Addiction is a chronic disease that does a lot more than cause physical dependence, and because most drugs affect the reward system of the brain, they consequently impair a person’s judgment, physiological independence, and emotional well-being. A physical, psychological and emotional dependence on drugs is characterized by:
- An inability (often chronic) to abstain from drugs
- A chronic craving of drugs
- The continued use of drugs despite their negative consequences
- A dysfunctional response to the discontinuation of drugs
- Loss of control or behavioral impairment
Drug use can affect almost every facet of an individual’s life. Not only does substance use disorder have negative implications on a person’s relationships, their finances, and careers, individuals who struggle with drug dependencies will in most cases also struggle with certain chronic diseases and disabilities, including memory impairment as well as emotional dysfunction. While not everyone wakes up one day and decides to make a complete mess of their lives by taking drugs, addiction starts small. It is when recreational drug use, experimentation, or prescription painkillers use turns frequent and even necessary regardless of the damage that use does to an individual’s body, their brain, and overall life.
The rate at which an individual becomes hooked on drugs and consequently, addicted varies from person to person, the drug of choice and frequency of use. Also, there are various factors that play a major role and do contribute to drug addiction, for example:
- Genetics – having an addicted mother, father, or a family history of addiction, which mainly determines up to 50% of addiction susceptibility
- Being exposed to early on in life
- Having mental health conditions such as bipolar, depressions, ADHD, anxiety, etc
- Severe injury or trauma
- High-stress levels and an inability to cope with it
- Psychological trauma
- A history of compulsive behavior
- Socioeconomic status and much more
In addition to causing physical changes in the brain, specifically in the way the brain experiences pleasure and other sensations, addiction causes the release of dopamine. Suffice it to say, all abused drugs, from alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, to heroin, increases dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens part of the brain for predicted rewards. A surge release of this chemical is known to not only produce feelings of euphoria, followed by cravings, but it also causes a major reinforcement of the same behaviors and compulsions to keep using drugs. While some individuals are more vulnerable to addiction than others, it’s important to note that the brain’s reward center registers all types of pleasures in the same way regardless of the source of rewarding activity be it through drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food, etc.
Determining whether you or someone close to you has a problem with drug use, whether illegal or prescription can to a certain degree be challenging especially if the person in question has devised ingenious ways of concealing their habit. People who develop an addiction typically find that with time, they need to take more drugs for them to obtain the same dopamine high not only because their substance of choice no longer gives them the desired or anticipated pleasure, but also because their brains have adopted and developed an effect known as tolerance. It is possible for anyone to develop a drug use problem regardless of their age, race, or background especially if the desired substance fulfills a “valuable nee” be it to improve concentration at school or work, relieve pain, cope with panic attacks, mood disorders, mental health issues and much more.
When, therefore, does an individual cross the fine line between casual drug use into drug abuse and consequently, an addiction that consumes their entire life? While there are a few “lucky” individuals who are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without necessarily developing a dependence, others can quickly move between the different levels of drug use that lead to addiction. Aforementioned factors, including a person’s personality, type of drug they take as well as the context of their drug use can largely influence their reasons of using drugs, and the ill-effects said drugs would have on their lives. While not all drug use will result in drug abuse and addiction, various stages of drug use may speed up the process, for example:
Experimental drug use will depend on how easy it is to obtain drugs, the circle of friend one associates with, current drug trends even being around drug users
Recreational drug use can be as part of a person’s social life who may not necessarily be addicted but uses drugs often for example ecstasy over the weekend to liven up their day
Dependent drug users are individuals who are as a result of long-term substance use are no longer able to control their habit because they have developed a physical and psychological dependence that causes cravings, makes them sick and leads to various emotional and behavioral problems whether using drugs or not
Bad Habit of Drug Addicts
Today, a lot of weight is placed more on how to battle and overcome addiction, which is well and good, however, a lot more should be done in the way of helping loved ones including addicts to recognize some of the early signs of substance use disorder in order to mitigate the devastating effects of addiction. Not only can illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana lead to abuse and addiction but also can the most abused drugs in the U.S such as opioid painkillers, cough syrups, sleeping pills, or tranquilizers that some people take to ease various life pressures cause similar problems.
