions such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress can trigger addiction to drugs.
- Did the person experiment with drugs from an early age?
- What drugs are being used and how is it administered? Some drugs are more addictive than others. Drugs that are injected are often highly addictive.
What is drug addiction?
To understand what causes addiction to drugs, it’s necessary to understand the way drugs work on the body. Addiction to drugs is a physiological problem that is concerned not just with the desire for the effects of the drug and the person’s personality, but also of the effects that the drugs have on the person’s brain and body. Drugs can actually alter the brain chemistry and function. This is how it works:
- Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that creates a feeeling of pleasure. Many recreational drugs cause an increase of dopamine in the brain. The user can then experience a powerful desire to repeat the experience as his brain craves more dopamine.
- For an addict, that is to say, a person whose drug use has become compulsive, taking the drug becomes as important as essential bodily needs like eating, drinking and sleeping. For some, it becomes even more important.
- As the brain becomes reliant on the drug it is unable to function properly without it. A person’s judgement becomes clouded, they are unable to think clearly and decisively and they can begin to behave unpredictably and uncontrollably.
- The drug of choice bcomes more and more essential to the brain over time. The need for the drug can overtake all other concerns, causing an addict to become abusive towards himself and others.
- The brain can become its own worst enemy when a person begins to use drugs compulsively. Addicts are often unable to evaluate the extent of their addictions or drug use as the brain rationalises the addiction and makes excuses for it.
Crossing the line between drug use and addiction
The line that exists between drug use and drug addiction can be very fine indeed. Many addicts don’t realise how close they have come to that line until they’ve crossed it. Could you be in danger of finding yourself on the addicted side of that line? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your use of drugs increasing in frequency? Has the occasional joint smoked with friends at a party become a nightly ritual ?
- Do you find it increasingly difficult to sleep without using the drug? Or to concentrate properly at work?
- If you are taking a drug to control pain, and the condition is one that should be improving with time, are you still taking the drugs at the same intervals and frequency as when the pain was at its worst?
- Are you using drugs becsue there is another problem in your life? If you’re going through a difficult time, perhaps due to the breakdown of a relationship for example, are you taking drugs to make that feel better?
- Is your drug use affecting other areas of your life? Are you late for or absent from work or college as a result of using drugs? Are your relationships suffering or becoming less important to you?
If you’ve found yourself answering yes to the above questions, your use of drugs has become addictive and you need to find help to halt the process before it becomes even worse. Sounds scary? Yes, it is. But, what’s great to know is that there is help available to anyone who is struggling with drug addiction. What you need to do is wake up and realise that you are an addict. Admit it to yourself, admit it to your loved ones. Admit it to your doctor or social worker, and ask for help. If you can’t admit it to anybody close to you in the real world, get on the phone or online to find the help you need. It doesn’t matter what way you go about it, but get that help.
Separating the truth from the fiction about drug abuse and addiction
Drug abuse and addiction is mired in mystery for many of us. There are lots of myths and misconceptions around, and if you don’t know better it’s easy to fall for the lies. If you want to overcome a drug problem or to help someone else to do that, you need to understand what is true, and what is not. The following are commonly held misconceptions about drug addiction:
- Addicts can recover by willpower alone: Addicts are often told by well meaning others that if they are strong they can stop taking drugs. Sadly, once addiction has taken hold, this isn’t the case. Chemical changes in the brain that are caused by continued drug use can make it impossible to stop by willpower alone. Even a very strong desire to stop using drugs can be thwarted by the symptoms of withdrawl experienced in the process as the brain and body continue craving the drug and its effects. Expert help is needed, and may take the form of support and counselling and often also requires the carefully monitored use of other drugs to gradually redress the balance of the brain’s chemistry and the body’s reliance on the drug.
- Like any illness, addiction is something you are powerless to end: Although you may feel powerless against the force of your addiction, you are not actually helpless. You can help yourself to beat the addiction. You may not be able to do it alone, but treatments are available that can and do work. You just have to admit the problem and seek and accept the appropriate help.
- Once addiction begins it can’t be halted until the addict has reached the bottom: This is a very damaging and oft repeated myth that is responsible for serious problems. It’s not true. In fact, the sooner a person realises that there is an addiction problem, the easier it is to cure. Addiction gains power as it goes along, so seeking early help is important whether for yourself or for another.
