Drug Addiction

drug addiction

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drug addiction is defined by the continued abuse of any illicit substance despite awareness of its harmful and negative effects. Those living in the grip of addiction are unable to control their urges and compulsive use of their drug of choice and need ever-increasing doses in order to achieve the sought after effect. Should they abruptly stop abusing drugs and alcohol, they will often experience withdrawal symptoms that are both physiological and psychological in nature.

Unfortunately, when addiction is an issue, every aspect of the patient’s life can be destroyed by the disease: physical health, mental well-being, interpersonal relationships, employment, home life, goals and more. The overwhelming nature of addiction means that patients are rarely available on any level for anything or anyone else in their lives.

Drug addiction can also bring with it many long-term effects in addition to the short-term results of regular abuse and use. Depending upon the drug of choice, a number of chronic health issues can become an issue, including tuberculosis, kidney and liver problems, and other infections including AIDS. Mental illnesses, too, are often associated with drug addiction and can include psychosis, depression and anxiety disorders.

The Basics

The American Medical Association classifies drug addiction as a chronic medical disease. Just like any chronic disease, those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction are prone to relapse throughout their lives, and any successful treatment is a multi-phase process that addresses more than just the physical nature of the problem.

Drug addiction is also defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, [4th edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR)], as a “disorder related to the taking of a drug of abuse (including alcohol), to the side effects of a medication, and to toxin exposure.” Whether the patient’s addiction began with drinking, experimenting with illegal drugs or with a prescription for pain management or anxiety, every path to drug addiction ultimately ends the same way: with a need for comprehensive alcohol and drug detox and treatment like that provided by The Canyon.

Addiction occurs when an individual crosses the line separating drug abuse from a physical dependency on drugs. This is usually characterized by compulsively seeking to use a substance regardless of the potentially negative social, psychological and physical consequences. This drive to use is not only mental – a psychological addiction – but driven by the physical need to maintain a certain level of the drug in the system at all times. If this level is not maintained, the body rebels by exhibiting withdrawal symptoms that may include nausea and vomiting, insomnia, irritability, diarrhea, and bone and muscle aches.

Terms Associated With Drug Addiction

There are a number of terms that are associated with drug addiction. Understanding the definitions of addiction terms can help patients and their loved ones better understand the information available on the nature of drug addiction and treatment.

Some of the most common include:

  • Drugs. When “drugs” are referred to in the context of treatment, the term includes any substances or medications that cause intoxication in moderate doses and overdose in large doses. These include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription opiates, prescription benzodiazepines, crystal methamphetamine, LSD, Ecstasy, and other club or experimental drugs, and regular use at any dose is toxic physically, mentally and socially.
  • Drug use disorders. Whether the patient is taking a prescription, drinking alcohol or experimenting will illegal substances, the intoxication as well as the physical and mental illness that take hold as a result are drug use disorders.
  • Drug abuse. When a patient uses drugs or alcohol in a pattern – whether it’s regular use or binge use – despite the negative financial, physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and social consequences, the use is termed abusive.
  • Drug addiction. Characterized by the physical dependence upon the regular use of a drug or alcohol, addiction occurs as the body exhibits withdrawal symptoms when the patient stops taking his or her drug of choice. Tolerance to that drug or alcohol rises steadily, requiring that the patient take more and more of it just to feel “normal” and avoid physical illness associated with detox.
  • Drug detox. When the patient stops taking their drug of choice after a period of regular and steady use, their bodies automatically experience detox when they stop providing a regular replenishment of the substance. Characterized by intense withdrawal symptoms, detox can be very painful and, in some cases, life-threatening.
  • Drug withdrawal. Different depending upon what type of drug or alcohol the patient is dependent upon, how long they have been using and their physical tolerance, withdrawal symptoms vary but manifest when they stop or significantly reduce their intake of that substance. Withdrawal symptoms are physical, mental, psychological and emotional – and devastating.


