Drug Addiction

Although the initial decision to take drugs or alcohol is usually voluntary, there is a common misconception that drug addiction is indicative of moral or ethical failure, or a lack of willpower to resist the use of drugs or "do the right thing." When someone is suffering from addiction, the brain is functioning differently than it did prior to the addiction. Drugs change the way the brain functions, specifically in the mesolimbic dopamine system (the brain's reward center), making it extremely challenging for an addict to resist compulsive urges and cravings for more drugs. Because compulsive drug use alters this system, urges and cravings for an addict's drug of choice rarely completely go away, even after years of sobriety.


Addiction literally takes the power of choice away from addicts, and they become slaves to the substances they abuse. Once people have become addicts, they are often addicts for life whether their disease is active or in remission. There is no known cure for addiction, only treatment and a lifetime of practicing healthy behaviors and resisting cravings if and when they arise. With treatment and continuing support, addicts can often successfully learn to manage their addictions and continue to resist the urge to use again (relapse). Like cancer and other diseases, relapse is common in the addiction and recovery process.

The concept of relapse is difficult for people to fathom when an addict has suffered significant negative consequences as a result of their addiction (such as jail or prison, job loss, divorce, failing health, loss of custody of children, financial hardship, etc.) and then gets clean. Why would they ever go back to using again?  The following are a few of the challenges addicts face in avoiding relapse:

  • For addicts, drugs are like food or water. They seem essential to survival and suddenly living without drugs is an extraordinary challenge.
  • Many addicts feel that doing drugs is easier than facing reality, especially when reality is particularly difficult or stressful.
  • Because addiction can change the chemistry of the brain, addicts who have gotten sober often experience an extended period of depression and overall malaise in the beginning of their sobriety, known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). It is not at all uncommon for them to want to use just to feel "normal" again.
  • When addicts are drug-seeking, they are virtually incapable of thinking beyond the drugs. They experience selective memory, literally blocking out unpleasant memories of past negative consequences, and only focus on using again.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Addiction is not a disease of reason. yet people have a hard time understanding drug addiction and why addicts don't just stop using as a result of the negative consequences they experience associated with their drug use. The reality is that drug addiction is a disease that drives compulsively seeking and using drugs, even when an addict has a true desire to quit using. Some people become addicted the first time using drugs; others can engage in social or recreational drug use without becoming addicted. There is no single root cause of drug addiction; however, there are some commonalities among addicts' mental health and environmental influence:

  • Persons with depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, or other mental health issues are more likely to take drugs to escape the undesirable effects of their symptoms.
  • Children of addicted parents are far more likely to use drugs because of their environment as well as genetic predisposition.
  • People struggling with low-self esteem or lack of confidence are at increased risk of drug addiction.
  • People with easy access to drugs, either through family members, friends, or medical relationships, are more likely to abuse and become addicted to drugs.
  • People in high-stress and high-pressure environments (such as educational pressures and demanding careers) are more susceptible to addiction.

Although not everyone with the above environments and conditions will become a drug addict, people in these groups are more at risk to use drugs and become addicted to them. Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted. Although, for many, first-time use can be an addiction's beginning. PubMed Health has identified four progressive stages of drug use and addiction, with a faster progression more likely for teens and young adults than adults aged 30 and older.

  • Experimental Use This stage is often encountered during early teenage years and is usually a result of peer pressure for recreational use in groups or at parties, or as a form of rebellion from parents and structure.
  • Regular or Frequent Use Drug use at this stage is usually several times a week. During this stage, tolerance for drugs increases, requiring more of the substance to obtain the same high. Doing drugs alone may begin now, as well as isolation from friends and family. It is in this stage that many users will begin to try to hide their increasing drug use.
  • Daily Use Daily drug use is a stage that is characterized by a lack of interest in most anything not having to do with drugs. At this stage, critical changes in the user's brain have occurred, and drug consumption is a top priority. Dangerous and illegal activities to obtain and use drugs become a part of life, and addiction becomes entrenched.
  • Addiction This is the ultimate in unmanageability when the addict cannot face daily life without drugs. Negative consequences like arrests, personal injury, abuse, and broken relationships are prevalent. Addiction treatment is necessary to begin the process of regaining a sense of sober normality.

