Drug Abuse And Addiction

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Drug abuse occurs when a person feels the need to use a drug repeatedly for various reasons. Drug addiction is said to be present when a person continues to abuse a drug after serious problems related to the drug use have occurred.

What is going on in the body?

Drug abuse is a widespread problem that affects people from all socioeconomic levels. The symptoms of abuse and addiction differ slightly based upon the drug being taken. Drug abuse and addiction cause many health-related and social problems.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The exact reason why some people abuse and become addicted to drugs is not known. There appears to be a complex relationship between biological and environmental factors that leads to abuse and addiction.

A drug overdose or drug abuse can result from the misuse of prescriptionor over-the-counter medicines, illegal drugs, or alcohol. Commonly abused drugs are:

  • amphetamines, such as dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine
  • barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
  • benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, alprazolam, or lorazepam
  • combination pain medicinesthat contain narcotics, such as hydrocodone, codeine, or oxycodone
  • mind-altering drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, PCP, ecstasy, and angeldust
  • muscle relaxants, such as carisoprodol
  • stimulants, such as cocaine

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

Several of the following symptoms or signs occur when a person is addicted to a drug. The person may:

  • be unable to cut down on drug use when he or she wants to
  • continue to use the drug despite the problems it causes
  • develop tolerance for the drug, so that increased amounts are needed to get the same effect
  • find that the drug causes problems in life, such as getting in trouble with the law
  • have cravings or grow irritable when the drug cannot be used
  • skip some important activities because of the drug
  • spend a large amount of time getting, using, or getting over the drug
  • use the drug more often or more heavily than intended

Physical symptoms vary depending on the drug being abused and the extent of the drug use. The health risks of tobacco, for example, are different than the health risks of drugs such as alcohol or cocaine.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the condition diagnosed?

The condition is diagnosed by asking the person about drug use. If several of the symptoms or signs mentioned above are present, the person is said to be abusing drugs and may become or may already be addicted to drugs.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the condition?

The best prevention available now is education. If a person has any symptoms of drug abuse, it is a good idea to seek help. The earlier the treatment, the better the results.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Problems associated with drug addiction vary widely among different people. Long-term use may result in changes in brain function that last long after the person stops using drugs. Tobacco dependence is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Alcohol is not far behind. People with drug dependence can have financial, social, legal, and other personal problems. These may last long after they stop using the drug. Death is fairly common in those with drug dependence due to harmful effects of the drug on the body.

What are the risks to others?

Drug abuse is not contagious and poses no risk to others.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment partly depends on the drug that is used and the personality of the affected person. Treatment is complex. Often it must address the addiction as well as the person’s mental and physical health and any work or social problems that occur. Effective treatment may include behavioral therapy, medicines, or some combination of these.

Behavioral therapy helps people:

  • cope with craving
  • avoid contact with drugs
  • prevent or cope with relapse

The best drug abuse programs will provide a combination of therapies and services. Successful treatment recognizes or responds to certain important issues.

  • No single treatment will work for all people.
  • Treatment must be readily available for a long enough period of time.
  • Effective treatment meets the multiple needs of the person, not just the drug abuse problem.
  • A plan must repeatedly be assessed and changed to meet changing needs.
  • Counseling and behavioral therapies should be included in the treatment plan.
  • Medicines may be needed along with counseling.
  • Mental illness and drug abuse must be treated at the same time.
  • Medical detoxification will only work as the first stage of a long-term treatment plan.
  • Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Possible ongoing substance abuse must be monitored.
  • Treatment programs need to detect and treat any infectious diseases and teach people to avoid spreading disease.
  • Recovery can take a long time, and treatment may be needed several times.
What are the side effects of the treatments?

Drug abuse is a chronic problem. There may need to be several kinds and numbers of therapies. The greatest side effect of treatment is the tendency to relapse back into drug abuse and addiction.

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Monitoring and therapy are needed at least until a person can function fully and long-term abstinence, or avoidance of drug use, has been achieved. Self-help programs are often helpful in keeping a person sober or “clean.”

How is the condition monitored?

Monitoring may include the use of drug tests. These can be urine, saliva, or blood tests. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

Article type: xmedgeneral