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What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction becomes a behavior that is characterized by drug seeking and compulsive actions that become difficult to control despite the consequences of the actions. Choosing to misuse prescription drugs, take illicit drugs, or abuse alcohol is a voluntary choice. However, the repeated actions of using drugs or alcohol become a compulsive behavior. Regular use of drugs and alcohol creates physical and psychological addiction. Drugs and alcohol affect the brain and every part of the body, and most drug users develop a physical dependence on the drug they are abusing. The effects of the drug create feel-good feelings, such as euphoria, dissociation, and other unique feelings of being detached from your body. These effects become habit-forming and drug users abuse drugs to recreate the same effects as if they were using drugs for the first time.

Most drugs affect the brain’s reward system flooding it with dopamine and those feel-good feelings. The reward system of the brain motivates the person to continue feeling this way. Most drugs will replace the minds naturally occurring hormones, and the drug user becomes dependent on the drugs they are using. The brain adapts to the reduction of naturally occurring chemicals and hormones and eventually develops a tolerance to the effects of the drugs. Tolerance requires the drug user to increase the amount of the drug being used to meet the growing need of the brain. Eventually, the brain’s adaptation to the drugs leads to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things. Physical and psychological addiction develops, requiring the drug user to continue using despite the consequences.

Long-term drug use causes chemical changes in the brain, which can be reversed when the drug user enters drug treatment. The affected functions of the brain include learning, judgment, decision-making, stress, memory, and behavior. Drugs and alcohol consume drug users emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Some drugs are more powerful than others, such as methamphetamine, heroin, or pain medication. Stimulant drugs are powerfully addictive because of the response it creates within the body. Opioids cause intense physical addictions that become so severe the withdrawal pain forces drug users to continue using the drug. Most addicts make multiple attempts to stop using; however, a relapse often happens quickly, and the drug-using behavior becomes worse after a relapse. When an addict relapses, there are strong feelings of guilt and shame causing the drug user to consume more of his or her drug of choice. Drug and alcohol treatment is the only successful way for an addict to overcome their drug addiction.

Addiction impacts everyone differently, and the reasons why someone became addicted to drugs or alcohol is unique to the individual. Because of this, it is important to find the right treatment, and this is not always easy to accomplish. When working with a professional interventionist, part of the process is locating a suitable treatment program. Intervention specialists know of countless different programs because they work with so many. Also, an addiction assessment is a good place to begin because the assessment process narrows down the treatment option. The assessment would also determine the extent of addiction and gear the treatment options to what the addict needs. Addiction assessments could be done over the phone or in-person, and they are beneficial to the addict and family.

The first step in treating addiction is always detox, and this is crucial in managing withdrawal symptoms and cravings. There are standard detoxification options—typically, the severity of addiction and accompanying withdrawal symptoms determines what method of detox is required. For example, any addiction involving opioids, prescription drugs, and alcohol would require a medically supervised detox or withdrawal management. The process of withdrawal management involves using medication to control withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Conventional or traditional detox programs are common, and usually part of inpatient or outpatient drug rehab centers. Detox should not be considered the only treatment approach because it will not provide adequate counseling and therapy.

The next phase of rehabilitation involves attending an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment center. The severity and extent of addiction would determine what type and method of treatment are required. Outpatient drug rehabilitation programs of drug addiction are effective, but usually for people with a short history of addiction and who also have family support. Outpatient centers benefit clients that are still working because they are traveling to treatment daily. Residential drug rehabilitation in the United States is either long-term or short-term. Long-term drug rehab usually lasts three to six months or more, but this varies depending on the facility. Long-term options are excellent for addicts with an extensive history of addiction and those that struggle with chronic relapse.

Short-term drug rehabilitation centers provide rehabilitation for three to six weeks, which is brief but treats most forms of addiction. Getting someone convinced they need treatment is not always easy, and in most situations, it requires professional intervention. Family intervention works, and a professional interventionist is qualified to work with the family and help the addict get to the treatment center. Substance abuse is a devastating problem that affects millions of Americans annually. According to an Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes, during 2016, an estimated 48,501,000 persons, or 18% of those aged 12 and older, reported use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs in the past year. Illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and methamphetamine. Prescription drugs include psychotherapeutics, such as pain medication, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers.


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