What Constitutes a Drug Addiction?

Addiction is surrounded by misconceptions. Too often it is pigeonholed into being a medical disease, a genetic inevitability, or the result of weak willpower. Sometimes people are able to recover on their own but, more often than not, all the good intentions and strong will in the world prove futile against addiction. The truth is, addiction is an extremely complex condition and each case is different and dependent on the individual. What we do know, however, is what can cause addiction and how a dependency on drugs can be identified.

Simply put, addiction can be physical or mental. In most cases, the causes of addiction are multifaceted and a combination of the two.


Physical Addiction

Physical addiction is caused when a drug changes the chemical processes in the brain. Drugs such as heroin and cocaine have more extreme chemical effects, meaning they are all the more addictive. Regular drug use means the brain will physically adapt in reaction to these changes to restore a physical balance. This can mean a user’s tolerance will increase; they will begin to feel the effects of a drug less and less. They will also experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug, including shivering, sweating, aching, nausea and insomnia. This is the body craving the drug as it now depends on the drug in order to feel stable.

Mental Addiction

An individual can be mentally addicted to (pretty much) anything. Gambling and sex, for example, do not cause serious physical changes which the brain comes to depend on, but people become addicted to them just as often because of the way it makes them feel. Using drugs usually results in a pleasurable feeling, of euphoria, vividness or numbness, for example.

They are sometimes used as an escape from unwanted feelings by those with personality disorders such as depression or anxiety, or those suffering with emotional pain or personal issues. Usually, however, users can feel a lot worse than they previously did after experiencing the ‘high.’ Users will feel inclined to use the drug more and more, and even come to depend on it to merely feel normal again or experience any kind of enjoyment.

When it’s not fun anymore…

It is hard to know when someone simply enjoys using a drug recreationally or if they are suffering from an addiction. As addiction can develop gradually, many addicts are in denial and still insist that their use is merely recreational and they can stop at any moment. There is a fine line between recreational drug use and addiction; here are some of the warning signs to look out for:

Obsession: An addict becomes obsessed with obtaining and using the drug as they are overwhelmed by physical and mental cravings. Their concentration may begin to suffer as they are constantly thinking about the next time they are going to use.

Neglecting responsibilities: As obsession with drugs takes over the user’s thoughts, work or school performance might suffer considerably. Drugs will become more important than work, home, family and relationship responsibilities and to an addict and they might start to neglect seemingly small things such as their appearance. They might no longer continue with hobbies and interests they used to as they find it difficult to enjoy anything unless the drug is involved.

Health effects: Frequent drug use can start to affect a person’s health considerably. They might experience withdrawal symptoms on top of weight loss, memory loss and disorientation, congested lungs, nausea and tremors caused by the drug itself. An individual with an addiction will experience these more severe effects and yet continue to use.

Getting into trouble:  Addiction can cause a person’s whole life to collapse before their eyes. They might lose their job, friends and family. They can get into serious financial trouble by neglecting responsibilities and finding money to fund their habit. They might have had to face legal consequences of being caught with illicit drugs or stealing to buy more. It is obvious that if someone continues to use drugs after having faced damaging results such as these, that their use is no longer merely recreational.

Apart from what is mentioned above, addiction can destroy lives and lead to death. If you suspect you or someone you know might be suffering from a drug addiction, it is important to seek help and treatment as soon as possible. It is obviously an extremely complex condition that requires intensive therapy and a professional outlook to ensure the best chance of recovery.

This is a guest post provided by Stanley Martinson.  Stanley is interested in all things related to health, but is particularly concerned with issues of drug abuse and dependency.  For more information, click here.

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This post was written by contributing author at Hive Health Media. If you would like to write for us about health, fitness, or blogging topics, click here.

One thought on “What Constitutes a Drug Addiction?

  • March 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Great post. I completely believe in mental addiction, although some don’t. The fact is it is all to do with the dopamine, and some other neurotransmitters in the brain. So whether is is cocaine, sugar, or gaming that increases that dopamine in the end it has the same effect. I guess physical addictions also come with physical withdrawals which is why many people can’t fathom the mental side.


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