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Drug Addiction Resource
Drug Abuse

Drug Addiction Resource

More than 20 million Americans will use an illegal drug in any given month, if you count marijuana in this group. Some are addicted and some aren’t, but the point is you’re playing with fire anytime you take a mind- or mood-altering substance, legal or illegal. Drug addiction usually implicates heroin/opioid, cocaine and meth users, but there are several other substances on both the black and pharmaceutical markets that lead people to addiction.

Use this resource to educate yourself about drug addiction and to see if you or somebody you know might be affected by this malicious disease.
Understanding Addiction

Understanding Addiction Drug Addiction: What Is It?

While the decision to take drugs for the first time is usually a voluntary one, many people don’t understand how some people end up as addicts and others don’t. It’s not a matter of choosing to quit, but a much more complex problem that is rooted in each person’s individual brain chemistry.

How Drugs Affect the Brain

Drugs affect the sections in your brain that are known as the “pleasure centers” that, when activated, control feelings of pleasure and reward. Your brain naturally releases chemical messengers (known as dopamine) to stimulate these pleasure centers, and most drugs mimic the rush of euphoria that dopamine delivers.

When Drug Use Goes Too Far

The problem is that the drugs overstimulate the reward feelings, and the intense gratification is something that can only be replicated with continued drug use. This leads to two problems:

  1. The body and brain develop a tolerance to the dosage, meaning that the addict has to constantly increase the amount they take to achieve a high.
  2. Because the drug is providing the brain with a constant flow of chemicals, it stops producing its natural feel-good chemicals, resulting in a crash when the effects of the drug have worn off.

Heavy or long-term drug use can cause a variety of changes in your brain, not only impairing your ability to quit, but eventually leaving you with irreversible damage to your memory and nervous system.

Drug Addiction: Who Has It?

Drug addiction truly can impact anyone from any background – financial status, race, age, geographic area, educational level…you name it. Although, certain circumstances put individuals more at risk of drug addiction than others.

There are several factors that contribute to whether a person becomes addicted to drugs, and usually, it is difficult to pinpoint just one. However, a combination of some of the following risk factors may influence who becomes addicted:

Nature

About half of your risk for addiction can be found in your genes, including your ethnicity, gender, family history and presence of mental disorders.

Nurture/Environment

Influences from family and friends, economic status, trauma, lifestyle, stress and parental involvement can all have a powerful effect on whether you use or become addicted to drugs.

Brain Development

While both nature and nurture strongly influence your choices, they can also negatively interact with physical development. There is no age limit for drug abuse, but if you start taking drugs at a younger age, there is a higher likelihood that it will turn into addiction.

This is because the sections of the brain responsible for self-control, judgment and decision making are not fully developed in teens, making them more prone to trying drugs and engaging in other risky behaviors.

If any of this criteria sounds like you, please get in touch with us for help: 1 (888) 789-4330
Treating Drug Addiction

How Is Drug Addiction Treated?

Drug addiction is not easy to overcome, and it’s even tougher the longer you’ve been on drugs and the harder the substance you’ve used.

Addiction is a chronic condition and is considered to be a “relapsing” disease, meaning that while it can be treated, it is never completely cured. Just like people who suffer from a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes, those who struggle with addiction must commit to lifelong changes in order to manage their disease. It usually takes professional guidance and months of formal therapy in order to learn how to do this.

Most types of drug addiction require detox treatment, which should be done in a professional setting. After completing detox and outlasting acute withdrawal, the individual should go through various stages of formal addiction treatment, including:

  • Inpatient
  • Partial hospitalization or Intensive outpatient
  • Outpatient
  • Aftercare
It’s not uncommon for individuals to relapse during or after this process, so they may have to make several attempts before truly committing to sobriety.

After the detox phase, many drug treatment programs offer individual and group therapy, as well as educational sessions and holistic or complementary services (such as yoga, meditation, nutritional guidance, etc.).

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Frequently Asked Questions

Drug Addiction FAQs

Still have questions about drug addiction? See if we’ve got your answer here:

How do medical experts define drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a brain disease that is characterized by the addict compulsively seeking out drugs despite knowing the inevitable negative consequences. It is defined as such because of the way that drugs affect and change the brain, in both structure and function.