- An addict has to ask for help before treatment can be effective: While treatment for drug addiction may be easier if the addict accepts and wants to get help of his own volition, enforced treatment can also be successful and can indeed be necessary. The effects of addiction may leave an addict feeling that he doesn’t want to stop as the addiction is more powerful than his sense of self preservation or regard for others, but if treatment is enforced these feelings can change as the addiction loosens its grip.
- A relapse after treatment means that no further attempts can be successful: The very nature of drug addiction makes it a complex problem to treat and deal with. A relapse does not mean that ultimate success will be denied. Think of it like being on a diet. Your’e doing well and losing weight, then one day you go to a party and eat too many cakes. It can be a little tough to get back on track, but with help and support you can do it. You’ve had a glimpse of the future you want, and you know you can do it. If you suffer a relapse, accept it as a sign that you need to redouble your efforts and ask for more help immediately. Don’t let things spiral out of control, they don’t need to.
How to recognise the signs that you’re abusing drugs
- Your work or college life is becoming less important to you and yo’re beginning to fail.
- You aren’t living up to your responsibilities at home, whether this be neglecting the children or your partner or failing to look after the house properly.
- You are taking unacceptable risks while under the influence of drugs or need for drugs: Do you drive the car or operate machinery at work while you are on drugs? Do you have unprotected sex, or inject drugs with old needles? Are you taking drugs when you should be taking care of children or animals?
- Are you acting unlawfully while on drugs or in order to obtain drugs? Drug abusers who have previously been fully law abiding citizens may behave uncharacteristically when under the influence of drugs, or when they crave drugs. This can result in minor infringements of the law such as speeding while driving, stealing cash to buy drugs or disorderly behaviour.
- Are your relationships suffering as a result of your drug use? Marriages and intimate partnerships can crack under the strain of drug abuse , as can relationships with colleagues at work, with friends and other family members. If you’re finding that arguments with your partner are becoming more frequent, or your boss is becoming dissatisfied with your work or conduct at work, it can be a sign that your drug abuse is causing problems. Likewise, friends may begin avoiding or excluding you from social events because of your unpredictable behaviour.
How to recognise that abuse has become addiction
As stated earlier, there’s a very fine line between abuse of drugs and addiction. If you want to see how close you are to having crossed that line, look at the following:
- Your tolerance to the drug has increased: If you are finding that you need to take larger quantities, higher strengths or use the drug more frequently to obtain the same effect as you had earlier in your use of that drug, you are building up a physical tolerance to it. This is a major sign of addiction and should not be ignored.
- You suffer withdrawal symptoms: If you abstain from taking the drug and find that as a result you start to suffer withdrawal symptoms, you are almost certainly addicted. You find that symptoms such as nausea, headaches, shaking, anxiety, depression and insomnia plague you if you don’t take the drug at your usual time, and you feel a powerful urge to take the drug to alleviate the symptoms.
- You can no longer control your drug use the way you used to: If you are finding that you can no longer choose whether or not to take the drug or that your usage is becoming ever more frequent, it’s a sign that abuse is turning to addiction.
- Drugs become more important than anything else in your life: If you find that you are thinking about drugs a lot of the time, choosing to go to get drugs or take drugs above other things you used to see as important like family time or sport, you are becoming addicted. Eventually, all that matters to an addict is his next fix.
- You can see the problems that your drug use is causing, but you won’t stop. This isn’t a bad choice. This is addiction.
How to spot the signs of drug abuse in someone else
If it isn’t you yourself that’s using or abusing drugs, but a person you know that you’re concerned may be becoming addicted, this is what to look out for. Signs may be physical, behavioural or psychological in nature. Being aware of what the signs are will help you to help that person sooner rather then too late.
Physical signs of drug addiction:
- Look at the person’s eyes. Eyes that are bloodshot, or that have pupils that are noticeably bigger or smaller than normal can indicate drug abuse.
- If a person begins to display changes in sleeping or eating habits, drug abuse may be the cause.
- Changes in weight may be symptomatic of drug abuse, especially if they are quite sudden.
- A marked change in personal hygiene or grooming habits can indicate drug problems. A normally clean and tidy person may become inexplicably slovenly or even dirty.
