Are you worried that you or someone close to you is addicted to drugs? Help is at hand. Here we tell you a little about drug addiction, what to look out for and how we can get you or a loved one the best possible treatment.

What is drug addiction?

Drug use becomes drug addiction or drug abuse when the individual develops a physical or psychological dependency on the substance. The compulsion to take drugs becomes overwhelming and uncontrollable despite the negative impact it has on the drug addict’s life and health. Drug addiction often begins with experimentation and occasional use. Initially, the drug produces feelings such as that of pleasure, relaxation or euphoria. As time goes on and tolerance builds, the user needs larger and more frequent quantities of the drug to produce the same feelings. Furthermore, prolonged drug abuse alters the way the brain functions and results in cravings a compulsion to use drugs.

Commonly abused drugs included illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana (cannabis). Prescription drug use can also lead to addiction. Indeed prescription drug addiction is on the increase due to easy access via the Internet. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers, sleeping tablets, anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants and medication for ADHD. These include analgesics with codeine, benzodiazepine such as valium and temazepam, and stimulants such as Ritalin.

Signs, symptoms and risks of drug addiction

Physical signs of drug addiction vary according to the substance but can include dilated pupils, weight loss, shakiness, slurred speech and poor co-ordination. However, there are some general warning signs of drug addiction which you should look out for if you’re concerned about a loved one:

  •     Are precious items going missing?
  •     Is your loved one having mood swings or being secretive?
  •     Are they disappearing for long periods of time?
  •     Have they lost interest in hobbies, friends and socialising?
  •     Have they lost interest in their appearance or hygiene?

If you’re worried that you’re becoming addicted to drugs, ask yourself the following questions:

  •     Have you built up a drug tolerance – do you need more of the substance to achieve the same effects?
  •     If you try to stop taking drugs, do you experience withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, nausea, shaking and insomnia?
  •     Do you take drugs more frequently than you’ve planned?
  •     Has drug use taken over your life?

Drug addiction has severe consequences and risks. Effects of drug addiction on the body vary depending on the drug abused but drug addiction can result in increased blood pressure, cardiac arrest, seizures and strokes. If drugs are injected, the addict runs the risk of contracting blood-related diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. Drug addiction may also have psychological effects, including anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.

Is Substance Abuse the same as Addiction?

Substance abuse is the harmful use of a substance, typically for the purpose of altering one’s mood or physical feeling. In individuals suffering from substance abuse, substances are taken for purposes other than those for which they are intended and/or in greater quantities than those recommended.Substances that can be abused include legal and illegal drugs, drugs purchased over-the-counter, or prescription drugs. Substances abused that are not drugs include solvents and inhalants. Alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes can also be abused. Some substances abused by individuals do not alter mood in any way.An example of a drug of this kind would be anabolic steroids.In theory, any substance can be abused.

For the majority of substances, the line between normal use of a substance and substance abuse is unclear. Furthermore, the speed at which an individual becomes addicted to a drug is dependent upon many factors and an individual’s sensitivity to a drug. All drugs, if abused, can be potentially harmful.All drugs are associated with short-term and long-term negative health effects. Cocaine, for example, increases an individual’s heart rate and blood pressure.Opioids, such as heroin, may decrease an individual’s heart rate and reduce the rate of respiration. The signs of substance abuse vary between individuals.

Substance abuse can be treated using behavioural-based therapies and/or medications. Treatment methods may vary between individuals, and multiple treatment courses may be required to achieve success.

Treatment for drug addiction

The good news is that drug addiction can be successfully treated. The first step towards treating drug addiction is usually detoxification – a process that removes the drug’s toxins from the body. Withdrawing from any drug can be intensely painful and, for some drugs, sudden withdrawal can be life-threatening. Detox should therefore always be carried out in a medically supervised environment where the addict is regularly monitored and medication can be prescribed to alleviate symptoms and the drug addict. Detox for drug addiction is most effective in a residential treatment as individuals are given care around the clock and drugs are less accessible. However, for some drug addictions, home detox is a real alternative to residential detox.

Detox alone is not enough for sustained abstinence from drug use. A period of rehabilitative care is essential to help the individual understand the nature of their drug addiction and to equip them for a life free from substance abuse. Rehabilitation for drug addiction involves a combination of treatments, including individual counselling, group work, cognitive behavioural therapy, education, and relapse prevention. Like detox, rehab for drug addiction is most successful in a residential facility with an intensive, structured programme of treatment.

  “Every recovery from addiction began with one sober hour”