These brain changes can be temporary, long-lasting or even permanent – depending on the drug, the severity of the addiction and the length of use – and can lead to a wide variety of dangerous and destructive behaviors.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies addiction – or “substance use disorder,” to be specific – as a mental health disorder. The following symptoms are associated with substance use disorder:

  • Impaired control
  • Social impairment
  • Risky use
  • Increased tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms when trying to cease use

What are common long-term effects of drug addiction?

In some cases, drug addiction can cause irreparable damage to the user’s body, even if he or she completes rehab and maintains sobriety. Although the health effects will differ from drug to drug, common long-term effects of addiction include:

  • Organ damage
  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Mood swings or depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Tooth damage or decay

What are the most-used illegal drugs?

The most common controlled substances in circulation in the United States include:

  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Opium
  • Cocaine and crack
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA (ecstasy, molly)
  • Flunitrazepam (roofies)
  • PCP
  • LSD

Are drug addicts commonly affected by other mental health issues?

Certainly. For many users, drug addiction is the result of what we call a co-occurring disorder. The most prevalent co-occurring disorders include mood or anxiety disorders, as well as severe mental illness.

These are sometimes difficult to diagnose, because certain addiction symptoms can mask mental health issues, and vice versa. But because both conditions impact each other, it is vital to treat both your addiction and the co-occurring disorder while you are in recovery.

Some of the most common mental health issues that occur alongside addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

See More on Mental Disorders

What is the difference between dependence and addiction?

This distinction can be difficult to detect, but physical dependence does not equal addiction. The feature that separates the two is compulsion.

Dependence results after the brain cells adapt to continual exposure to drugs and begin to behave normally when exposed to the drug. When the drug is removed, the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms. Individuals being treated for pain resulting from a severe illness like cancer or recovering from surgery, may be dependent upon a drug to relieve their pain. If the medication is removed, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Addiction is evident by the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. Individuals are often unable to stop using the substance and they build up physical dependence as well. So, while dependence alone does not necessary constitute addiction, it typically accompanies it.

Is cocaine still popular?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Western doctors took their cue from Native Americans and used parts of the coca plant to treat everything from fatigue to sexual dysfunction to depression. Purified cocaine was developed in the 1850s as cure for cholera and morphine addiction. Cocaine has extremely limited medical applications today as a topical anesthetic and vasoconstrictor.

In the years leading up to the Prohibition era, cocaine came to be regarded as harmful and addictive, much like alcohol. In 1922, Congress banned the use of cocaine and other narcotics for all but specific medical purposes, but the cat was already out of the bag: Cocaine was here to stay.

In the 1970s, cocaine found a new niche as the status party drug of the wealthy. As the price of coke steadily dropped, its use became widespread. Crack, an inexpensive, smokable form of cocaine, was considered the scourge of the 1980s and ’90s, devastating entire communities.

Cocaine Use Post-2000

Cocaine abuse and addiction reached its peak in the United States in the late 1990s, but has remained relatively stable since 2009. The use of cocaine by teenagers has steadily declined since 2009, though. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.5 million Americans used cocaine in 2014, and about 913,000 were cocaine dependent.

In comparison, 2 million U.S. residents abused prescription opioids in 2015, and nearly 600,000 suffered from heroin addiction.

The number of cocaine overdose deaths in the U.S. peaked at about 7,500 in 2006, then declined each year until 2011. Since 2013, that number has been on the rise again. Current toxicology reports in opioid overdose deaths have shown a co-occurring increase in cocaine overdose, without a reported increase in the use of cocaine. This finding illuminates the fact heroin is often “cut” with cocaine, and vice versa. The result is often a fatal heart attack.

Cocaine addiction is devastating for addicts, their families and society. If you find you are unable to stop using cocaine, seek help immediately.

Can long-term cannabis use kill motivation?

Levels of dopamine are lower in long-term cannabis smokers and people who use at a younger age. Lower dopamine in the striatum part of the brain can be linked to less ambition and motivation. Continue reading to learn more on how long-term marijuana use can impact motivation.

Brain Links

The brain is impacted by the use of cannabis in many ways. A strong link between dopamine and CB-1 and CB-2 cannabinoid receptors of the brain exists, and cannabis hijacks pre-existing receptors for dopamine. Dopamine is linked to reward-driven behavior, such as achieving goals in life. While marijuana use can increase dopamine in the short term, prolonged use tends to have the opposite effect.