- If a person begins to give off different odours, having unusual or unpleasant body odours, breath smelling different etc, they may be using drugs.
- If you notice that a person is slurring their words, trembling or becoming uncoordinated in their physical actions, suspect drug use.
Behavioural signs of drug abuse and addiction
- If the person begins to fail at college or at work, or fails to attend college or work regularly, drugs may be behind the problem.
- If someone suddenly seems to need or spend a lot more money than they used to, it could be to feed a drug addiction.
- If money or valuables mysteriously begin to disappear fom the home, somone may be stealing them to pay for drugs.
- If someone you know well begins to act in a secretive manner they could be covering up a drug problem.
- People with drug problems may suddenly change their friends and social habits.
- If a normally peaceful, friendly and law abiding person suddenly begins to get involved in fights, behave aggressively or to commit minor crimes, there could be a drug problem behind the changes in behaviour.
Psychological signs of drug abuse and addiction
- You might suspect drug abuse to be behind sudden changes in personality and attitude.
- If someone begins to suffer from rapid mood swings or becomes inexplicably angry they may be using drugs.
- A person who displays signs of hyperactivity, silly behaviour or agitation and anxiety may be showing signs of drug abuse.
- Anyone who seems to be often ‘out of it’ or unusually lethargic could be taking drugs.
- Paranoia and extreme anxiety can also be signs of drug abuse.
Common drugs and their effects
If someone you know has a drug problem, it can be helpful for you to know the most commonly abused drugs and the effects that they have.
- Marijuana: Users of marijuana may display the following signs: Glassy or red eyes; loud speech, sudden or inappropriate laughter, sleepiness; lack of interest and motivation; weight gain or loss.
- Depressants: (includes drugs like Xanax, Valium, GHB):Contracted pupils; drunk-like conduct; difficulty in concentrating; clumsiness; impaired judgment; slurred speech; sleepiness and fatigue.
- Stimulants: (includes drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive, fast talking, lack of desire to eat. These types of drugs are also characterised by behavioural abnormalities in th come down period after use: Depression or excessive sleeping and fatigue; loss of appetite, weight loss; dry mouth and nose.
- Inhalants: (these include glues, aerosols, vapours):Runny eyes; poor vision, memory and thought processes; running nose; rashes and redness around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; drunk like behaviour; sleepiness; impaired muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability. You may also spot an excessive amount of aerosols or canisters from these substances in the rubbish bin.
- Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP): Enlarged pupils; bizarre and irrational behaviour with paranoia and /or aggression; hallucinations; mood swings; appearing isolated from others or ignoring them in company; becoming self absorbed or unusually fascinated by an object or person, slurred speech; confused conduct or conversation.
- Heroin: Contracted pupils; poor or no response of pupils to light; needle marks on the arms or other areas of the body; changes in sleep patterns; sweating; vomiting; coughing, running nose and eyes; twitching and trembling; loss of appetite. Heroin addicts may also display signs of panic as they begin to need another hit. Needles and other paraphenalia assosciated with this drug may be found in the person’s possessions or room.
Teenagers and drug use: Spotting the early signs.
Spotting the early signs of drug abuse in teenagers can be very important as the problems can be addressed before they become too serious. The signs and symptoms of drug abuse in teens has much in common with in any user, but teenagers may employ different techniques to cover up their drug use. Look out for the following:
- Missing school or college
- Changing friends and social activities
- Losing interest in sports or other hobbies
- Bloodshot or dilated/contracted pupils. Excessive use of eye drops may be an attempt to cover this sign.
- Money or valuables disappearing from the home.
- Behavioural and personality changes
- Weight loss or gain.
- Secretive behaviour, always locking doors, being evasive about their movements and guarding their mail and mobile phones jealously.
- Having more or less money than you’d expect.
What makes teen addiction often harder to recognise is that many of these signs can simply be symptomatic of the normal developmental and hormonal trauma and behavioural disturbances of teenagers. However, when it comes to drugs, if you have any suspicions at all you’re better to be safe than sorry.
What to Do About Drug Abuse
Here’s what to do about drug abuse.
