Addiction: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as, “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” Typically, the first time a person uses a substance, it’s a voluntary choice, but continued drug use alters the brain and the person begins to experience intense cravings that are difficult to resist. When a person uses substances, the brain becomes filled with large amounts of dopamine; a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure center in the brain. This causes feelings of intense pleasure or a “high,” which encourages the person to use the substance again. Over time, people build a tolerance to the excess dopamine and larger amounts of the drug are needed to feel that same high.
- According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10.2% of Americans (27 million), ages 12 and older used illicit drugs in the past month; an increase or nearly 2% in the last decade.
- The most commonly abused substances in the U.S. are alcohol, marijuana and prescription pain relievers, respectively.
- Over half of illicit drug users tried drugs before they were 18.
- After alcohol, marijuana has the highest rate of dependence or abuse among all drugs.
- In 2013, an estimated 22.7 million Americans needed treatment for a drug or alcohol problem, but less than 1% of those people received treatment at specialized facility.
- Intense cravings
- Withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches, when the drug wears off or when trying to discontinue use
- Becoming tolerant; needing more of the drug to achieve a high
- Isolating one’s self from family and friends
- Altered physical appearance and lack of interest in personal hygiene
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Financial problems
- Engaging in increasingly risky behavior to obtain the drug
- Continued drug use despite being aware of negative consequences
In order to treat an addiction, a person must first undergo a detoxification process to rid the body of the substance(s). It is safest to do this under medical supervision in an addiction treatment facility so withdrawal symptoms can be safely managed. Following detoxification, treatment usually consists of psychotherapy (individual and group), dialectical behavioral therapy, medication (when needed), 12-step programs, support groups, intensive outpatient programs and other recovery support services. In order to maintain sobriety, it’s important to address and treat any co-occurring psychiatric disorder(s) as well.
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