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What is Addiction?

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences (National Institute of Drug Abuse).

People with addiction have a strong urge on using substances such as alcohol or drugs to escape, relax or reward themselves. The risk of using these substances over time, make you think that you need them to enjoy life, or that you can’t live without them. Slowly they can lead to dependency and can harm your relationships and health. People can develop addiction to following:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • PCP and LSD, Ecstasy (MDMA) and other hallucinogens
  • Inhalants such as paint thinners and glue
  • Opioid pain killers such as oxycodone, codeine and heroin
  • Sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics (Benzodiazepines)
  • Cocaine, methamphetamine and stimulants (prescription-controlled ADHD medications)
  • Tobacco

Addiction Prevalence (Source: SAMSHA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Services Administration and CDC National Vital Statistics System – NCHS) 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health – NSDUH

  • In 2016, approximately 7.5% or 20.1 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder, including 15.1 million people had an alcohol use disorder and 7.4 million people had an illicit drug use disorder.
  • Among the 7.4 million people aged 12 or older, the most common disorders were for marijuana (4.0 million people) and prescription pain relievers (1.8 million people).
  • 1 in 3 (37%) struggle with illicit drugs.
  • 3 in 4 (75%) struggle with alcohol use.
  • 1 in 9 (12%) struggle with illicit drugs and alcohol.
  • The number of heroin users increased 2.35-fold (135%) and the number of heroin deaths increased 6.33-fold (533%).
  • In 2016, approximately, 3.8 million people received any substance use treatment in the past year. Among them, 2.2 million people aged 12 or older received substance use treatment at a specialty facility.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

Addiction is a progressive, relapsing disorder that demands rigorous treatments and ongoing aftercare management, though, it entails family and/or peer encouragement to accomplish their recovery. Even the most severe and lingering form of the disorder can be achieved with steady treatment, continuous monitoring and support to sustain a lasting recovery.

Drugs affect the brain in two different ways. 1) It alters the brain chemical pathways causing disruption in the communication process, meaning your nerve cells won’t be receiving, processing or sending information the way they should be. 2) It implicates functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control, which can lead to drug dependence and risk for withdrawal symptoms when the drugs process out of the body. Over time, people with drug addiction build up tolerance and they need larger amounts to feel the effects. These changes can even last longer after a person has stopped taking drugs.

According to NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse), people take drugs typically for few of the reasons:

  • To feel good (feelings of pleasure, relaxation, satisfaction and increase in energy)
  • To feel better (feeling less anxious and to relieve stress)
  • To do better (improve functioning)
  • Curiosity and peer pressure

When you first use a drug, you may feel confident and optimistic. You may also believe that you can control its use. Then the drugs will rapidly take over your life. Overtime, with continued use, the positive effects becomes less enjoyable, but you still continue using the drugs just to feel normal. Even you are mindful that drugs are affecting your life and relationships, you cannot stop or escape. Soon you will be needing to take more of a drug or take it more often and quickly slip into addiction.

  • Biological factors (genetics)
  • Environmental factors (chaotic home environment, peer influences and poor social skills)
  • Early use (age)
  • How the drug is taken (smoking, sniffing or injecting)
  • Co-morbid medical or psychiatric conditions
  • Serious health problems
  • Accidents
  • Overdoses
  • Legal issues including criminal behaviors
  • School problems
  • Violence / Homicide
  • Suicide
  • Social interpersonal changes associated with substance abuse.
  • Drug use can be correlated with risky behaviors such as sharing needles and performing unsafe sex practices which can cause the immune system to be weakened. Drugs that are commonly injected can lead to HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. Moreover, injecting drugs can also lead to cardiovascular complications such as collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.
  • Cigarette smoking has been linked to cancer of the mouth, neck, stomach and lungs. Likewise, smoking marijuana and crack cocaine can also cause severe respiratory problems.
  • Abusing drugs during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and a variety of behavioral and cognitive problems in the child. More likely, if a pregnant woman has misused drugs regularly during her pregnancy, there is huge risk of a child born dependent on the drugs- a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome.
This document is created by Azmeena Hashem (Doctor of Nursing Practice, NP-C)

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