Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a complex condition which causes changes to brain function, leads to a compulsive drug dependency and loss of the drug user's ability to stop despite the clear harm to physical and mental health.

Most commonly abused illegal drugs, include - heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana /cannabis.

Chemicals disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information in two key ways:
  • Drugs such as marijuana and heroin can imitate the brain's natural chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters, which deceive the brain into sending abnormal messages
  • Drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine will cause abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, chiefly, dopamine to be released. The overstimulation of the pleasure receptors linked to the body's natural 'reward' system results in the user experiencing an intense feeling of euphoria.

Prescription drug use can also lead to addiction, most commonly: painkillers ( may also include codeine), sleeping tablets, anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants and medication for ADHD.

No one factor alone can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. The more factors involved can increase the risk of developing an addiction from drug use.

Developing a drug addiction can be the result of a combination of factors, most often:
  • Hereditary cin combination with environmental influences, represents the most common type of vulnerability. Other factors can include mental disorders, gender and ethnicity.
  • Influenced by the social environment - from family and friends to socioeconomic status, but other common specific factors include peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and poor parenting.
  • Users age – most commonly affecting teens and people in their twenties, the earlier drug use starts, the more likely serious abuse will follow. Decision making, judgment, and self-control are still developing in adolescence, which makes this user group especially prone to risk-taking behaviours, including the abuse of drugs.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

The physical signs of drug addiction vary according to the substance but can often include:
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor co-ordination, erratic movement, loss of limb control
  • Weight loss

The general warning signs of drug addiction also involve noticeable changes in behaviour, such as:
  • Mood swings - appearing irritable, anxious, paranoid
  • Increasingly secretive - disappearing for long periods of time
  • Losing interest in friends - socialising, usual interests, hobbies,
  • Neglecting appearance - and personal hygiene

The distinction between drug abuse and addiction starts to blur - as drug tolerance builds up and more is needed to be taken more often to achieve the same 'high'. Drugs used more frequently than intended can soon lead to drugs taking over a user's life. Trying to stop taking drugs soon becomes impossible - because of the severe withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, nausea, shaking and insomnia. The severe consequences of drug addiction on the body vary but often result in:
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest, seizures and strokes

Changes in areas of the brain as revealed by imaging scans, show the longer term consequences of drug addiction are the loss of:
  • Critical judgement
  • Decision making
  • Learning and memory
  • Behaviour control.

Psychological effects of drug addiction can also include:
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Injecting drugs - runs the very real risk of blood-related diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV.

Drug treatment – requires each individual patient's drug abuse patterns to be assessed alongside personal history and reoccurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems. It is not unusual for repeated relapses into drug abuse and addiction, which requires an adjusted or alternative treatment with behavioural therapy to help regain control and recover from dependency.

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