It’s a common stereotype that people addicted to drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using at any time but choose not to. This is far from the truth. Addiction is an extremely complex disease and quitting takes a lot more than good intentions or willpower. Fortunately, more is known today than ever about how drugs affect the brain and there are a variety of effective evidence-based treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction.
Definition of Addiction
(addiction) A complex and chronic condition characterised by substance use or compulsive behaviours that continue despite the myriad of harmful consequences.
(drug) Any substance (other than food) that is used to prevent, diagnose, treat, or relieve symptoms of a disease or abnormal condition. Drugs can also affect how the brain and the rest of the body work and cause changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behaviour.
Addiction is a set of compulsive drug-seeking behaviours that continue in spite of negative outcomes, but it is important to note that addiction is not considered an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Rather than using the term ‘addiction’, the DSM-5 uses ‘substance use disorders’. While the diagnostic criteria for each type vary, the DSM-5 describes these disorders as a problematic pattern of use of intoxicating substances that leads to significant impairment and distress. These symptoms can result in impaired control, social impairment, risky use and tolerance/withdrawal.
There are different substance use disorders found in the DSM-5:
- Alcohol-related disorders
- Cannabis-related disorders
- Hallucinogen-related disorders
- Opioid-related disorders
- Caffeine-related disorders
Opioids are produced from opium and are available by prescription as well as illegally made synthetic forms. This class of drugs includes heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl.
The ‘opioid epidemic’ has seen addiction to prescription pain medications reach an alarming rate, particularly across the US. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is available to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) and includes methadone, suboxone and naltrexone.
Stimulants include meth (methamphetamine), cocaine, crack, and prescription medications like Adderall and Dexedrine. These drugs are often used by those in search of a high or to increase energy, improve performance at work or school or lose weight.
These drugs are central nervous system depressants that are prescribed or used for a number of reasons including anxiety, insomnia and mental health issues. These sedatives and sleeping meds are often abused by those in search of relaxation or to avoid dealing with emotions and feelings. Examples include Xanax, Ativan, Clonazepam, Phenobarbital and Ambian.
Signs and symptoms of inhalant use, known as huffing, vary depending on the substance. Common inhalants include amyl nitrate (poppers) glue, gasoline, paint thinners, felt tip markers, cleaning fluids and aerosol products. The danger is that these extremely toxic substances are all easily accessible and can cause brain damage or sudden death.
The most commonly used hallucinogens are magic mushrooms (psilocybin), LSD (acid), mescaline (peyote) and PCP. These drugs typically alter one’s perception of reality, cause impulsive behaviours and rapid shifts in emotions. Experiences can be both pleasant or threatening, depending on the drug, the person and the situation you are in.
Examples of these drugs include MDMA (ecstasy or molly), GHB, ketamine, flunitrazepam or Rohypnol. These drugs are not all in the same category, but they share similar effects and dangers. GHB and flunitrazepam (date rape drugs) cause confusion, sedation, muscle relaxation and memory loss and make it easy for predators to sexually assault their victims.
No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs but it is known that there are specific risk factors for influencing addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that they may develop an addiction.
The main contributing factors include:
Environment: One’s environment includes various influences, from family and friends to economic status and quality of life. Factors like parental guidance, early exposure to drugs, stress, physical and sexual abuse and peer pressure can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.
Genetics: The development of addiction may be influenced by genetic or inherited traits, which can either delay or speed up the progression of addiction.
Biology: While the genes you are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction, gender, ethnicity and the presence of mental disorders can also impact drug use and the development of addiction.
Development: Genetic and environmental factors combined with critical developmental stages in one’s life influence addiction risk. Using substances at any age can lead to addiction, but the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. This is problematic for teens because areas in their brains that control judgement, decision making and self control are still developing, increasing the chance they will partake in risky behaviours, including drug use.
If you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, get in touch with The Hills today. It isn’t easy to stop using drugs on your own but The Hills’ detox and inpatient treatment program can help.
People of any age, sex or economic class can become addicted to a substance. Certain factors can affect the likelihood and rate of developing an addiction:
Family history of addiction: If a family member, such as a parent or sibling, has an alcohol or drug addiction, you have an increased risk of developing an addiction.
