As research into the impact of drugs on neurological functioning advances, it becomes increasingly clear that, although the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, addicts lose the power of choice. Changes to the brain caused by powerful chemicals reduce impulse control and inhibitions. The human brain – while highly complex and dynamic – can find itself subservient to this ruthless tyrant.1
What Is Drug Addiction?
While, in years past, drug addiction was considered a weakness of will power or morals, addiction is now considered a chronic brain disease. As such, people with a substance use disorder are prone to relapse back into drug use, even after deciding to quit. In fact, research has shown that 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts relapse at one time or another while forming a new, drug-free lifestyle.2
How Is “Dependence” Different than “Addiction”?
Addiction involves compulsive drug use in the face of harmful consequences. Addicts are unable to stop themselves from using their drug of choice. Oftentimes, addiction leads to failure to meet work, social or family obligations. Depending on the drug, tolerance can develop and withdrawal can be a looming cloud.
Dependence involves the latter two items – tolerance and withdrawal. When the body adapts to a drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect, that’s “tolerance.” And if negative physical and/or mental symptoms occur when drug use is abruptly ceased or reduced, that’s “withdrawal.”
A person can be physically dependent on a drug and not be addicted to it. For instance, an athlete may have an ongoing prescription for opioid pain relievers as part of a doctor-supervised pain management plan. While this legitimate drug user would likely experience withdrawal symptoms if he were to stop taking his opioids, he is not psychologically dependent on the drug if he is be able to meet his normal personal obligations and lead an otherwise balanced life.
A mental dependence is similar to a physical dependence in that a reliance on taking a drug is formed.While all addicts are drug-dependent, not all drug-dependent users have an addiction.3
How Are These Two Conditions Treated Differently?
It is important to note, first of all, that drug dependence and drug addiction both require medical attention.
In the case of drug dependence, the doctor will carefully wean the patient off the drug.Typically, behavioral counseling is not needed since the patient is not psychologically attached to the drug.
In the case of drug addiction, detox at a specialized facility is usually followed up by a structured rehab program. The treatment plan should be customized to the patient. During abstinence maintenance treatment, the person in recovery should receive both individual and group counseling. These sessions address the issues underlying the addiction and provide strategies for overcoming addiction-related behaviors. This could include giving into impulses, lying, stealing and associating with drug abusers.4
What Might Indicate Drug Addiction?
Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish normal teenage moodiness or angst from signs of drug use. Possible indications that your teenager or other family member is using drugs include:
- Problems at school or work – A sudden disinterest or drop in attendance or performance in school or work.
- Physical health issues – An unusual lack of energy and motivation to work, play or spend time with friends or family.
- Neglected appearance — A disinterest in maintaining a well-groomed and dressed appearance or even good hygiene.
- Changes in behavior – Keeping others at a safe distance from personal living quarters or being secretive about what is being done with whom. Basically any drastic changes in behavior or relationships.
- Spending money – Making unusual requests for money or stealing money or items to sell.5
How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?
Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. This similarity in structure “fools” receptors and allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons.
Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.
Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels.
Under the influence of these mind-altering chemicals, the addict is blinded to their negative impact. The capacity to consider a rational, long-term view is lost. It’s up to other caring individuals to step in to help.1
Recovery from Drug Addiction Is a Long-Term Battle
Recovery is challenging. It takes a lot of hard work for a long period of time. If you are battling drug addiction, it’s absolutely necessary to meet the challenge head on. Doing so will help you regain your “authentic self” – the way you were meant to live…healthy, happy and whole.
More than half of those who have a substance use disorder also have another mental condition, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Likewise, people with mental health issues are twice as likely to abuse drugs. This is because drug abuse and mental health issues affect the same parts of the brain. Furthermore, a drug addiction can make a mental condition worse, and vice versa. Someone with both of these disorders needs treatment for both conditions at the same time.6
At The Canyon, our highly trained and experienced doctors and staff can effectively address both drug addiction and any other, co-occurring mental health issues simultaneously – the ideal approach for effective, long-term recovery. We encourage you to contact The Canyon for more information about drug addictions, mental health conditions and the best, evidence-based treatment options available today.
1 “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain, (July 2014).
2 “The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction-basics, (October 2016).
3 “Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence, (December 2012).
4 “Treatments for Substance Use Disorders”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, https://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders, (August 9, 2016).
5 “Drug Addiction”, Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/definition/con-20020970 .
6 “Drug Abuse and Mental Health Problems Often Happen Together”, Easy-to-Read Drug Facts, National Institutes of Health, https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/drug-use-and-mental-health-problems-often-happen-together .