ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Are you ready to quit using drugs for good? It can help to know that substance use can cause functional changes in the brain. How can you break through the habit? This article provides background and tips.
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 10-15 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Is Drug Addiction Normal?
- Why Addiction Happens
- Main Signs
- What the Experts Say
- How to Quit
- Where to Get Help
- Your Questions
Is Drug Addiction Normal?
Yes, and no.
Most of us don’t understand the exact brain science behind addiction. At the moment, experts at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggest that addiction occurs as the result of environmental and genetic factors. But it is also centered in the brain. In fact, addiction is defined by NIDA as:
“…a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the structure of the brain and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.
Still, drug addiction is a very common problem among people in the U.S. Did you know that more than 22 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs? If not, check out the results of the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health that report over 22 million Americans could be diagnosed with addiction in 2016! Moreover, the World health Organization (WHO) found that roughly 5.4 percent of the population worldwide deals with substance use disorder.
Addiction is divided into two main categories of alcohol and drug use:
- 15.1 million people aged 12+ had an alcohol use disorder in 2016.
- 7.4 million people aged 12+ had an illicit drug use disorder in 2016.
Who are these people?
It is mistakenly believed that only selected individuals can get addicted to drugs, but the truth is, addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, nationality or social status. Scientists who explored drug abuse found that a lot of factors are involved in the formation of addiction. Therefore, what makes you more likely to become addicted to drugs is:
- A family history of drug abuse
- Starting drugs at a young age
- The presence of mental health problems that you’re self-medicating
- Hanging around others who support drug abuse.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you suspect that you have a drug problem… you probably do and should seek professional help to manage it.
Why Addiction Happens
There are many reasons why people reach for drugs. Some of these reasons include:
- Physical pain
- Social anxiety
- Peer pressure
Regardless of the initial reason, anyone who uses a psychoactive drug can become addicted to it. And while drug use may start as voluntary, many mechanisms occur in the body to make it difficult to stop.
Recently, brain imaging studies of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to:
- Behavior control
- Learning and memory
Many drugs literally change the way that we think!
Additionally, two predictable brain adaptations make it difficult to quit a drug for good. These conditions are called “drug dependence” and “drug tolerance.” The basic idea is that the central nervous system must make changes in order to counterbalance the chemical effects of drugs. These changes occur relatively quickly, so that by the time people even realize what’s happening to their brain and body, they’ve already become addicted.
Expected brain changes that occur as the result of drug use include:
2. Physical dependence. This brain adaptation occurs after a substance has been in the body for an extended period of time. The body’s normal functioning works around the drug by producing opposite effects. If you’re taking a stimulant, the body will produce depressant effects to be able to operate. If you’re using a sedative or depressant, the body will speed up certain processes.
The problem with dependence is that it takes time for the brain to return to normal when you quit using a drug. When a person who is drug dependent stops taking drugs, s/he will experience withdrawal symptoms, or go through detox. Often, people continue using a drug just to avoid the withdrawal. While withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, it takes days to weeks to sort out.
1. Tolerance. This condition is the result of frequent use and/or abuse and manifests as a dulling effect of a drug over time. People who become drug tolerance need more drugs more often to achieve the same effect as when they first started using. Tolerance only intensifies addiction, as people use higher and higher doses, increasing risk of overdose or death
People facing a drug problem can find it difficult to stop using by themselves. This is because drugs change the brain chemistry and alter processes responsible for reasoning, judgment and behavior. But drug addiction can’t go unnoticed. Compulsive use leaves visible traces.
Here are some signs that might indicate the presence of a drug addiction problem:
- Acting nervously and expressing anger while communicating with others.
- Experiencing problems at work (low levels of productivity and performance).
- Eating issues, including irregular meals or eating disorders.
- Frequent mood swings (rapidly becoming tired, sad or extremely energetic).
- Isolation and a need for spending time alone.
- Lack of personal hygiene or sudden changes in physical appearance.
- Lost interest in hobbies and other daily activities.
