What are the physical and psychological effects of drug abuse and addiction?
While the specific physical and psychological effects of drug abuse and addiction tend to vary based on the particular substance involved, the general effects of abuse or addiction to any drug can be devastating. Psychologically, intoxication with or withdrawal from a substance can cause everything from euphoria as with alcohol, Ecstasy, or inhalant intoxication to paranoia with marijuana or steroid intoxication, to severe depression or suicidal thoughts with cocaine or amphetamine withdrawal.
What causes drug abuse and addiction?
Like the majority of other mental-health problems, drug abuse and addiction have no single cause. However, there are a number of biological, psychological, and social factors, called risk factors, that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a chemical-abuse or chemical-dependency disorder. The frequency to which substance-abuse disorders occur within some families seems to be higher than could be explained by an addictive environment of the family. Therefore, most substance-abuse professionals recognize a genetic aspect to the risk of drug addiction.
Psychological associations with substance abuse or addiction include mood disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, as well as personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder. Social risk factors for drug abuse and addiction include male gender, being between 18 and 44 years of age, Native-American heritage, unmarried marital status, and lower socioeconomic status. According to statistics by state, people residing in the West tend to be at higher risk for chemical abuse or dependency. While men are more at risk for developing a chemical dependency like alcoholism, women seem to be more vulnerable to becoming addicted to alcohol at much lower amounts of alcohol consumption.
What are symptoms and signs of drug abuse and addiction?
In order to be diagnosed with drug abuse, an individual must exhibit a destructive pattern of drug abuse that leads to significant problems or stress but not enough to qualify as being addicted to a drug. This pattern is manifested by at least one of the following signs or symptoms in the same one-year period:
• Recurrent drug use that results in a lack of meeting important obligations at work, school, or home
• Recurrent drug use in situations that can be dangerous
• Recurrent legal problems as a result of drug use
• Continued drug use despite continued or repeated social or relationship problems as a result of the drug’s effects
In order to be diagnosed with a drug addiction, an individual must exhibit a destructive pattern of drug abuse that leads to significant problems as manifested by at least three of the following signs or symptoms in the same one-year period:
• Tolerance is either a markedly decreased effect of the substance or a need to significantly increase the amount of the substance used in order to achieve the same high or other desired effects.
• Withdrawal is either physical or psychological signs or symptoms consistent with withdrawal from a specific drug, or taking that drug or one chemically close to that drug in order to avoid developing symptoms of withdrawal.
• Larger amounts of the drug are taken or for longer than intended.
• The individual experiences a persistent desire to take the drug or has unsuccessful attempts to decrease or control the substance use.
• Significant amounts of time are spent either getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.,
• The individual significantly reduces or stops participating in important social, recreational, work, or school activities as a result of using the substance.
The individual continues to use the substance despite being aware that he or she suffers from ongoing or recurring physical or psychological problems that are caused or worsened by the use of the drug.
What happens to your brain when you take drugs?
While the specific effects of drugs on the brain can vary somewhat depending on the drug that is being used, virtually every drug that is abused has an effect on what professionals often call the executive functioning areas of the brain. The functions of those areas can be remembered by thinking about the tasks of the chief executive officer in any company: planning, organizing, acting when it is time to act, as well as delaying or preventing action (inhibitory functions) when appropriate. The parts of the brain that tend to harbor the executive brain functions are the front-most parts of the brain, called the frontal cortex and prefrontal cortex. When a person takes drugs, the inhibitory functions of the brain are particularly impaired, resulting in the person using drugs and having trouble stopping him or herself from acting on impulses that the brain would otherwise delay or prevent. This disinhibition can result in the substance abuser engaging in aggressive, sexual, criminal, or other activities that can have devastating consequences for the addicted person or those around him or her.
How is drug addiction diagnosed?
As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has chemical abuse or addiction. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information. The practitioner will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual’s primary-care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person’s general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental-health symptoms.
In asking questions about mental-health symptoms, mental-health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from depression and/or manic symptoms but also anxiety, hallucinations, or delusions, as well as some behavioral disorders. Practitioners may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for substance abuse or dependence. Since some of the symptoms of drug misuse and dependence can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental-health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and other psychotic disorders, or a personality or behavior disorder like antisocial personality disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), respectively. Any disorder that is associated with sudden changes in behavior, mood, or thinking, like bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, borderline personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID) may be particularly challenging to distinguish from some symptoms of drug abuse or dependence. In order to assess the person’s current emotional state, health-care providers perform a mental-status examination as well.