What to do if you have a drug abuse problem or addiction to drugs
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve already made that first important step to recognising that you’ve got a problem. That can be the hardest thing to do, and you have to do it all alone. Admit it to yourself…then you can admit it to others and get the help you need and deserve. Understand that it is possible to solve this problem with the right support and advice. Accept too, that from here on, you need help…it’s very tough to solve a drug problem alone.
There is plenty of help available. You can turn to a close friend or family member. They may still have to direct you to professional help, but they will make the process easier. You can go to see your family doctor for help. He will probably refer you to more specialised help, depending on the drugs you are using and the extent of the addiction. You can turn to support groups of recovering addicts like Narcotics Anonymous. You can attend counselling or other therapy programmes. If you are part of a supportive religious community, they too may offer you support and advice.
What to do if someone you know has a problem with drug abuse or addiction
If it isn’t you, but a close friend or a family member who is displaying signs of a dug problem, the same help is available. It’s just that you have to handle things a little differently. Here’s what you can do:
- Have a chat with them, but be sensitive. They may not admit the problem immediately. Listen, rather than talk at fist. Don’t judge and don’t preach.
- Don’t wait until the problem has become serious before you act. The sooner it is picked up and help is sought, the faster will be the recovery.
- Explain clearly why you are worried about the person. Tell them what changes you’ve noticed in them.
- Tell them you care about them and will support them.
- Stay strong and look after yourself. It can be too easy to get caught up in a friend’s drug problems and get dragged down and depressed yourself.
- Don’t get involved if the friend is going looking for drugs. These situations can be dangerous.
- Accept that you can offer help, love and support but that you can’t force the person to stop using drugs.
- Give your friend the responsibility for his own actions.
- Don’t act as a cover up for your friend. If he’s using drugs, don’t become part of the deceit he employs to avoid detection.
- Don’t hide or throw away the drugs. Addicts can become desperate.
- Don’t try to remonstrate with the person when he is using drugs. You won’t get any sense out of him, and he may become aggressive.
- Don’t absolve the addict of his responsibilities by taking over for them.
- Don’t accept any blame for your friend’s drug use.
What to do if your child or teenager is using drugs
Although many of the above also apply if it is your child or teenager who is using drugs, the situation that you are confronted with as a parent puts you in a slightly different position.
- Stay calm. It can be easy to panic if you find that your child is involved with drugs, but you need to retain a clear head.
- Don’t confront the child when he is using drugs or drink, or if you yourself have had a drink.
- Speak calmly and clearly about your worries for the child.
- Explain the problems that drugs can cause.
- Tell your child that there is a lot of help available to solve the problem, and give him confidence that a solution can be found.
- Make sure your child knows that you love him and will support him.
- Keep track of your child’s activities and whereabouts.
- Make it your business to know where he is and who he is spending time with.
- Set rules and consequences that can be adhered to in relation to drug use.
- Check your child’s belongings for signs of drug use. Drugs may be hidden in a child’s room or belongings, or paraphenalia connected to drug use or substance abuse may be evident.
- Encourage your child to take part in healthy activities, sporting and social.
- Make sure your child knows he can talk to you about any problems in his life. Sometimes kids turn to drugs if they are having problems at school, suffering bullying or have other worries.
- Try to find a responsible adult that your child will listen to as well. This might be a doctor, teacher, older person that the child respects or a drugs consellor.
Resources for drug abuse and addiction
Whether it is for your own problem or that of your child or friend, you can contact the following for help and advice. Remember too that you can ask your doctor or social worker for help.
- http://www.na.org/ Narcotics Anonymous
- SAMHSA’ (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- 1-800-662-9832 (Español)
- 1-800-228-0427 (TDD)
- http://draonline.org/ Dual Recovery Anonymous. For those whose drug dependency coincides with other mental health issues.
- http://www.smartrecovery.org/ Smart Recovery
- http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/drugs/Pages/Drugtreatment.aspx National Health Service Choices
- http://www.addaction.org.uk/ Addaction UK.
- http://www.adfam.org.uk/ For friends and families of addicts.
- http://www.talktofrank.com/ FRANK. For those with drug problems and their families and friends.
The message about drug abuse is that it’s serious and dangerous. It can damage you, jeopardise your future and harm your family and friends. But the good news is that you don’t have to live with a drug problem. You can overcome it with all the help that’s available.