Recognizing that drug use has become a problem is often the most frightening and overwhelming thing an addict can do, but it is the first step to recovery that takes a lot of courage, life-long discipline and commitment. Whether an addict has become an expert at concealing or downplaying their drug use, eventually they will start to exhibit noticeable signs of drug abuse such as:
- A deterioration in their physical appearance often weight loss or gain
- Neglecting personal hygiene or grooming habits
- Bloodshot eyes as well as dilated pupils after drug use
- Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Impaired coordination, slurred speech, tremors
- Unusual smells on clothing, body or breath
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts, unusual hyperactivity, etc
- Changes in personality and outlook in life
- Lack of motivation and often appears tired, paranoid, fearful, or anxious
The physical and psychological signs of drug abuse and addiction can often be easy to pinpoint very early on without the help of a bevy of professionals. At this point, an addict can choose to quit or check into a drug rehab where they can get the much-needed support. Things can, however, go downhill fairly quickly for an individual who, yes, they know that their drug use is a problem but chooses not to get help or think they have a handle on their drug use. This is when they start exhibiting certain distasteful habits for example:
A sudden increase in risk-taking behavior
Missing a parentally-imposed curfew or disappearing for days on end is behavior that is almost expected from delinquent teenagers. A severely addicted individual will do almost anything to score their drug of choice including sharing hypodermic needles to administer substances into the body because the drug enters the bloodstream right away and its effect is felt much quicker than if it was taken orally. Despite the obvious dangers, intravenous methods of administering drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, opioid painkillers, even prescription stimulants have become a common occurrence. In addition to increasing a user’s risk of developing an addiction, needle use and sharing is particularly dangerous because it can lead to among many health complications such as:
- HIV, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and a slew of other blood-borne bacterial, fungal and viral infections
- Skin infections such as necrotizing fasciitis, abscesses, cellulitis, gas gangrene, tetanus
- Puncture marks on concealed parts of the body including track lines on the user’s arms
- Inflamed or collapsed veins
- Bacterial infection of the heart
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs due to lack of adequate blood circulation
- Damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, and brain due to various chemicals, binders and other toxic substances used in drugs such as black tar heroin
- Wound botulism caused by bacteria entering a wound caused by a needle puncture and can lead to paralysis even death
Risk-taking behavior can also include:
Be it stealing drugs or stealing money to support a drug habit, a chronic addict will spend most of his or her time contemplating on their next fix and is more likely to turn to criminal activities such as burglary, robbery, identity theft, credit card theft, car thefts, and shoplifting in order to obtain drugs. What may start as stealing from family and friends or small items from home to sell can quickly turn into stealing from their place of employment to embezzlement even forging prescriptions to get drugs/pills.
Addicts can turn abusive
While most drugs bring about feelings of euphoria, calmness and a decrease in anxiety, the truth about drug use is that it can be inherently unpredictable, in fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stimulants such as PCP, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines, even alcohol can increase a person’s level of aggressiveness and violent behavior. Drug use and violence occur together much more often than most people realize and can lead to a pattern of behaviors such as emotional, physical, psychological, sexual, as well as financial abuse that often escalate into dangerous even life-threatening situations. Drug addiction can result in irrational, violent or controlling behavior within a relationship, in fact, studies show that nearly 80% of reported domestic violence is drug-use related and even though it leads to negative consequences the addiction tends to worsen over time, and the risk intensifies, especially when parties in a relationship have a substance abuse disorder.
Despite the sheer volume of research studies demonstrating the connection between drug abuse and violence, most individuals living with an addicted partner do not get the help they need and what is more disturbing is that drug inflation and easy access continues to be on the rise.
Most addicts lie
This is a very common behavior trait among those with drug problem mainly out of shame, guilt and because they do not want those around them to tell them, they have a problem even their families have their best interests at heart and want to help. It is a ruse for them to continue using drugs and therefore, they make up all kinds of unbelievable stories to either get money or drugs. Additionally, drug use also lowers an addict’s capacity to be analytical and objective, in lying becomes deeply ingrained in their way of life that they would rather miss work, school or neglect their responsibilities so that they can use. What’s more baffling is that they will lie when “sober” and forget what they said after they’ve had their fix, which turns into a vicious cycle that even they themselves, can’t keep up with. Dealing with a loved one that lies for drugs can create an irreparable rift between families, friends, and cause a great deal of emotional pain. While it is simply easier for most addicts to lie than tell the truth, it’s advisable for those around them point out the truths. By letting an addict know that they know the truth (whether you actually believe them or not) may eventually discourage their behavior, force them into honesty, boost their confidence and consequently, encourage them to get help instead of living in denial.
