Q: What Is Drug Addiction?
A: Drug addiction is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable, drug craving, seeking, and use that persist even in the face of extremely negative consequences. Drug seeking becomes compulsive, in large part as a result of the effects of prolonged drug use on brain functioning and on behavior. For many people, drug addiction becomes chronic, with relapses possible even after long periods of abstinence.
Q: How Quickly Can I Become Addicted to a Drug?
A: There is no easy answer to this. If and how quickly you might become addicted to a drug depends on many factors including your genes (which you inherit from your parents) and the biology of your body. All drugs are potentially harmful and may have life-threatening consequences associated with their use. There are also vast differences among individuals in sensitivity to various drugs. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may be particularly vulnerable and overdose with first use. There is no way of knowing in advance how someone may react.
Q: How Do I Know if Someone Is Addicted to Drugs?
A: If a person is compulsively seeking and using a drug despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, physical or mental problems brought on by drug abuse, or family problems, then he or she is probably addicted. We don't have a perfect screening tool quite yet, but health care professionals who screen for drug use often ask questions like these to detect substance abuse in their adolescent patients:
Q: What Are the Physical Signs of Abuse or Addiction?
- Have you ever ridden in a car driven by someone (including yourself) who had been using alcohol or drugs?
- Do you ever use alcohol or drugs to relax, feel better about yourself, or fit in?
- Do you ever use alcohol or drugs when you are alone?
- Do you ever forget things you did while using alcohol or drugs?
- Do your family or friends ever tell you to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
- Have you ever gotten into trouble while you were using alcohol or drugs?
A: The physical signs of abuse or addiction can vary depending on the person and the drug being abused. In addition, each drug has short-term and long-term physical effects. For example, someone who abuses marijuana may have a chronic cough or worsening of asthmatic conditions. Stimulants like cocaine increase heart rate and blood pressure, whereas opioids like heroin may slow the heart rate and reduce respiration.
Q: Are There Effective Treatments for Drug Addiction?
A:Drug addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral-based therapies and, for addiction to some drugs such as heroin or nicotine, medications. Treatment may vary for each person depending on the type of drug(s) being used and the individual's specific circumstances. In many cases, multiple courses of treatment may be needed to achieve success. Research has revealed 13 basic principles that underlie effective drug addiction treatment. These are discussed in NIDA's Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
Q: Isn't Drug Addiction a Voluntary Behavior?
A:A person may start out taking drugs voluntarily. But as times passes, and drug use continues something happens that makes a person go from being a voluntary drug user to a compulsive drug user. Why? Because the continued use of addictive drugs changes your brain - at times in dramatic, toxic ways, at others in more subtle ways, but often in ways that result in compulsive and even uncontrollable drug use.
Q: Isn't Becoming Addicted to a Drug Just a Character Flaw?
A: Drug addiction is a brain disease. Every type of drug of abuse has its own individual mechanism for changing how the brain functions. But regardless of which drug a person is addicted to, many of the effects it has on the brain are similar: they range from changes in the molecules and cells that make up the brain, to mood changes, to changes in memory processes and thinking, and sometimes changes in motor skills such as walking and talking. And these changes have a huge influence on all aspects of a person's behavior. A drug can become the single most powerful motivator in a drug abuser's existence. He or she will do almost anything for the drug. This comes about because drug use has changed the individual's brain, their behavior, their social and other functioning in critical ways.
Q: For Drug Treatment to Work, Doesn't the Person Have to Really Want It?
A:Two of the primary reasons people seek drug treatment are because the court ordered them to do so, or because loved ones urged them to seek treatment. Many scientific studies have shown convincingly that those who enter drug treatment programs in which they face "high pressure" to confront and attempt to surmount their addiction can benefit from treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place.
Q: Shouldn't Treatment for Drug Addiction be a One-shot Deal?
A: Like many other illnesses, drug addiction typically is a chronic disorder. To be sure, some people can quit drug use "cold turkey," or they can quit after receiving treatment just one time at a rehabilitation facility. But most of those who abuse drugs require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments.
Q: Shouldn't NIDA Strive to Find a "Magic Bullet" to Treat All Forms of Drug Abuse?
A: There is no "one size fits all" form of drug treatment, much less a magic bullet that suddenly will cure addiction. Different people have different drug abuse-related problems. And they respond very differently to similar forms of treatment, even when they're abusing the same drug. As a result, drug addicts need an array of treatments and services tailored to address their unique needs.
Article courtesy the US National Institute on Drug Abuse
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