Understanding: Drug Abuse And Addiction

Sheila Iveth bockelmann

Sheila Iveth bockelmann

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As society evolves with each passing day, there is a misconception that scrutinizes those who use drugs. Many don’t even understand why or how people become addicted to drugs, believing that the users lack willpower and even moral principles. However, what most don’t understand is that drug addiction is, indeed, a disease. Drugs, whichever type, change the way of how neurotransmitters work in the brain. Luckily, due to technological development and with the aid of researchers, the path to recovery from drug addiction is plausible.

Understanding drug abuse and addiction

It is not clear why people decide to start using drugs in the first place, and this is an issue that doesn’t distinguish between age, race, creed, or social status. What is known is that most experiment with recreational drugs out of curiosity, because they believe that by doing so they can be part of a group, to have a good time, or simply because they believe it will help them ease problems away. And here is the thing, most people believe that addiction is only developed by illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin without taking into consideration that prescription medication as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and even painkillers can lead to abuse and addiction as well. It is estimated that more people die from overdosing power opioids than traffic accidents. This epidemic problem raises to the point of overdose deaths.

When drug use becomes drug abuse or even addiction

Whichever use of drugs, either prescribed, legal or illegal, doesn’t automatically lead to an addiction. In fact, some people may not experience negative effects on their bodies, while others find that their wellbeing is negatively affected. The abuse and addiction are reflected in the consequences of the drug use and not about the type, frequency, or amount of substance consumed. If you feel that you are losing control of your life, we will help you understand how to deal with this problem. Recognizing the existence of a problem is the first step to recovery, which takes an enormous amount of courage and strength. 

If you are ready to deal with a drug abuse problem and to seek help to overcome your addiction, you have come to the right place. This step-by-step guide will help you cope with possible cravings and avoid relapses for you to live a drug-free life. 

What is drug abuse?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), drug abuse also referred to as “addiction”, is a chronic disease that is characterized by the seeking, compulsive and intense urge to consume a drug, despite the consequences it may have to the user or their people surrounding them. This addiction interferes with the user’s brain and behavior. As we mentioned before, the initial decision to consume a drug is merely voluntary; but, the repeated action of consuming that specific drug can lead the user’s brain to change and challenge their self-control and ability to reason, interfering with their daily lives. These changes that affect the brain are considered a “relapsing disease” because even people in recovery may feel the compulsion to use even after years of not taking the drug. However, this does not mean that treatment isn’t working, on the contrary, and as with other chronic health illnesses, treatment has to be ongoing, adapted to the patient’s need, and modified accordingly to be effective. 

Addiction versus Abuse and Tolerance

Drug abuse can be defined as the use of any type of drug in a way that it shouldn’t. On the contrary, addiction is when you cannot stop using, notwithstanding your health, financial situation, your loved ones; you simply stop caring. And here is when the term “tolerance” comes to light: tolerance occurs when the drug dose becomes less effective, which leads to physical dependency. Once a user stops consuming, their body reacts with withdrawal symptoms.

Causes of drug use

The reason why people may use drugs can vary to each person; but, in general, most try them out of curiosity or peer pressure. Moreover, the use of prescribed drugs, which main purpose was to relieve pain, is now used as recreational drugs or as a way of obtaining inspiration. Understanding these concepts implies the categorization of the drugs:

  • Depressants: The effect of these drugs cause depression of the brain’s faculties, such as sleeping pills or even heroin. 

  • Stimulants: These types of drugs cause stimulation of the brain, raising their state of alert and increasing the body activity–rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, high blood pressure, agitation, delusional psychosis–as with the case of amphetamines and cocaine.

  • Hallucinogens: These drugs cause a feeling of dissociation, paranoia, delusion, and even depression, as the sensory perception is distorted Examples of these drugs include LSD and ecstasy. 

How are drug abuse and addiction developed?

There exists a fine line between regular drug use and abuse and addiction, and most users are not able to recognize when they crossed that line. Nonetheless, there are several indicators of this situation. For example, when the user feels that the drug fulfills a valuable need in their life, that means dependency. In those cases, drugs are used to fill a void or relieve emotional pain. Moreover, most people try drugs for the first time in social contexts as a way to fit in a certain group. What is more, the typical dose of the drug can change due to the adaptation and toleration of the body to such drugs. Socially, drug abuse will interfere in your daily life performance, progressively deteriorating it. What started as a voluntary recreation choice turned into a physical and psychological need.       

What are the symptoms of drug abuse and addiction?

Below, we list the common symptoms of drug abuse and addiction:

  • Neglection and failure to meet responsibilities

  • Use drugs under dangerous conditions without thinking of the consequences

  • Taking risky actions that result in serious legal matters

  • Problems with all human relationships

  • Built-up tolerance to the drug for having lost control over its use

  • The consumption of the drug is the only thing that matters, which results in isolation

  • In case of not taking the drug, it can result in withdrawal

How is drug abuse treated?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), recovery is possible; it requires the right treatment and a great support system. By making the necessary changes, the drug user can counteract the effects of abuse and addiction and finally regain control of his life. The first step is to accept y admit the problem at hand, by listening to loved ones and those who truly care.   

  • Get help:

    Support is essentially the key to overcome the addiction. Rehab, self-help programs, therapy are the means to recovery. Remember, recovery is never out of reach: with the right treatment and support, no matter how hopeless you may feel or how many times you have tried and failed before, change is always possible. 

