A chronic, sometimes relapsing, treatable condition of both the brain and body, drug addiction is characterized by the compulsive and repetitive seeking out and usage of drugs, alcohol, or other chemical substances. An addict’s use and drug-seeking behavior will continue, despite efforts on their part to stop or the dangerous and destructive effects they are having on their lives. Drug abuse and addiction is classified as a disease of the brain due to the way the chemicals and toxins in these substances actually alter the structure and chemistry of your mind–leading to lasting, harmful, and self destructive behaviors.
According to sources like the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug abuse and addiction is on the rise. In 2011 alone, there were over 40 thousand deaths in the United States directly attributed to accidental overdoses. And today, more people are dying every month due to prescription drug and pain killer abuse than heroin, cocaine, or both combined. Drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases that affect everyone. It’s estimated that alcohol, drug, nicotine, and other chemical dependencies cost American tax payers over $710 billion every year in related crimes, lost productivity, and health care costs. Additionally, drivers under the influence claim innocent lives every day.
Most addictive drugs work by directly targeting your brain’s reward system. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter found in the parts of the brain that control movement, emotion, and pleasure, is triggered by the use of drugs or alcohol. By flooding your brain circuit with dopamine, you feel the euphoria (or “high”) associated with drug abuse. Unfortunately, this same saturation of dopamine is instantly recognized by your brain’s receptors as a reward, and very quickly trains a person’s brain to continuously repeat the behavior of taking drugs. And while the choice to initially try drugs is almost always completely voluntary, once the brain chemistry has been altered to the degree that a person requires their use to simply maintain a feeling of steady, normal, or calm, a physical dependence has developed. Dependence on drugs despite detrimental effects on your life and body are the hallmarks of addiction, and a clear sign than professional help and drug rehab are now necessary.
People will initially try a drug or chemical substance for any number of reasons. Whether peer pressure, an attempt to self medicate a mood disorder or mental illness, to relax, or simply out of curiosity, it’s important to note that drug use in and of itself does not automatically qualify as addiction. Drug abuse and drug addiction become a problem when the person repeatedly uses these substances, becoming physically and mentally dependent on them, despite negative consequences on their health, life, and relationships. If a patient cannot control their drug use, despite a desire to do so or in the face of these consequences, or if they require drugs to simply achieve a sense of normalcy, then it is time to seek professional help.
Scientific and medical research have shown that while it is a chronic and potentially relapsing disease, addiction is treatable and, with the proper rehab and care, can be managed successfully. The most successful drug abuse and dependency treatments are those that combine a medical approach with behavioral therapy. Like other chronic conditions that have both a behavioral and physiological component (including asthma and diabetes) drug addiction carries the possibility and, in some cases, likelihood to relapse. Just because a patient suffers a relapse does not mean that treatment has failed altogether. Lapses that lead to more drug or alcohol use mean that the patient has reverted back to their embedded brain behaviors, and that it’s time to either find alternative treatment methods or, if they worked well the first time, revisit, reapply, and reinstate their previous treatment steps.
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