Addictive behaviors are considered those that exacerbate and perpetuate continued drug use. Even without current drug use, these addictive behaviors can make lives just as unmanageable as addiction and lead to relapse for an addict in recovery. With or without current drug use, if the negative and destructive behaviors are not addressed, sustained sobriety is virtually impossible. Some examples of addictive behaviors:

  • Blaming  A classic behavior of addiction is blaming. "It's everyone else's fault." Addicts do not take responsibility for the unmanageability in their own lives, no matter how bad things get. Arrests are blamed on an over-zealous police officer. Continued use of drugs is blamed on friends or family members who upset the addict. Blaming is a defense mechanism employed by addicts to avoid addressing their faults and mistakes. Even when drugs are no longer being used, blaming is a dangerous behavior because it allows one to have bad behavior without self consequence and accountability.
  • Shame There is a big difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is identifying an activity or action as being wrong or bad. Shame is identifying oneself as wrong or bad. For active addicts and addicts in recovery, shame can lead to feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness, perpetuating further drug use or relapse.
  • Terminal Uniqueness Terminal uniqueness separates an addict from everyone else and makes him or her "special" and in need of exemptions. Terminal uniqueness is what tells an addict that there are important differences between themselves and everyone else in their position, and that they should be allowed to do things differently from the rest of the world. Terminal uniqueness is taking the wonder of one's own uniqueness and making it destructive. As far as drug addiction treatment is concerned, are all unique, but not special.

Although addictive behaviors may or may not be an indicator of current drug use, these behaviors are warning signs. Addicts in recovery who are exhibiting these kinds of behaviors should seek additional or alternative support and treatment to maintain sobriety. The signs of addictive behavior are warnings of a potential relapse to come; however, there are more concrete signs of current drug addiction and serious indicators of a need for treatment.

Signs of Drug Addiction

Some common signs of drug addiction include:

  • Change in appearance
  • Change in friends and social circles
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor health
  • Minimizing use or consumption of drug(s)
  • Legal troubles
  • Financial difficulties
  • Isolation

The devastating effect of addiction on addicts and their family are overwhelming, but the damage doesn't stop there. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse the overall cost of substance abuse in the US, including productivity and health-related costs exceeds $600 Billion annually. Recognizing the significant economic liability, a great deal of research focuses on the treatment of drug addiction. We now know that properly tailored treatment with aftercare and continued support can make the lifesaving difference in sustained sobriety.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, please contact us by filling out a free confidential online assessment or call us to speak with one of our trained counselors who will help you to find the most effective and appropriate treatment available. We are here to help.

Drug addiction continues to be a major concern for society, and the concern grows with every passing year. As drug and alcohol addiction ruin lives of those most closely affected, but society at large suffers from addiction's rippling effects. The following article explains the effects of drug addiction on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and society overall.  Drug addiction's debilitating effects range from financial, to functional, to emotional and should by no means be taken lightly.

Information on the Family, Individual and Society

Drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases that damage addicts, their families, communities, the economy, and society. Drug addiction has a dreadfully widespread reach: from dealing with unpredictable and often dangerous addicts at home to the staggering expenses incurred by individuals and societies as a whole. With the population of addicts rising and younger average age of addicts, society’s is grappling with a grave matter. Drug addiction is no longer limited to the poor and underprivileged; society can no longer choose to look away.