Mental health disorder: Having a mental health disorder such as depression, bi-polar or PTSD, increases your risk of addiction. Using substances can help people cope with emotions, anxiety, depression and loneliness but it will always end up making the problems even worse. Having a substance use disorder with a mental health diagnosis is called a co-occurring disorder.
Peer pressure: Peer pressure is a strong influencer in experimentation, use and misuse of drugs, especially for young people.
Family involvement: Unhealthy family relationships and a lack of parental supervision can increase your risk of addiction.
Early use: Using drugs at a young age can cause changes in one’s developing brain and increase the chance of developing an addiction.
Using drugs can have significant and damaging consequences. Some drugs can be particularly risky, especially if taken in high doses or combined with other substances. Here are some examples:
- Methamphetamine, opiates and cocaine are highly addictive and have many short and long-term effects, including psychotic behaviour, seizures or death due to overdose. Opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing which is why there are so many opioid related overdoses. Taking these drugs with alcohol increases this risk.
- GHB and flunitrazepam, also known as ‘date rape drugs’ cause sedation, confusion, memory loss and impair one’s ability to resist unwanted contact. At high doses, they can cause seizures, coma and death. The danger increases when taken with alcohol.
- MDMA, also known as molly or ecstasy, interferes with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Sudden and severe increases in body temperature can lead to dehydration, liver, kidney or heart failure, seizures and death.
- Liquid, pill and powder forms of drugs are often cut with unknown substances, including illegally manufactured or pharmaceutical drugs like fentanyl.
- Inhalants are extremely toxic substances that can cause brain damage or death, even after a single use.
Life Changing Complications
Drug abuse can cause a number of problems, including:
Health: Drug addiction leads to a range of short and long-term mental and physical health problems.
Accidents: People who use drugs are more likely to drive or do other activities while under the influence.
Suicide: Addicts have higher rates of suicide than people who don’t use.
Relationships: Addiction leads to relationship issues and conflict.
Work: Drug use often causes issues with work performance, absenteeism and can lead to job loss.
Legal: Legal problems are common for drug users as a result of risky behaviours, possessing illegal substances, stealing, driving while under the influence or custody disputes.
Financial: Drug use is expensive and can lead to debt.
Recognising addiction in a loved one or someone you know is important in being able to help them. Here are some common signs someone is using drugs:
- School or work: disinterest in school activities or work, a drop in grades or work performance, absenteeism
- Physical: lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, constricted or dilated pupils
- Appearance: hygiene issues, lack of interest in clothing and grooming
- Changes in behaviour: new friends, not engaging in activities, secrecy, lying, mood swings and irritability
- Money issues: requests for money, money is missing or has been stolen or that items have disappeared from your home, indicating maybe they’re being sold to support drug use
Treatment for Drug Addiction
Depending on the amount of drugs being used, the team may want to provide medical supervision while they discontinue or taper the drug from your system. Withdrawal symptoms can be monitored and managed with counselling and other services.
Inpatient treatment will provide you with a safe and supportive space to recover. Participating in various therapeutic sessions and activities will provide you the opportunity to learn skills to maintain sobriety. Identifying and addressing underlying mental health issues is important as well as co-occurring disorders are often present in people struggling with addiction. Length of stay varies but committing to at least a month is recommended. When you leave treatment you will be equipped with a robust aftercare plan so you will have ongoing support.
Types of Effective Therapies for Drug Addiction
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches people to find connections between their thoughts, feelings and actions and increase awareness around how these things impact recovery.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches skills that are effective in helping people to stop using, including distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) helps people take responsibility for themselves and their actions while envisioning a future free of substance abuse.
Family therapy helps to improve relationships by addressing marital and financial problems and conflict between children and parents.
Group therapy helps to put your own problems in perspective by talking and listening to others. It provides an important sense of belonging and community while holding members accountable.
12-Step groups like AA and NA provide members with a strong community of peers that helps in maintaining long-term recovery.
If you or someone you love are dealing with a drug addiction, get in touch with The Hills in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They offer detox and inpatient treatment to address your issues and help put you on the path to recovery by providing you with the skills and tools you need. To learn more about the program and why going to amazing Thailand for treatment can be more successful than staying near home, give the team a call today.