In addition to providing treatment that is appropriate to the diagnosis, determining the presence of mental illnesses that may co-occur (be co-morbid) with substance abuse or dependence is important in promoting the best possible outcome for the person. As previously described, the dual diagnosis of substance abusing or addicted individuals dictates the need for treatment that addresses both issues in a coordinated way by professionals who are trained and experienced with helping this specific population.
What is the treatment for drug addiction?
An unfortunate fact about the treatment of drug addiction is that it remains largely unutilized by most sufferers of this condition. Facts about the use of drug treatment include that less than 10% of people with a substance-abuse disorder and less than 40% of those with a substance-dependence disorder seek treatment. Those statistics do not seem to be associated with socioeconomic or other demographic traits but do seem to be associated with the presence of other mental-health problems (co-morbidity).
The primary goals of drug-abuse or addiction treatment (also called recovery) are abstinence, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation. During the initial stage of abstinence, an individual who suffers from chemical dependency may need help avoiding or lessening the effects of withdrawal. That process is called detoxification or “detox.” That aspect of treatment is usually performed in a hospital or other inpatient setting, where medications used to lessen withdrawal symptoms and frequent medical monitoring can be provided. The medications used for detox are determined by the substance the individual is dependent upon. For example, people with alcohol dependence might receive medications like anti-anxiety or blood pressure medications to decrease palpitations and blood pressure, or seizure medications to prevent possible seizures during the detoxification process. For many drugs of abuse, the detox process is the most difficult aspect of coping with the physical symptoms of addiction and tends to last days to a few weeks. Medications that are sometimes used to help addicted individuals abstain from drug use long term also depends on the specific drug of addiction. For example, individuals who are addicted to narcotics like aspirin and oxycodone hydrochloride (Percodan), heroin, or hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin, Vicodin ES, Anexsia, Lorcet, Lorcet Plus, Norco) often benefit from receiving longer-acting, less addictive narcotic-like substances like methadone (Methadose). Disulfiram (Antabuse) produces nausea, stomach cramping, and vomiting when mixed with alcohol.
Often, much more challenging and time consuming than recovery from the physical aspects of addiction is psychological addiction. For people who may have less severe drug dependency, the symptoms of psychological addiction may be able to be managed in an outpatient treatment program. However, those who have a more severe addiction, have relapsed after participation in outpatient programs, or who also suffer from a severe mental illness might need the higher structure, support, and monitoring provided in an inpatient drug treatment center, sometimes called “rehab.” Following such inpatient treatment, many people with this level of addiction can benefit from living in a sober living community, that is, a group-home setting where counselors provide continued sobriety support and structure on a daily basis.
Also important in the treatment of addiction is helping the parents, other family members, and friends of the addicted person refrain from supporting addictive behaviors (codependency). Whether providing financial support, making excuses or failing to acknowledge the addictive behaviors of the addict, discouraging such codependency of loved ones is a key component to the recovery of the affected individual. A focus on the addicted person’s role in the family becomes perhaps even more acute when that person is a child or teenager, given that minors come within the context of a family in nearly every instance. Chemical dependency treatment for children and adolescents is further different from that in adults by the younger addict’s tendency to need help completing their education and achieving higher education or job training compared to addicts who may have completed those parts of their lives before developing the addiction.
The treatment of dual diagnosis seems to be less effective when treatment of their mental illness is separate from the treatment of the individual’s chemical dependency. More successful are integrated treatment programs that include interventions for both disorders. Such interventions are all the more improved by the inclusion of assessment, intensive case management, motivational interventions, behavior interventions, family treatment as well as services for housing, rehabilitation, and medication treatment.
What is the prognosis of drug addiction?
Drug addiction increases the risk of a number of negative life stressors and conditions. Individuals who are addicted to drugs are at increased risk for domestic violence, particularly if cocaine dependence or binge drinking is involved. If treated, the prognosis of alcoholism and other drug addictions improves but is not without challenges. Recovery from substance abuse is usually characterized by episodes of remission (abstinence from drug use) and relapse.
Can drug abuse and addiction be prevented?
A number of different prevention approaches have been found to be effective in decreasing the risk of drug abuse and addiction. Simple lifestyle changes, like increased physical activity, are thought to help prevent drug abuse and dependence in teens. More formal programs have also been found to be helpful. For example, the Raising Healthy Children program, which includes interventions for teachers, parents, and students, has been found to help prevent substance abuse and addiction in elementary school children when the program goes on for 18 months or more. The prevalence of easier access to technology has led to the development of computer-based prevention programs. Such programs have been found to be very promising in how they compare to more traditional prevention programs, as well as how many more people can be reached through technology.