An estimated 21 million people in the United States suffer from at least one addiction. That figure doesn’t take into account the friends, partners, and family members who fall victim to this disease that ravages the life of their loved one. There is an old-fashioned view that addiction and drug use is a sign of a lack of morality or weak character. This stereotype couldn’t be any further from the truth. Doctors almost unanimously agree that substance abuse disorders are diagnosable medical conditions.
In our experience, one of the most important aspects of treatment is helping clients to understand exactly what drug addiction is and how it works. The support and guidance of doctors and mental health professionals who can help you understand your condition is imperative. When you’re able to recognize the signs in yourself and acknowledge that you need addiction treatment, you’re ready to begin the healing process.
Are All Drug Users Addicts?
Not everyone who uses drugs is addicted to them, but the best method to avoid developing the condition is stopping before it gets to that stage. While there are risk factors that put some people at an increased likelihood of becoming addicted, it can happen to anyone. For many first time users, what starts off as occasional harmless fun becomes increasingly frequent until they find themselves embroiled in addiction.
High tolerance and sensation-seeking are two key genetic risk factors for addiction. These traits, along with smoking, drinking or drug use during your teenage years put you at the highest risk of developing a substance use disorder. Not all drug users are addicts, but the potential is there in everyone. In some cases, a traumatic life event can topple you over the edge. In other cases, repeat exposure alone is enough.
Signs and Side Effects of Drug Abuse
- Evidence of blister packs
- Visiting multiple doctors for one prescription or using the internet to obtain drugs
- Loss of interest in social activities
- Neglect of responsibilities
- Secretive behavior
- Heart palpitations
- Periods of unresponsiveness
- Withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use
- Mood swings
Heroin (and Fentanyl)
- Hopelessness, shame or despair
- Inability to focus
- Watery eyes
- Needles, dirty-looking spoons or other paraphernalia
- Track marks
- Nose running and other flu-like symptoms
- Troubled sleep
- Change in peer group
- Not performing as well as you were at work or school
- Financial problems
- Disappearing and being secretive about your whereabouts
- Frequent outbursts or drastic mood swings
- Frequently smelling of an earthy odor
- Red eyes
- Seemingly random giggling
- Dry mouth
- Declining performance at school or work
- Using cannabis in spite of negative consequences
- Agitation when not high
- Social withdrawal
- Binge-eating junk food
- Financial issues
- Smoking papers, grinders, and other smoking paraphernalia
- Dilated pupils and shining eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Appearing spaced out
- Loss of coordination
- Strange, inexplicable behavior
- Changes in heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Social withdrawal
- Glass pipes, rolled-up notes, blades, and other paraphernalia
- Dilated or pinpoint pupils
- Weight loss
- Mood swings from exuberance and excitability to depression and irritability
- Deceptive behavior
- Bouts of anger
- Heart problems
- Racing thoughts
- Disappearing for unexplained periods and returning highly motivated and chatty
- Increased confidence when high and depression when not high
What Are the Most Addictive Drugs?
It’s not easy to quantify how addictive a substance is because each affects individuals in unique ways. Scientifically, some drugs have a higher risk of causing harm due to the effects they have on the body and mind.
Opiates and opioid painkillers such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine mimic naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called endorphins. The pleasure derived from this, along with how quickly your body adapts and becomes physically dependent, makes these the substances with the highest risk potential.
Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed painkillers and highly addictive. The fact that they’re not seen as hard drugs puts them in a particularly dangerous category. They also mimic naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called GABA. GABA affects the central nervous system, causing relaxation and sleep. Physical dependence is a likely consequence of long-term use of these drugs, which include diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax).
From Enjoyment to Craving: The Science of Drug Addiction
No one who uses drugs wants to become addicted or believes it’s going to happen to them. A weakness with the way the human brain works is that it doesn’t differentiate between different types of pleasure. When you receive praise, get sexual gratification or enjoy food, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released. Our brains are hardwired to respond to the release of dopamine by reminding us to repeat the experience that caused pleasure.
Over time, using drugs as a shortcut to pleasure results in a lack of naturally occurring dopamine as the brain gets used to the substance causing an influx. It takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect, which is known as tolerance. In some cases, the body adapts to the presence of the drugs to the point that being without the substance causes withdrawal symptoms.
Peace Valley Recovery provides effective drug rehab treatment for a wide variety of drugs including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and opioids. If you’re ready to seek help or want to speak with someone to learn more about our therapy and treatment programs, please call 215-780-1953.