They can be manipulative
An addict’s desire for power and control will see him or her “priming” a circumstance or situation for it to be conducive enough as a way to control an outcome or desired result. This type of manipulation can take up many aspects provided an addict gets their way by leaving you blind-sided. For example, an addict may start an argument with you out of the blues so that they have an excuse to leave. Also, as a way to make you think that they’ve changed, an addict may seem excessively apologetic, offer gifts, do things for you, or even seem incredibly sorry and guilt-ridden as a way of getting a response from you. Addicts often use priming manipulation behaviors because they believe that they are entitled to behave in a certain way.
They will use certain tactics such as threatening to harm themselves, using violence or idle threats and demands, isolating themselves, using the “silent treatment” to avoid conversation, acting as if they are too helpless. While manipulation can go both ways, it would be counterproductive to do so, therefore a great rule of thumb when you recognize an addict is attempting to use power and control to manipulate you is to wait until you are in a neutral position to express your thoughts or feelings about their behavior. Additionally, an addict will use manipulation to cause rifts between those around them and often they turn others against each other by causing an argument, telling lies, etc. so that they can be the mediator in order to be perceived as the “good guy” in the unit. It is very easy to side with an addict in this case, who is only out for approval and it important to always give everyone present a chance to tell their side of the story.
Addicts will play the victim card
We are all guilty of playing the victim. However, it is different with an addict who knows exactly which buttons to push as a way to manipulate you, make you take pity on them and consequently, become submissive to them. A classic sign of victim behavior in an addict is trouble accepting responsibility for the circumstance they are in or ignoring their role in instigating a problem. In most cases, addicts believe that they are at the mercy of everyone and everything around them and consequently, are stagnant and will not make any attempts to make any progress towards recovery because they perceive that they are powerless. For example, an addict will blame things like being genetically predisposed to drugs so that they are not held accountable for their behavior, and they can continue using.
They also have a tendency to bring up old memories or events in which they were probably justifiably hurt, but the problem is that they hang onto old grievances that reinforce their hobbled life. Common characteristics of a “guilt tripper” is he or she will always try to be manipulative, coercive, and use underhanded ways to get what they need. They also have a need to put others down and find fault in people, they may have an air of arrogance and narcissism and are more likely to cut people off as a last-ditch effort gain pity or attention.
It can be heartbreaking to think that a chronic addict will almost always choose drugs over family, love, loyalty, responsibilities, etc. simply because they have no control over the matter. But the truth of the matter is, they are in essence, not choosing the addiction but are in indeed in the clutches of a progressive illness that is automatic and reflexive and one that gets worse and not better over time.
Because addiction changes brain chemistry, where over time, more drugs are needed for the same effect, this process has been shown to strip any control an addict has, consequently, all decisions stem from both their physical and psychological need to use. In order to fulfill a craving beyond their mental control, the self-centeredness of an addict may not be on purpose or personal, but it is what will drive them to lie, manipulate even steal your hard-earned money to score drugs.
While you may have tried everything under the sun to save a family member struggling with addiction through tough love, performing interventions, giving them ultimatums or through emotional appeals, sometimes the addiction simply gets the upper hand. Most of the times a drug addict does not have control over their addiction, and neither do you as a loving parent, brother or sister, and sometimes it takes them to hit rock-bottom more than once in order to finally accept help.
Substance use disorder is a disease with far-reaching consequences that are impacting millions of lives direct or indirectly. The good news is that drug addicts can get help from licensed mental health and addiction experts. While your first instinct would be to try and save your loved one, it would be prudent to leave that to the professionals because you may attempt to wean an addict of a certain drug but it’s withdrawal effects may prove life-threatening.
Regardless of the drug, you can expect to see significant or unusual alterations to the way your loved one normally behaves, which is an ideal place to start, because this way, you are better equipped in helping them seek the appropriate help. Conflict between family members and couples or fractured relationships between friends including a drop in performance at work or school is usually the first sign that someone is using drugs. Someone who is abusing drugs may also experience some legal and financial problems owing to the fact that a drug habit can be expensive and may, consequently result in overspending, getting into debt, maxing out credit cards, or borrowing from friends and family members. Other common signs that someone is abusing drugs include but not limited to:
- Needing more privacy, social withdrawal from people and normal activities
- Neglecting of responsivities
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Changes in mood
- Lack of motivation and disinterest in accomplishing anything in life
- Change in physical appearance, health, and hygiene
- Too much sleep or lack thereof
- Being in possession of drug paraphernalia
- The need for money
These signs are common to most types of drugs and should be taken seriously because not only can substances use cause addiction and long-term health effects, but cessation without professional help may also have devastating consequences.