Nowadays, drug addiction is much discussed thanks to legally prescribed and over-the-counter medications being administered to society’s brightest, richest, and most respected icons. These drugs, however, show up on the nightlife scene, on school campuses, and at PTA meetings and soccer games — picked from the medicine cabinet at home, not dealt a street corner. The legality and acceptability of these drugs have turned their abuse into a devastating epidemic, not to mention the millions of people already addicted to alcohol and other illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

According to the National Library of Medicine, an estimated 20% of Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.(1) NLM also attributes the rise of prescription drug abuse to doctors overly prescribing these medications and online pharmacies as culprits. This kind of drug addiction is a major contributor to the rising costs of emergency department admissions from overdoses and complications: The Drug Abuse Warning Network recently reported that benzodiazepines (Alprazolam, Lorazepam, Clonazepam, and Diazepam) and pain killers (Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Morphine) are the two most frequently reported prescription medications in ER cases.(2) When these statistics are added to those of the already staggeringly high numbers from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine abuse in society, we are faced with overwhelming facts that only begin to illustrate the power of addiction.

Why is Drug Addiction So Devastating?

Drug and alcohol addiction is a progressive and insidious disease that creeps up on individuals; unfortunately, most addicts don’t recognize the problem until addiction has completely taken over. The signs are so subtle and easily overlooked that millions of people today are struggling with addictions and don’t even realize that they are on a dangerously slippery slope. An addict is not only “that other guy” who’s lost everything in his life because of addiction.

  • Addicts are also the people who have a drink everyday, even though they never get drunk.
  • Addicts are people who use drugs everyday but still manage to work and carry on with their lives, maintaining a “nice buzz.”
  • Addicts are not only those who use cocaine everyday, but also those who vacillate between cocaine, pills, ecstasy, tranquilizers, marijuana, alcohol, and any other drug.

Addiction is a very clever brain disease that convinces addicts that they need drugs and alcohol to function, despite negative consequences. Addiction is a disease that turns the human brain into a dangerous killer, constantly giving excuses and justification for drug and alcohol abuse. For this reason, addiction is one of the most devastating diseases plaguing our society. Addicts can’t see it until they’ve lost control, and even then, addiction continues to drive the destructive behavior associated with the disease. Despite trips to the emergency department for alcohol poisoning, complications from multiple drug interactions, drug overdoses, and drug and alcohol related-accidents, addicts will continue their abuse because while they remain unaware addiction has already taken hold.

In many social circles, drug and alcohol abuse are not only acceptable, but encouraged, giving addiction a huge window of opportunity. It's impossible to know when recreational drug and alcohol use will become an addiction, since its onset is not immediate. The progression of addiction in itself is subtle and grows with each individual’s tolerance and continued use of one or multiple substances. Although many who use drugs and alcohol recreationally do not become addicts, millions more do, and a large majority of those people never see it coming. With the socially acceptable nature of alcohol and many drugs in our society, the availability and abuse of these substances has grown to alarming rates. From prescriptions for almost any real or made-up condition to club drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, GHB, and Katamine, drugs have become a permanent fixture in our world.

The more an unsuspecting addict gets away with drug and alcohol abuse, the more indestructible they feel, thinking they will never be caught or get a DUI. These things never happen to anyone – until they happen. The Bureau of Justice reports an estimated 1,841,200 drug-related arrests for adults 18 years and older in 2007, up from 1,008,300 in 1990.(3) These numbers have been on a steady incline since 1970 and will more than likely continue to do so with the wide availability of both legal and illegal drugs. Addiction is a very serious problem and the most disturbing of all facts associated with addiction is that the disease is subtly progressive and more often than not, undetectable by its victims until life is completely out of control, riddled with disparity, financial hardships, arrests, instability — a deep dark hole with a hard climb ahead.

With such devastating consequences, it would seem logical to not take the risk for addiction in the first place. However, despite the vast amounts of information available about addiction and the dangers therein, our society remains disturbingly more focused on the temporary enjoyment of drug and alcohol abuse rather than the permanently devastating depression and damage caused by drug and alcohol addiction.

The Effect of Drug Addiction on Society

According to NIDA, drug and alcohol addiction has an economic impact on society of $67 billion per year. NIDA also states that getting treatment can reduce these costs as addiction treatment centers and programs help addicts to learn to live a sober life, freeing them from the behavioral problems associated with drug addiction and alcoholism. Drug and alcohol addiction-related costs include:

  • Crimes and incarceration
  • Drug addiction treatment
  • Medical costs from overdoses
  • Drug-related injuries and complications
  • Time lost from work
  • Social welfare programs.