- Sleeping disorders.
We can narrow these down to three main signs:
- Continued drug use despite negative life consequences.
- Loss of control of drug use.
- Drug cravings and compulsion to take drugs.
What the Experts Say
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says:
“Many Americans today do not yet understand why people become addicted to drugs or how remarkable scientific advances are literally redefining the arena of addiction. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of addiction, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem. We now know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease.”
Amanda Andruzzi, a certified health coach talks about the impact of drug addiction in families. She says:
“An addict may not intend on hurting family. But in order to keep getting high they have no choice. Their internal struggle soon gets diluted in their high and, in time, hurting their family just becomes part of the process of getting what they need; drugs”.
If you want to get more information on the addiction, check out these excellent websites:
- The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Website at www.niaaa.nih.gov or call 301-443-3860.
- The National Institute on Mental Health. Website at nimh.nih.gov or call 301-443-4513.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s Store has a wide range of products, including manuals, brochures, videos, and other publications. Website at store.samhsa.gov or call 800-487-4889.
How to Quit
STEP #1 Decide to make a change.
As they say,
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are”.
For those who are struggling with addiction, making a decision towards change is one of the toughest steps toward recovery. This is because the change is always associated with leaving old habits and attitudes behind. Making change means putting work and effort into yourself, which most of us perceive as “jumping into the unknown”.
But you know what?
It’s completely normal to feel uncertain about whether you have what it takes to quit. How will you know if you’re capable of change if you don’t try? With the help of professionals and the support from those around you, we believe that you can finally break free from the chains of your drug addiction.
Dedicating yourself to a differnt life involves changing several things such as:
- The way you deal and respond to stress.
- The people you choose to spend time with.
- The activities you do in your free time.
- The way you think and feel about yourself.
Seek help now, and the universe will meet you halfway.
STEP #2 Create a support network.
Surround yourself with loved ones who support your recovery. They will help and encourage you to succeed when treatment gets hard. Some people benefit from support group meetings. Other people can make it with the help of a religious or spiritual community. Just don’t continue to live life alone!
In case you have friends and family who continue using and/or are not supportive of you quitting, try to avoid them and focus on your goals. You can do it!
STEP #3 Consider rehab.
Drug rehab facilities help people regain their physical, mental, and emotional strength. Working with a drug addiction counselor, you can create a personalized treatment plan and get to the bottom of why drug have become your outlet. Drug rehab centers offer a variety of behavioral therapy solutions such as:
- Art classes
- Family therapy
- Group counseling
- Individual therapy
- Support group meetings
The main benefit of rehab is support in a safe environment. Sometimes, we all need a “time out”. To assess if rehab is right for you, you can always send us a comment at the bottom of the page or call our hotline number listed at the top.
STEP #4 Know your triggers well.
Your brain needs time to recover and settle down to new ways of sober-living. This process of adjustment often involves strong cravings. One way to avoid relapse or cravings is to avoid people, places, and situations that trigger your urge to use.
According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) the following situations and emotional states might cause relapse:
- Negative emotional states such as anger, sadness, trauma or stress.
- Physical discomfort such as withdrawal symptoms or physical pain.
- Positive emotional states that are euphoric.
- Testing personal control or saying to yourself, “I can have just one drink.”
- Strong temptations or urges that are physical.
- Conflict with others such as an argument with a spouse or partner.
- Social pressures to use or situations where it seems as though everyone else is drinking or using other drugs.
- Good times with others such as having fun with friends or family.
Where to Get Help
When considering a drug-free life…where do you go? You can always ask for help from the following professionals:
- A medical doctor specialist (NIAAA Tips)
- A psychiatrist (APA find a psychiatrist)
- An addiction counselor
- Inpatient and/or outpatient treatment program
- Licensed clinical psychologist
- Licensed clincial social worker
- Your family physician
Still have questions about getting rid of drugs one and for all? Please ask us in the comments section below. If you have any questions, concerns or comments we will try to respond to you personally and promptly.