Amotivational Syndrome

Dopamine production in the striatum part of the brain definitely changes how a person feels about achieving daily or long-term goals. A young person who starts smoking cannabis can have lower levels of dopamine over time. Dopamine levels are also lower in people who smoke larger amounts of cannabis and have higher levels of THC in the body.

The link to lower dopamine could be used as a new measure for what degree a person is addicted to or abusing cannabis. The effects may be reversible to some extent – depending on length and amount of use.

Mental Illness

Cannabis use long term has been linked to a higher risk of mental illness, including psychosis and schizophrenia. When a person uses cannabis, he or she can feel less motivated to work or socialize. Continued use puts the person at a higher risk for developing a mental health disorder, as well.

Over time, cannabis is likely to decrease a person’s quality of life when used extensively and without the ability to quit. Reaching out for help can provide the resources and support needed to get back on track with your health and life goals while simultaneously recovering your motivation to succeed.

Is sugar a drug?

A consensus is emerging among nutritionists and others in the medical community that refined sugar may be just as addictive as nicotine, alcohol and drugs. Sugar affects the neurochemical pathways in the brain’s reward center, causing a surge in the neurotransmitter dopamine that’s identical in drug and alcohol addiction. Sugar addiction leads to compulsive “drug-seeking” behavior – in this case, binge eating on sugary foods – despite negative consequences.

Statistics on obesity also reinforce the idea that sugar is a drug: A staggering two-thirds of American adults can be classified as overweight or obese, and 1 in 6 children and adolescents fit this description, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. These findings are thought to be a direct result of the nation’s love affair with sugary and fatty foods, combined with an increasingly sedentary population.

There’s an important difference between refined/processed sugar and natural sugar. Both types of sugar are simple carbohydrates, which the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. Natural sugars are the byproduct of photosynthesis that takes place in every plant, including fruits and vegetables; this type of sugar is called fructose.

Refined sugars, on the other hand, are processed from beets or sugarcane and have no nutritional value. This type of sugar, called sucrose, is a combination of glucose and fructose, and is a key ingredient in baked goods, candy and a host of other processed foods.

Sucrose causes a spike in blood-sugar levels. Over time, high consumption of sugary foods leads to decreased insulin sensitivity, making it harder for the body to regulate blood sugar. The result is obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease, cancers and many other illnesses.

Is sugar as addictive as cocaine?

Sugar appeals to many people and appears in much of the food on the market in one form or another. It is also quite addictive, as our bodies crave glucose and other sugars as part of our evolved survival strategies.

There is some argument as to how sugar compares to other drugs and substances in terms of addictiveness. Some claim that it’s as bad as cocaine, but that’s quite a stretch considering the effects of cocaine addiction.

Continue reading to learn more about the properties of sugar and why people correlate addiction to sugar with addiction to cocaine.

Sugar Rush

Sugar rewires the brain in the same way that other drugs do. People can easily get hooked on sugar and crave it to release pleasure hormones, similar to the way nicotine or other hardcore substances form habitual behaviors.

Sugar initiates the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, considered the brain’s reward circuit. People who abuse sugar long term cause disruption to the natural production of dopamine in the brain, to the point where it declines. A sudden reduction in one’s sugar consumption can cause an imbalance of dopamine similar to the experience of cold-turkey withdrawal.

The Role of Diet in Recovery

Healthy diets are important to people in the addiction recovery process. A healthy, balanced diet helps keep people from feeling tired and lethargic due to eating the wrong kinds of food. It also promotes a healthy sense of mental well-being, increases the ability to fight off infection and fosters healthy bodily function.

Foods high on the glycemic index such as pizza, chips, cookies and ice cream cause blood sugars to spike extremely high. These foods can also cause people to display attitudes and behaviors that mirror addiction patterns.

High sugar intake is linked to health conditions such as:

  • Liver disease
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 diabetes

The best diet for a person to follow while in recovery is one rich in:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Water

It is important to check with a medical professional before making any major dietary changes, since it may impact your mental and physical well-being. The risk of diabetes lowers and sleep can improve with a healthier diet that is free of excess sugar and fatty foods.

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Harmony Place Addiction And Recovery Blog

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