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Drug addiction and alcoholism are serious and expensive problems in society - to such an extent that the United States Surgeon General reported that the control of such abuse and addiction was a top priority among the 2010 goals for the country. Additionally, the problems affect many Americans - with 13% reporting that they abused alcohol while 25% said that they smoke cigarettes.
However, this does not necessarily mean that drug addiction is as a result of a general lack of willpower or a character flaw. Rather, it is a mental health condition that - as such - needs to be treated like any other illness or medical issue.
Although you might start using drugs voluntarily the first time, over time such use can alter the chemistry and functioning of our brain. In the process, the intoxicating and mind altering substances can interfere with your natural ability to voluntarily make decisions. After addiction has developed, therefore, you may find that you are increasingly compelled to seek and abuse drugs compulsively. :
Understanding Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a chronic condition that can negatively impact your brain's natural reward structure and system. It occurs when you introduce certain substances into your system, which thereafter prompt certain adverse neurochemical reactions. In the process, it can impair your emotional well-being, physiological independence, and judgement. The most effective way to overcome it without suffering severe effects and symptoms is through therapeutic intervention combined with ongoing monitoring, support, and counseling from addiction specialists and experts.
In most cases, drug addiction may develop after you become emotionally, psychologically, and physically dependent on your substances of choice - mostly to mind altering drugs and/or alcohol. Therefore, it can be defined by the following unique characteristics:
- A general loss of control
- Behavioral impairment
- Chronic inability to stay away from certain intoxicating and mind altering substances
- Continued abuse of the drugs of preference in spite of the evident consequences such abuse causes, including reduced productivity at work/school, job loss, expulsion from school, damaged relationships, and/or financial ruin
- Dysfunctional and inappropriate emotional responses when your access to your drugs of choice is reduced or removed completely
- Intense cravings for your drugs of choice
That said, drug addiction comes with many different definitions depending on the medical body. However, most of these definitions agree that the condition can be explained as a general inability to stop abusing certain drugs even after numerous attempts to do so.
However, it can also be defined by the symptoms it causes, including but not limited to:
- Continued drug abuse despite the various adverse effects that it causes to the user, their life, as well as the lives of those around them
- Developing tolerance to the substance of abuse, meaning that the user needs to consume increasingly larger doses of the drug to experience the effects that they desire
- The user may experience withdrawal symptoms when the reduce their normal dose or when they stop abusing the drug altogether
However, DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) does not define drug addiction. Instead, it uses the terms drug dependence, drug abuse, and substance use disorder to explain the conditions revolving around such addiction.
All in all, drug abuse and addiction can affect almost all aspects of your life - including but not limited to our professional and scholastic endeavors, finances, and relationships. It can also lead to physical and mental health problems, such as disability, chronic disease, memory impairment, psychological issues like depression and anxiety, as well as - in the most extreme of cases - long term permanent physical impairment and organ failure as well as sudden death.
Causes Of Drug Addiction
But what exactly causes substance addiction? In general, there is no single universal cause of such addiction. However, a variety of factors come into play to cause the condition - including the genetic, the environmental, and the psychological.
As we mentioned above, drug addiction can be defined as the repeated and compulsive use of larger doses of intoxicating and mind altering substances - with such use being accompanied by tolerance and dependence, as well as the appearance of certain adverse withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or completely stop using the substances.
Although doctors are yet to understand the specific causes of such addiction, there are certain environmental, psychological, and genetic causes that are thought to play significant roles in its development. This means that drug addiction is usually the result of a variety of factors - and not just one single factor - that come into play and lead to the condition.
Some addicts have also identified ignorance and drug use as a likely cause of such addiction. In most cases, if you are dealing with pain, your doctor might prescribe medications like oxycodone, which may eventually prove to be addictive. In such a case, your ignorance about the addiction potential of the prescription medication combined with your physical and psychological pain and suffering might lead to drug addiction.
That said, the following are some of the common causes of addiction:
1. Psychological Causes of Addiction
Although a number of biological causes of dependence and addiction have been explained and advanced, most experts still believe that psychological factors are behind most cases of drug addiction.
Most of these psychological causes, however, seem to stem from deep-rooted trauma - especially those that occur when the eventual drug user and addict is still young and easily impressionable.
Thus, chaos at home, as well as neglect and physical and/or sexual abuse - combined with other factors - might cause psychological stress to the affected individual. Eventually, they might try to self-medicate by decreasing the pain from their stress through drug use and abuse. With time, such self-medication might lead to drug addiction.
That said, the following are some of the other psychological causes of dependence and addiction:
- A lack of good, meaningful, and healthy friendships and relationships
- General inability to easily connect and relate to others
- Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression
- Poor performance at school or work
- Poor skills in coping with stress
2. Environmental Causes of Addiction
Your environment can also lead to the development of substance addiction. In most cases, addiction tends to be more common in those environments and situations where substance abuse is evident and widespread, or where people see it as permissible, acceptable, and even encouraged.
