1. Drug Addiction

Drug Addiction

From About Wiki, for About.com

Drug addiction is a disease characterized by a compulsive need for a drug despite knowing its use may result in catastrophic outcomes such as loss of family and employment, or even death.

Recovery is possible, but it is a difficult process with a high probability of relapse.


Types of Addictive Drugs

There are three categories of addictive drugs. Within these groups, some drugs, like caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, are legal and widely available; others are illegal or controlled substances.

  • Sedatives: Those that relax such as alcohol, opiates, tranquilizers, opium, morphine, heroin and hashish.
  • Stimulants: Drugs that provide an energy boost such as caffeine, nicotine, ecstasy, cocaine, speed and amphetamines.
  • Hallucinogens and perception-altering: Substances that change the way a person sees or hears like LSD and -- in concentrated or large quantities -- hashish and marijuana.


What Leads to Drug Addiction?

Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted. The first few times a person uses drugs, the decision may be voluntary. But someone who becomes addicted develops a brain disease which leaves them little control over their need for the drug.

The probability of addiction can depend on hereditary factors, a person's surroundings and their age.

  • Genetics and biology: If a person has a family history of drug addiction, his or her chances of becoming an addict are greater. Men are more likely to become addicted than women as are those with mental health issues.
  • Environment: Lower socioeconomic status and quality of life, lack of supportive family and friends, and childhood physical and sexual abuse all increase the likelihood of becoming addicted to drugs. Together, biology and environment make up half of a person's risk of addiction.
  • Stage of development: The sooner drug use begins, the more likely it is to lead to addiction. Adolescents are particularly prone to risk-taking, including experimenting with drugs.

A drug user can begin to determine if he or she is addicted by honestly answering a few questions.

How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain

Drugs are chemicals that change the way the brain receives and processes information in one of two ways:

  • Mimicking the brain's natural communications. Marijuana and heroin are in this category.
  • Overstimulating the brain's reward system with dopamine, which regulates attention, pleasure and hormonal processes. Cocaine and methamphetamine are examples of this type, but nearly all drugs impact the release of dopamine.

The euphoria felt during a dopamine surge sets up a craving for the drug. At the same time, continued over-stimulation makes the brain less able to enjoy the drug as well as other everyday pleasures. Soon, addicts need more and more of the substance to feel any pleasure at all.

Regular use actually changes the brain and affects judgment, learning ability, memory and impulse control. A lack of impulse and judgment coupled with an intense, learned need for the drug defines the chemistry of drug addiction.


Recovering from Drug Addiction

In 2006, nearly 24 million Americans needed treatment for drug addictions but fewer than 11% got it. Many people also suffer from mental illness, physical health problems and substandard living conditions that must also be addressed to make treatment successful.

The first step, withdrawal, is a matter of stopping the intake of the drug as quickly and safely as possible. Withdrawing from drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine produces few physical symptoms. Stopping alcohol and heroin is more difficult, and withdrawal from barbiturates can be deadly if medically unsupervised.

The type and duration of treatment depend on the individual. There are two primary tools:

  • Medication: Methadone and naltrexone are two drugs that help people who are addicted to opiates. Antidepressants are needed when someone also has depression, anxiety, bipolar or psychosis. Two therapeutic -- not preventive -- vaccines are available to relieve the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine and methamphetamine addicts.
  • Counseling: Cognitive behavioral therapy (teaching someone to think differently about their circumstances), family therapy and positive reinforcement are important parts of fighting drug addictions through counseling.

Residential treatment programs or out-patient programs must last at least 90 days to be effective.

Those who need methadone need supervision for a year or longer. Tips for assessing treatment programs include finding out about accreditation and long-term programs. New treatments on the horizon include the development of a stable nanoparticle that delivers molecules to the brain to turn off a gene that is involved in addiction.

What makes relapse so likely is the alterations of the brain brought on by drug abuse linger long after a person has stopped taking the drug. Stress, or being around people and environments closely associated with the drug, can bring about a return to drug use.

Preventing Drug Addiction

The only way to truly prevent drug addiction is to never take drugs. Parents trying to ward off the possibility of their child experimenting with addictive substances should communicate with their children about drugs, listen to their children, not take drugs themselves and maintain a good relationship.


Related Drug Addiction Resources

About.com Alcoholism: Are You an Addict? [1]

About.com Alcoholism: Assessing Treatment Programs [2]

About.com Alcoholism: Brain Disease [3]

About.com Alcoholism: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [4]

About.com Alcoholism: Commonly Abused Drugs [5]

About.com Alcoholism: Cost of Treatment [6]

About.com Alcoholism Borderline Personality: Dopamine [7]

About.com Alcoholism: Getting Help [8]

About.com Alcoholism: Hallucinogens [9]

About.com Alcoholism: Overview [10]

About.com Dying: Prescription Drug Addiction [11]

About.com Parenting Teens: Recovery [12]

About.com Bipolar: Sedatives [13]

About.com Sports Medicine: Stimulants [14]

About.com Alcoholism: Treatment [15]

About.com Alcoholism: Vaccines for Withdrawal [16]

About.com Alcoholism: What Is Drug Addiction? [17]

About.com Alcoholism: Who Becomes Addicted? [18]

About.com Alcoholism: Why Quitting Is Hard [19]

Cleveland Clinic Heroin [20]

Cleveland Clinic Pain Medication [21]

Cleveland Clinic Cocaine and Crack [22]

Drug Rehab Treatment Addictive Drugs [23]

Mayo Clinic Overview [24]

Mayo Clinic Prevention [25]

Medicinenet.com Overview [26]

Medicinenet.com What Happens to Your Brain [27]

Medicinenet.com Who Becomes Addicted [28]

National Institutes of Health [29]

National Institute on Drug Abuse Info [30]

National Institute on Drug Abuse Overview [31]

National Institute on Drug Abuse Overview [32]

Physorg.com Treatment [33]

Scripts Rehab Withdrawal [34]

Web 4 Health Addictive Drugs [35]

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