In Part II of our article on the various types of addiction, we’ll move away from alcohol addiction to cover specific street drug addiction types, and the newer phenomenon of painkiller pill addiction. This article was written in an effort to help non-professionals recognize the telltale signs of addiction, and be on the lookout for them when they observe a drastic change in behavior of a loved one. Drug addiction is devastating for the addict, and also for the family and the professional connections of the addict. When the life of a person is at stake, it is worth paying attention to this scourge, and knowing what you are dealing with.
Street Drug Addiction: Not the Same as Alcohol Addiction
While alcoholism is often lumped in with street drug addiction, the two addictions are very different. Alcohol is much more prevalent in society than street drugs, giving more people a potential gateway into addiction. In the U.S. as in most countries, people have to go out of their way to get drugs, albeit dispensaries now provide recreational marijuana in many States. But alcohol is served freely at weddings and corporate functions, which means it is much easier for anyone to fall into an addiction they didn’t even know they had. This is a phenomenon interventionists and substance abuse counselors are very aware of.
This isn’t to say that alcoholism is worse than street drug addiction or vice versa. Just as alcoholism is dangerous and tears families apart, drug addiction will destroy a person and those around him or her. Furthermore, since there are so many different types of drugs, people can feel okay after taking one type of drug, only to unwittingly become addicted to another drug after just one use. That last point is key – people can literally become drug addicts without even knowing it. Case in point: the opioid crisis and its replacement drug of choice: heroin. But also designer drugs and Fentanyl. Or the availability of marijuana laced with Fentanyl.
Lastly, people can’t take drugs in public, which make it more difficult to spot a drug problem than it is to figure out someone has a drinking problem.
How Can a Drug Addiction Start?
While alcohol is just one substance that perpetuates addiction in one way, different drugs function in different ways and lead to addiction for a multiplicity of reasons. Drugs such as cocaine and heroin give users such a euphoric feeling at first; users then chase that initial high, which eventually leads them to addiction. Prescription drug such as opioids begin simply as a doctor-approved way to relieve pain, but often become a problem on their own as users consume an increasing quantity of pills.
As an outside observer, you have much more to worry about this type of addiction than whether someone is drinking too much at happy hour. Detecting a medical or street drug addiction involves watching the behavior of the person, and how they handle themselves in different types of situations. When you know someone is using, you have to be aware of how much and how frequently they’re using. It’s a heavy responsibility, but if you become educated in the various types of drug addiction, you’ll know exactly what to look for.
Prescription Drug Addiction
It wasn’t so long ago that the drugs to worry about were the ones that were bought on the street, such as cocaine, heroin, crack and meth. Those days are gone however, and today, prescription drugs are not only the most prevalent drugs on the market, but also the most dangerous substances available. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 1 in 5 Americans has used prescription drugs for reasons other than their prescribed purpose.
Prescription drugs are particularly vicious because they are issued to help patients. People who are prescribed painkillers have legitimate medical conditions that must be treated; however, these pills can become just as addictive as any street drug. Patients that take more pills than prescribed are at risk of becoming addicted, just as well as those who simply like the way painkillers treat their symptoms and don’t want to stop taking them.
Prescription drugs are usually taken in a private setting, but there are still ways you can catch someone who may be an addict. One telltale sign is the person visits multiple doctors in order to get multiple prescriptions for a painkiller. The person will also redeem the prescriptions at various pharmacies in order to avoid being caught. If you know someone isn’t going to their usual doctor to get their prescription, it could be a sign that they are developing an addiction to prescription medication.
People addicted to prescription drugs also go through behavioral changes. Painkillers relax those who take them, and people who abuse these medications are often lethargic, confused and depressed. They may also be subject to mood swings. Look for these signs in anyone you think may have a problem, and take action.
Unlike prescription medications and alcohol, cocaine isn’t easily accessible, nor is it a widely acceptable substance to consume. Still, it is a powerful drug that causes a nearly immediate addiction from which recovery is very difficult.
In a similar way to how the effects of prescription drugs work, cocaine wreaks havoc on the user’s brain. As one uses cocaine, their brain produces more dopamine, which gives the body pleasure. Eventually, the high is over, and the user enters a phase of depression. As these depressive episodes increase in length and frequency, cocaine addicts consume more and more of the drug to avoid this “coming down” effect.
They also use more cocaine in an attempt to recapture the initial high they felt the first time they took cocaine. That initial high is impossible to replicate, however, as the production of dopamine by the brain is warped by repeated cocaine use.
Cocaine hit its peak in the United States during the 1980s, during which time it was seen as a glamorous drug. That image took a temporary hit as many celebrities died from cocaine overdoses, but it has made a comeback in American society in recent years. Be alert to the signs of cocaine addiction: a lack of sleep, runny noses, bloodshot eyes, the inability to smell, and nausea. Also, look for direct signs of cocaine usage: sniffling, white residue on surfaces such as mirrors, rolled-up dollar bills or straws in the environment of the person you suspect of using cocaine.