There are a number of different reputable sources for statistics on the rate and complexity of drug addiction in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction is indicated by the following:

Drug Addiction Statistics+

  • Rates of alcohol abuse and addiction have fluctuated slightly over the past few years among those over the age of 12. However, in 2009, it was estimated that more than 30 million people (or 12 percent of the American population over the age of 12) drove while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Marijuana abuse and addiction issues are highest among teens and young adults but are often a co-occurring addictive issue among adults who abuse other drugs of addiction. In fact, marijuana abuse has outrun cigarette smoking among high school seniors; more than 21 percent reported abusing marijuana in the month prior to the survey while only 19 percent reported smoking cigarettes in the same period of time.
  • Abuse and addiction to amphetamines and methamphetamine peaked in the mid to late 90s but is still an issue. In 2010, nine percent of Americans reported amphetamine abuse and addiction and less than 2.5 percent reported methamphetamine abuse and addiction.
  • Cocaine abuse and addiction is a larger problem among adults over the age of 18 than for those between the ages of 12 and 18. Overall, about 1.6 million adults over 12 reported issues with cocaine.
  • MDMA or Ecstasy has steadily declined in use over the past 10 years but between 2009 and 2010 both the perceived risk associated with the drug and abuse of it increased.
  • Rates of abuse of hallucinogens like LSD remained the same between 2009 and 2010, but increased slightly among high seniors; about 2.6 percent reported abusing the drug in the year prior to the survey.
  • Inhalants remain a significant issue for those between the ages of 12 and 18. About eight percent of 8th graders reported abusing inhalants in the year prior to the survey.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 23.5 million Americans or 9.3 percent of the population over the age of 12 needed treatment for drug addiction and abuse in 2009. Of these, only 11 percent of those who needed treatment or 2.6 million patients received the help they needed at drug rehab.

Addiction Versus Abuse

Despite being lumped together in most literature, drug addiction and drug abuse are different, according to the National Institutes of Health. Their primary divisive characteristic boils down to one thing: physical addiction and medical health.

Drug abuse is a spectrum issue, meaning that the person who binge drinks on the weekends is exhibiting signs of drug abuse just like the person who abuses illicit substances to help them function throughout the week. Intent behind the initial drug abuse, causes and even amounts of the drug chosen don’t factor into the definition. Any drug abuse is termed dangerous because it can have negative consequences that range from acute health issues in the short term and immediate problems at home and work to death due to accident or overdose. Additionally, the craving for drugs and alcohol in certain circumstances or at regular intervals can be an issue during drug abuse without the presence of physical dependency.

Types of Addiction and Physical Dependency

According to the DSM-IV-TR, there are two basic types of drug addiction: drug use disorders and drug-induced disorders.

Dependence upon and abuse of drugs and alcohol both fall into the category of drug use disorders. Drug-induced disorders include both the physical and mental disorders that occur as a result of drug use and addiction. Medical issues like liver damage and heart disease and psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are just a few of the drug-induced disorders that are commonly experienced during and in the wake of drug addiction.

Both alcohol and drugs can cause physical dependency and addiction in people who abuse them. Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, is the number one addiction problem in the world. In fact, in the United States alone, about 17.6 million people are living with an alcohol abuse or addiction problem, according to Medline Plus. Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol that takes control of a person’s life and causes them to drink constantly and can cause them to neglect all other areas of their life to support their alcohol habit.

Drug addiction can come in many forms and may include an addiction to a combination of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs and more. Out of all of the possible drugs to become addicted to, cocaine is one of the most powerful, most addictive and most popular drugs across the United States and around the world.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction vary according to the type (or types) of drug abused and the length of time that the patient has been using, but some symptoms of the disorder apply across the board.

They include:

  • Prolonged personality changes
  • Extreme mood swings bouncing between euphoria and paralyzing depression
  • Continually missing appointments, being late and forgetting commitments
  • Doing things under the influence that put themselves or others in danger (e.g,, driving a car)
  • Putting themselves in risky situations that they would ordinarily avoid in order to obtain their drug of choice
  • Continuing to abuse drugs despite the admission that negative results are unavoidable
  • Being unable to quit abusing drugs and alcohol despite repeated attempts or promises to quit

When it is clear that drug abuse or addiction is out of control, the best way to address the situation safely and effectively is for the patient to enroll in drug rehab.

Specialized Treatment at The Canyon

At The Canyon, we provide all the tools you will need to build a strong foundation in recovery. A dual diagnosis drug treatment center, The Canyon is staffed by educated professionals who are trained to treat those who have co-occurring disorders – addiction as well as emotional or psychiatric disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.

If you feel you are endangering yourself or others due to chronic drug abuse or addiction or if you think that a loved one is hurting themselves with illicit substances, contact us today to discuss the options for treatment.

Related Topics: