Recognizing Drug Addiction

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People suffering from addiction no longer have control over their use of drugs or alcohol, once addiction has taken hold, the substances must be used daily or several times daily just so the person can continue to function.

People experiment with drugs or alcohol for many different reasons. Many use the substances for the first time due to curiosity, peer pressure, to “have a good time” or in an effort to mistakenly improve performance. Depression, anxiety and other disorders are also triggers for substance abuse.

There is no pinpoint at what causes substance use to becomes addiction, but if the use of substances are causing problems in one’ life and work, school and family relationships are adversely affected, addiction is the culprit. Risk factors for addiction include:

  • A family history of addiction
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma
  • Mental disorders such as anxiety or depression
  • Early use of drugs or alcohol
  • Administration method — smoking or injecting a drug increases its addiction potential 

Addiction and the brain

Addiction is a complicated disorder characterized by compulsive substance abuse. The physical effects depend upon which substance is used but the end result is the same – repeated use affects the manner in which the brain looks and functions. Using a recreational substance triggers the brain to produce the chemical dopamine, which promotes a feeling of pleasure. The brain remembers and urges repeat behavior. Once addicted, a person needs the substance to survive just as we need food and water.

The brain changes caused by the substance interfere with the ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control behavior and feel normal without using the substance. Whether the substance is alcohol, heroin, Vicodin or cocaine, the craving for more continues to grow until the substance becomes the most important thing in the addicted person’s life. Family, friends, social occasions and even one’s own health, all are neglected.

The urge to use is so strong that denial of addiction is common and a person can drastically underestimate the amount of the substance they are taking, the lack of control they have and how much their life has been affected.

How abuse and addiction can develop

Once started, a person may continue to abuse substances either because it makes them feel good or prevents them from feeling bad. Very few addicts recognize when they have crossed the line into addiction. Use of the substance increases over time; it may be a recreational weekend thing at the beginning, then a couple of times a week and very soon it can be an everyday occurrence. If the drug fulfills a need such as calming anxiety, masking shyness in social situations or helping relieve panic attacks or chronic pain, addiction will continue until a healthier solution is found. If drugs or alcohol are used to fill a void in a person’s life there is a higher risk of recreational use becoming an addiction and what began as a voluntary choice turns into a physical and psychological need.

It is extremely difficult to stop using alcohol or drugs alone and without assistance. Brain changes due to substance abuse make it almost impossible to quit via sheer willpower. Addiction is a brain disease and it can be treated by therapy, medication and therapeutic activities. A person does not have to hit rock bottom in order to begin treatment. The sooner treatment begins the better the result will be. The longer addiction continues, the harder it is to treat.

Even patients who are pressured into treatment by their loved ones can do well. Initial resistance is often followed by the realization that change is necessary. Patients may relapse following treatment but should not give up on themselves; they can return to treatment or have the treatment approach adjusted.

Recognizing the symptoms of addiction

There are different signs and symptoms one should watch for if they suspect a loved one is addicted to drugs. Common signs of addiction can include:

  • Drug tolerance, increasing amounts of substance are needed to achieve the initial high
  • Using a substance to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • Powerlessness over using the substance
  • A person’s life revolves around drug use
  • Abandonment of former pleasurable activities
  • Continued use when harmful effects are apparent

Further warning signs that a friend or family member is abusing drugs can also include:

  • Changes in eating or sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene habits
  • Unusual smells on breath, body or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, impaired coordination
  • Absences from work or school; drops in performance
  • Withdrawal from loved ones; secretive behavior

Support

Support from family and friends is crucial to recovery and most thorough treatment centers involve family and friends in the patient’s recovery. Although it may be difficult, it is best for the addicted person if judgmental comments are withheld in favor of positive comments. Letting a person know that their loved ones are behind them every step of the way and will support them post-recovery can be immensely helpful.

However the subject is brought up, a person who is struggling with addiction needs help. The sooner it is found the better. The Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline is here to help those in need find the proper treatment for their circumstances so they are confront their addiction and get their life back.

If you would like further information about addiction or finding treatment, please call the Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline to speak with a member of our team and get started on the path to recovery today.