Heroin is a powerful opiate. It is often considered as the drug for which recovery from addiction is the hardest. Like cocaine, heroin is widely seen as a harmful and dangerous drug, yet it remains popular among young people and those who have developed debilitating addictions. Furthermore, it has become the substitute drug of choice for people addicted to painkillers.
Most people associate heroin with intravenous injection, but that is not the only way heroin can be consumed. Addicts can also smoke and sniff heroin. Needle marks (“tracks”) are not the only indication that someone is using. These other modes of consumption enable people to keep their street drug addiction a secret.
Heroin operates similarly to cocaine in that it targets the brain and tricks users into thinking they need more in order to achieve an effect similar to the original high. Over time, the receptors in the brain become dulled, and the brain can no longer send the same signals of happiness. Addicts without access to heroin for prolonged periods of time become “dope sick”, during which time they are virtually unable to function. Their brain receptors are so frayed that they can no longer produce positive vibes of their own: as a result their addiction to the drug deepens even further.
Fortunately, heroin addicts do show signs of their addiction; even if someone isn’t injecting intravenously, you can still observe telltale signs of addiction. for instance, a heroin user will alternate between a lethargic mood and being awake shortly after using heroin. Heroin addicts often pass out in front of other people, in regular social situations where no one would expect that type of behavior. Other signs of heroin addiction include needle marks on arms and feet; disappearance for days at a time from work or other obligations; an extremely gaunt and pale appearance; frequent nausea; itchiness and dark circles under the eyes, etc…
The cravings felt by heroin users are extremely strong, and attempts at quitting heroin cold turkey often fail. Rehabilitation centers use methadone, a synthetic opiate that helps to assuage the user’s cravings for heroin and other drugs. Even when rehabilitation is complete, the recovering addict is not in the clear; cravings can pop up years later totally out of the blue. If one is not careful, a potentially fatal relapse can occur.
Methamphetamines, also called meth, are commonly compared to cocaine because they are often ingested via snorting and have a similar effect on the brain. However, the two are very different, both in terms of the feelings the drug produces and the long-lasting effects of long-term use.
While cocaine manipulates the brain to prevent surges of dopamine from cycling back down, meth actually creates more dopamine. This excessive rush of dopamine creates a euphoric feeling, which is why meth is commonly considered to be a “party” or “rave” drug. On the other hand, the dopamine surge is what creates addiction for meth users, and addicts abuse this physiological effect until they are no longer able to experience happiness on their own.
That last part is what makes recovery from meth addiction so difficult. Relapse is common among meth addicts, not because they suffer from physical withdrawal, but because they are so mentally changed that they cannot function as they did before taking meth. While recovering heroin addicts are given methadone to manage their cravings, meth addicts have no such substitute drug and must recover with only the help of licensed professionals and sheer willpower.
As difficult as recovery will be for meth users, it is imperative for them to stop using as the long-term impact of meth is perhaps worse than any other drug. The brain takes a beating as a result of continued methamphetamine use, and brain damage is a real possibility. Addicts don’t like to hear about the potential for brain damage; they already feel bad enough about their addiction, and telling them this truth may send them even deeper into addiction. Instead, meth addicts should be shown that a full recovery is possible through rehab.
Helping someone addicted to meth requires a large dose of patience and a solid understanding of the addict’s predicament. Many meth addicts refuse help because they are convinced they won’t be able to stop. They also may be in denial about their problem. It’s up to you to pick up on the signs and get them to understand that they need help. If this is above your level of comfort, a solution consists in calling a professional interventionist.
Common signs of meth addiction include hallucinations, withdrawal from society and the neglect of responsibilities and family members, including children. You may also be able to pick up on physical signs, such as rotting teeth, overheating and the inability to sleep (or, if the user is in a state of withdrawal, the inability to stay awake).
Treatment is possible
Many different drugs can be used and abused, but there are two constants. First, all forms of street drug addiction can be treated. Second, any sort of prolonged drug or alcohol use will result in signs that can alert you to a potential problem. Since no user is going to discuss an addiction problem with anyone, it falls on you to step in.
If you notice a friend or a family member is acting erratically, or displaying atypical physical signs, it could be a sign that they are battling addiction. By noticing, you are showing that person that you care about them, and you are alerting them to a problem they may not even know they have.
Doing this will not only help users to beat their addictions, but it can also end up saving their life. Treatment is possible. Hope can be raised again, and success can be at hand within a few short months. This is worth fighting for. If you feel overwhelmed by the situation, that’s normal. This is why professional interventionists and substance abuse counselors exist. The earlier you contact them, the more likely you are to save a life.
Contact Newman Interventions for assistance with a family intervention, and selecting a alcohol or street drug addiction recovery program.