  • First step:

    For many, this may be the toughest step towards recovery, but recognizing that you have a problem and deciding to get better is the bravest thing you can do for yourself. Feeling torn between all the uncertainties you may feel to make those changes to get better is completely normal. Your commitment and willpower will determine how you improve each day at a time. You will have to learn to deal and cope with stress, as well as who you allow in your life. Also, learning new things will help you to distract yourself in your free time. Recovery requires time and here is when your willpower takes action to keep you motivated and committed to change. If you overcome your addiction, you can regain control of your life.    

Keys to addiction recovery

  1. 1) Remember why you want to change.

  2. 2) Think about what worked or did not work in your past attempts at recovery.

  3. 3) Set small daily goals to avoid frustration

  4. 4) Eliminate all signs and traces of your addiction that can trigger a relapse. 

  5. 5) Speak up: tell your family and friends that you truly want to recover and ask for their support. 

  • Analyze all treatment options: Addiction treatment can vary according to the user and the specific drug. Moreover, not all treatments work for everyone as everyone has different needs and it will depend on factors such as age, drug-use history, medical conditions. For that matter, treatment should be customized. However, a successful program includes the following:

  • Detoxification, to purge the body of any drug and manage withdrawal symptoms.

    • Behavioral counseling, in whichever form –individual, group, family therapy–is a way of self-discovery and developing a new way of living with all the necessary tools. This, combined with mental health treatment will improve treatment.

    • Medication

    • Long-term follow-ups to maintain the recovery on track. 

  • Find support: Whichever option of treatment you choose, don’t try it on your own. Have a solid support system–family and friends– that influences you positively. This group of people who love you will help you overcome any type of obstacle you may encounter. By working as a team, they can provide you guidance and a shoulder whenever you need to talk. 

  • Consider rebuilding your social connections: If your social life used to revolve around negative influential people, you may need to change that to be surrounded by people who truly want and support your recovery. Also, joining recovery support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and attending regular meetings, spending time with people who do understand you can be healing and therapeutic.  

Learn how to cope with stress: Even though treatment can be the first step through recovery, you will need to face what led you to your drug abuse in the first place. Those negative feelings that were dampened with the drugs will resurface when you are sober. To enjoy a successful treatment, you will have to resolve the underlying issues beneath your emotional pain. Moreover, you will experience stress, frustration, anger, shame, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. But you don’t need to worry, those emotions are normal and are part of life. Your goal here is to find ways to address these feelings and make them yours, as part of your treatment and recovery. By understanding how you feel and discover why you are feeling in a certain way, your recovery path will be much shorter.  

Quick stress relief strategies:

As mentioned before, not every person responds in the same way to these strategies. The key is to find what works for you:

    • Move: Movement can relieve stress by emanating endorphins and dopamine.

    • Enjoy the warm sun and fresh air while appreciating a beautiful view.

    • Pets are considered to be therapeutic. If you have a cat or a dog, enjoy the relaxing touch of their fur. 

    • Experiment with your senses: sometimes, the scent of coffee or fresh flowers can remind you of a specific memory of your life.

    • Pamper yourself by enjoying a cup of tea, watching a movie, or simply soaking in a hot bath. 

Learn how to keep your triggers and cravings in check:

Recovery not only involves getting sober but rebuilding and re-adapting to a new way of life again. For that matter, your brain needs time to recover and reassemble itself.   

      • You can try staying away from those people who use and that at the time are not a good influence to you. 

      • You should avoid any environment and situation that may be associated with drugs to avoid the temptation to use.

      • Be upfront about your history of drug use if you need medical treatment. You should never feel ashamed of the decisions you have made in the past. If the medical specialist makes you feel humiliated, find another provider. 

Cravings, on the other hand, cannot be avoided that easily.

For that matter try the following:

      • Get involved and interested in distracting activities, that will help the urges to go away. 

      • Talk to a friend or family about the cravings when they occur; your support group will be there for you when you need it. 

      • Remember why you wanted to recover in the first place. Challenge yourself to think of the negative consequences of the addiction in order not to crave. 

      • Try “urge surfing”: Ride the crave like a surfer who will ride a wave; stay on top of it until it crests and breaks. Then, it will turn into a soft foam. This technique can be useful when the crave and urges are too strong. However, if you ride it without battling it, it will pass more quickly. 

How to build a meaningful drug-free life:

This may sound more complicated than it really is. Take this into account, when your life is filled with rewarding positive activities and a sense of purpose, your addiction will vanish into thin air. For that matter, we suggest the following:

    • Do things that challenge your creativity by sparking your imagination. Pick up a hobby or try something you always wanted to do.

    • Adopt a pet. Caring for an animal capable of giving you love will make you feel loved and needed. Plus, it will involve some sort of exercise. 

    • Spend time outdoors in nature. 

    • Dedicate some time to enjoy the arts. 

    • Volunteer in your community.

    • Look after your health by eating healthy, exercising, and resting well.

    • Set goals to look forward to; no matter what, they need to be important only to you.

How to deal with relapse:

Relapse is a common part of the recovery path. It can be frustrating and discouraging, but it can also be an opportunity to learn from past mistakes in order not to repeat them in the future. Relapse can help you identify triggers and how to adapt your treatment to make it yours. 

    • Relapse can be caused by different triggers, even though these may differ from person to person. In general, they include:

      • Negative emotional state: sadness, stress, anger, anxiety, trauma

      • Positive emotional state: euphoria 

      • Physical discomfort: pain or withdrawal 

      • Strong craving to use

      • Conflictive arguments 

      • Social pressure

  • Please, remember that if a relapse happens, this doesn’t mean a failure in the treatment, this only means that you are human. For that matter, DON’T GIVE UP. Relay on your support group, your sponsor, your therapist. Once the craving is gone, analyze what triggered the relapse and what went wrong. It is your choice to go back to the path of recovery. Every misstep is an opportunity to learn from that experience and to strengthen your commitment.