Because drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases of the brain, which is the center of judgment and behavioral patterns, drug addicts and alcoholics have a disturbingly high propensity to commit unlawful and immoral acts to obtain these substances. Moreover, once under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the addict’s inhibitions are drastically lowered with a sense of indestructibility, which leads to aggressive and irresponsible behavior. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 17,941 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2006, a 2.4% increase from 2005.(4)

Drug addiction is also one of the fastest ways to spread the HIV virus, through the sharing of needles and other drug paraphernalia. It is also spread through just using drugs, because the drug impairs a person's judgment. This can cause people to make bad decisions and participate in dangerous sexual activities with an infected individual. According to the NIDA, drug abuse is now the single-largest factor in the spread of HIV in the United States. NIDA states that from 1998 to 2003, an estimated 240,000+ AIDS diagnoses were due to the use of injecting drugs. There is evidence to suggest that drug treatment programs can help reduce the spread of this and other blood-borne infections through successful rehabilitation for addicts to abstain from drug use, thus reducing reckless behavior leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Although many organizations have amassed countless survey results and miles of pages of data relating to the effects of drug addiction and alcoholism on society, this information cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the devastation and hopelessness felt by addicts and their families on a daily bases. When a family is struck with addiction, the effects go far beyond numbers and statistics. The emotions of failure, depression, anger, disparity, confusion, and sheer terror that addiction inflicts on its victims and their families is not something any statistic can accurately describe. Every day, millions of people struggle with addiction and millions more watch with feelings of hopelessness, as addiction coldly and systematically destroys lives. With informative websites like Treatment Centers and others, we do all we can to educate the public on addiction. But most will tell you that until you go through it, or watch a loved one go through it, there is no way to fully encompass the true effects of drug addiction and alcoholism.

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Addiction and Genetics - the role of genetic research in advancing the field of addiction treatment, and the relationship between genetics and addiction. The following article describes the synergism between addictive liability and genetics based on years of study and continuing research. The field of genetics has seen significant advances in the last 20 years, and researchers are beginning to identify specific genes that seem to have particular bearing on the addictive potential of substances and behaviors in the human body.

Teen addiction is a dangerous problem facing parents and society at large. More and more adults are taking potentially dangerous and addictive prescription medications, and more and more teens are getting into their parent's medicine cabinets and experimenting with mood-altering drugs. Teens today may have easier access to drugs than alcohol. Teen addiction is a major concern, growing with each passing year.

The following article describes some of the issues with teen addiction, how it begins, and tips on how to recognize, prevent, and treat teen addiction.

Chronic pain management can be an extremely complex and frustrating experience for both the patient as well as their healthcare provider. Managing a pain condition is often very challenging, and it becomes even more so when a coexisting problem is also present. In fact, one of the most difficult problems is not identifying coexisting prescription drug abuse or addiction problem. There is a significant risk of prescription abuse/addiction problems because as many as 90 percent of people undergoing chronic pain management are prescribed opiates—about 10 percent of people on chronic opiate maintenance will develop a substance use disorder abuse or dependence.

A number of information sources are used to quantify America’s drug problem and to monitor drug abuse trends. Foremost among these sources are the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey* and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health** (NSDUH). Since 1975, the MTF survey has measured drug, alcohol, and cigarette use as well as related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide. For the 2010 survey, 46,482 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades from 396 public and private schools participated. Funded by NIDA, the MTF survey is conducted by investigators at the University of Michigan.

For the patient that has a history of substance abuse, pain management carries significant risk, because narcotic pain killers (opioids) are extremely addictive.  It is a common misconception that the management of acute or chronic pain necessarily leads to addiction.  Taking mood-altering chemicals for management of legitimate pain in opiate-naive patients only results in addiction a small percentage of the time.  In most cases, pain management and addiction are mutually exclusive.  Nevertheless, some individuals do become addicted to pain medication, and for individuals with a history of addiction, taking narcotics for pain management can be a recipe for disaster.