What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a condition in which someone has a physical need to use drugs, or a mental obsession with using, despite this having a negative impact on their life. People with addiction have a chronic disorder which is with them for life. Many have periods of being clean but then relapse either after a short interval or longer period. However, addiction can be treated and its harmful effects and consequences stopped. Without treatment, it can last a lifetime, getting steadily worse and can eventually leading to death. With treatment, people can live perfectly normal lives with no health, mental or behavioural issues caused by drugs
Some people become addicted to a single drug e.g. cannabis and do not see the problem with this. Other addicts will use any drug that is available to get the effects of escaping normality. Sometimes those who thought that they were happy with a single drug of choice find that it is no longer enough and they will progress on to something else which is more effective. Eventually this can lead to them using heavier and more dangerous drugs. This is why a drug like cannabis is sometimes referred to as a ‘gateway drug’.
Use of any so called ‘recreational’ drugs is illegal. When it is out of control and having a negative effect on someone’s life (even if they cannot see it) then it is a serious problem.
What are the symptoms of drug addiction?
The symptoms may be noticed by the people who care about the person with the drug problem before the individual themselves realises they have a serious problem. Drugs are chemical compounds which affect the mind and body. The exact effect on any one person will depend on the individual, what they are taking, how much and how they are taking it.
Immediate and short term effects can include:
- Temporary euphoria / experiencing ‘a high’
- Slurred speech
- Changes in cognitive ability / impaired memory
- Loss of co ordination
- Increased heart rate
- Sleeplessness and insomnia
- Changed appetite
Longer term and more persistent use can lead to:
- Panic attacks
- Risk taking
- Poor personal hygiene
- Weight fluctuation (usually loss) and changes in appearance
- Relationship problems
- Work problems
- Loss of interest in doing things and even in life itself
Why do people get a drug problem?
Addiction can be genetic, meaning that if there is someone in the family with a problem, there is a higher chance of someone else in the family developing an addiction.
People with low self worth, lack of confidence, higher sensitivity to stress and anxiety, and a predisposition towards being depressed, can also be more likely to develop an addiction. This is because drugs can seem at first to alleviate the symptoms, making the individual feel more positive about themselves, more confident, less stressed and anxious, and a little happier. People also use them to help them sleep e.g. cannabis. However, eventually more and more is required to produce the same positive effect – and then this effect is not felt at all, and the drugs taken actually turn on the individual, resulting in them having even less self esteem and confidence, becoming more stressed and anxious, more depressed and less able to sleep.
Some drugs are actually chemical depressants in themselves e.g. opiates.
People who have used drugs to cope with a traumatic life event may also be more likely to develop a problem. Those who start taking drugs from an early age, who mix with people who use drugs and who have easy access to them are also more likely to develop an addiction.
The Physical and Psychological Consequences of Drug Addiction
Repeated and heavy drug use can seriously affect the function and structure of the brain which can lead to long term effects. Loss of memory, concentration and propensity to experience seizures can all be a result of drug abuse. Young people using cannabis when their brain is still developing (most notably in their teens) risk their brain being stunted in its growth and never being able to recover.
Long term physical effects include heart problems (mainly from stimulants), and respiratory problems (from inhaling drugs and possibly from taking opiates which slow breathing to the point of stopping in extreme situations). Drugs can also damage the kidneys and liver. There is the ever present risk of overdose, especially if drugs are taken in large quantities or in combination.
Drug taking also leads to greater risks of accidents, violence and suicide. It can also lead to problems socially within the family, at work and financially.
Experimentation with combinations and amounts of drugs, or cries for help can lead to accidental overdose and death.