Therefore, children and teens who grow up in houses where there are adults who abuse drugs and alcohol - or who are addicted to these mind altering and intoxicating substances - may end up turned into drug addicts themselves.
Since most substance use starts in the teen years, those with neglectful, abusive, and/or inattentive parents and guardians might eventually turn to such use. As such, among the main causes of addiction is a combination of substance experimentation with a general lack of proper parental care, education, monitoring, and oversight.
However, there are many other environmental factors that could lead to drug abuse and addiction. These include, but are not always limited to:
- Coming from a low socio-economic background
- Ethnicity and gender
- Sexual orientation
- Spending a great deal of time among peers who use drugs or promote such use
3. Genetic Causes of Addiction
Research now indicates that substance abuse and addiction could have its roots in genetics. This is because such abuse and addiction often runs in certain families, which suggests that genetics plays an important role in increasing the risk of these behaviors developing.
Studies of twins have actually shown that half the risk of drug addiction is actually attributed to genetics. This is because of certain gene sequences which science is yet to pinpoint.
However, it is now known that genes - including those that are involved in the brain receptors that absorb nicotine - could increase your risk of addiction.
Effects Of Addiction
While trying to understand drug addiction, it is also important that you have a better picture about the various effects it causes - both psychological and physical. In most cases, these effects tend to be adverse and cause harm both to the user as well as to those around them.
Considering that drug addiction is the repeated and obsessive use of certain intoxicating substances to harmful levels as well as the appearance of severe withdrawal symptoms when such use is stopped or limited, you can be sure that the effects such behavior causes tend to be profound and wide-ranging.
In most cases, the addict will feel these effects both on the physical and on the psychological levels. These effects may also be seen by observant people around the addict - particularly close friends and family members.
On the other hand, these effects may also comprise the cost that drug addiction causes to the health care and justice system. This is because abusing alcohol and other mind altering substances is linked to violent behavior, accidents, as well as disability, and death.
In fact, in 1992 it was estimated that substance addiction caused the United States over $245 billion in the form of prevention program costs, criminal justice costs, lost wages, and health care expenses.
Consider the following additional effect of addiction:
a) Physical Effects
The physical effects of addiction tend to vary from one substance to the next. However, they are clear in almost every system and response of the body. Still, some of these primary effects might occur inside the brain.
This is because drug abuse and addiction tend to change how the brain works. In the process, addiction might change how your body perceives the feelings and sensations of happiness and pleasure.
As such, addiction can flood your brain with a variety of chemicals and neurotransmitters - including serotonin and dopamine. Eventually, the brain will adapt to such flooding and come to expect and depend on these substance-induced effects.
The physical effects of addiction has also been seen in the babies and children of substance users as well as in statistics revolving around mortality. More specifically, the children of women who used drugs before, during, and after pregnancy might be cognitively affected all through their lives.
That said, drug addiction might also cause the following physical effects:
- Abdominal pain
- Brain damage
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in body temperature
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Contraction of communicable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C
- Heart attacks
- Irregularities in heart rate irregularities
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Respiratory problems like breathing problems, emphysema, and lung cancer
b) Psychological Effects
In most cases, the psychological effects of addiction may be as a result of the reasons why you might be addicted in the first place as well as some of the changes that such drug addiction causes in your brain once you start abusing these substances and become chemically dependent on them.
In particular, you might start abusing drugs to cope with pain and stress. Eventually, drug addiction might work in such a way that it creates cycles such that anytime you encounter pain or stress, you will feel an increasing urge to abuse drugs to deal with them. This may cause intense cravings for these mind altering and intoxicating substances.
Craving works in such a way you may start being obsessed with looking for, obtaining, and using these drugs - to the exclusion of everything else that might initially have been important to you. Once you develop cravings, you may even start believing that it is impossible to function normally or to handle daily life without your preferred drugs.
The other psychological effects of addiction may include:
- Complication of any existing mental health problem
- Decrease in the pleasure you once found in everyday life and activities
- Intense desire to start engaging in increasingly risky behavior
- Mood swings
- Psychological tolerance to the effects of your preferred drugs, which could create an intense desire to take increasing doses of these drugs
- Wild violence
Overall, drug addiction is an intense, all-encompassing and obsessive habit and condition that requires intensive treatment - preferably through medically managed detoxification and inpatient and/or outpatient rehabilitation and therapy. If you suspect that you might be dependent and addicted, therefore, you should seek such treatment before it is too late and your condition causes other adverse consequences over and above those it has already brought into your life.
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