It is true that not everyone who uses drugs will go on to develop a drug addiction, but there are many whose lives end up crippled by their obsession for substances such as heroin, cocaine, and even prescription medication. So where does drug addiction start? Why do some individuals end up in real trouble while others are able to use illegal drugs recreationally with seemingly no (perceived) issues?
How Does Drug Addiction Begin?
It is important to note that drug addiction does not begin overnight. There are some people who will get hooked after just one use but for most, it occurs gradually. There are various stages of addiction that happen before the person has lost all control over his or her ability to cut back or quit on their use. Below are the stages of addiction:
- Experimentation – The first stage is experimentation, and this is where the individual chooses to use mood-altering drugs. There are some people who convince themselves that they are going to try a drug just to see what the fuss is all about, and many can do this and never use again. However, experimentation with illegal substances is often a gateway to additional use, which can subsequently lead to patterns of abuse.
- Regular or Social Use – Continuing to use mood-altering substances for social reasons may not cause immediate harm but it can lead to an increased tolerance and a physical dependence. When an increased tolerance occurs, the individual will no longer experience the same effects as before, and many will then be tempted to increase the amount of drugs they are taking in order to chase those longed-for feelings.
- Risky or Problem Use – Problem use begins when the person starts to be negatively affected by their use of a particular substance. If the individual’s use of a substance is causing harm to their health or their social functioning, it is considered problem use. At this point, the user may be bingeing on drugs every weekend but is not yet physically dependent on them. Nevertheless, their use of the drugs could still be causing harm.
- Physical Dependence or Addiction – Continued abuse of mood-altering drugs can lead to addiction in many people. The longer they abuse drugs, the more likely it is that they will become physically dependent upon them. Addiction is classed as a pattern of behaviour that results in negative consequences for the affected individual. When the person is unable to stop taking drugs or even cut back despite knowing that taking these drugs will cause harm, he or she is said to be addicted. Addiction can be either physical or psychological in nature. A physical addiction will result in various symptoms when the person is in need of the drug. These can include nausea, vomiting, headaches, and shaking. Psychological symptoms include irritability, agitation, and severe mood swings.
Do You Have a Drug Addiction?
Many people affected by any type of addiction, including drug addiction, are reluctant to admit the truth. This is particularly so for those who have developed a physical dependence on prescription medication.
Prescription drug addiction is a problem for many individuals and it is something that appears to be getting worse. Many people do not understand the dangers of strong painkillers and sedative drugs that are only available on prescription. It is common for individuals to take medication that was prescribed by a doctor for another person, simply because of a belief that they have a similar condition.
Prescription medication must be prescribed by a medical professional because it can be highly addictive and dangerous if abused. Doctors will usually prescribe such medication for those who are suffering with chronic pain or conditions that are not responding to over-the-counter medication. Nevertheless, it should be noted that these types of drugs should only be used on a temporary basis. Abuse of these substances can lead to a physical dependence and addiction. Even those who use them exactly as prescribed run the risk of addiction if they continue to take them over an extended period.
It is difficult for many to come to terms with the fact that they may have an addiction, regardless of what substance they are using. This is because these people will have an idea of what an addict looks and acts like. If they themselves do not fit the profile of the stereotypical addict then they will find it hard to accept the truth.
In many cases, it is family members and friends who are the first to notice that something is not right with a loved one. They may be aware that the individual is taking prescription medication or have an idea that he or she is using illegal drugs; they will be the first to spot the signs and symptoms of addiction. The affected individual may be reluctant to admit what is staring him or her in the face.
Does this situation sound familiar to you? Have your loved ones been raising concerns about your behaviour and substance use? If so, it may be time to face the possibility that you could have an addiction. Ask yourself the following questions?
- Do you regularly take illegal substances?
- Do you take prescription medication that was prescribed for another person?
- Have you begun taking more prescription medication than your doctor advised?
- Do you take your medication to change the way you feel?
- Have you experienced anxiety or irritability when coming to the end of your prescription?
- Have you changed doctor in order to get more pills?
- Do you take unnecessary risks while high?
- Do you do things while under the influence of drugs that you would not normally do?
- Do you neglect spending time with loved ones or taking part in activities that you once enjoyed in favour of taking drugs?
- Do you lie to loved ones about your substance use?
- Do you need more drugs or pills to achieve the desired effect?
- Do you tell yourself that you can quit drugs anytime but find that you keep taking them?
If you have answered yes to most of the above questions, you are in need of help as soon as possible. It is likely that you are dependent on drugs; without professional help, you may notice your life quickly spiralling out of control.
Even if you believe that you are fine because you are still working and still getting on with your life, you may still require help. Many people convince themselves that they do not have a drug problem because they are not using a specific type of substance. If these individuals are not at the point where they are injecting heroin down a dark alley, they surely cannot be an addict. This is not the case. The reality is that it does not matter what type of substance you are using; if you have no control over your use, then you more than likely need help.
Why Do Some People Develop Addiction While Others Do Not?
There are many misconceptions surrounding the illness of addiction. The first is that it is not an illness at all but rather a consequence of bad behaviour or a lack of willpower. This is categorically not true; addiction is a chronic illness of the brain.
The second is that addiction only affects individuals from a specific background. Again, this is not true; addiction can happen to anyone. It does not matter how much money one has, where he or she lives, or how old he/she is. Even those who have the world at their feet or appear to have everything they could possibly need from life can be affected by addiction. Anyone who uses mood-altering substances can develop a deadly addiction. But not everyone who uses these substances will develop a physical or psychological dependence; why is that?
It is impossible to pinpoint a single reason; however, there are some risk factors that could increase a person’s risk. These can include:
- Family History/Genetics – A family history of addiction can increase a person’s risk for addiction. As well as having a number of genes that will increase the risk, living with an addicted parent can cause children to see substance abuse as normal. Many will learn that when life is difficult, it can be relieved with mood-altering substances. This behaviour is often replicated in the child when he or she gets older.
- Environment – The experiences a person has growing up and the place where he or she lives can affect the risk for addiction. Things like peer pressure, relationships with others and quality of life can all affect an individual’s risk. In addition, a relaxed attitude to substance abuse by parents can mean that young people are more likely to experiment with mood-altering substances.
- Mental Health – Having mental health problems can result in substance abuse and addiction. Many people who suffer with conditions such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders, chronic depression, and PTSD will self-medicate with chemical substances.
- Traumatic Experiences – Self-medicating with drugs is also something that those who have suffered traumatic experiences will do. Since drugs such as cocaine and heroin can help users to feel happy and block out painful memories, the temptation to use can be quite strong, particularly in those who are finding life difficult. Traumatic experiences range from the loss of a loved one to being abused to witnessing combat. The more traumatic the experiences a person has suffered, the more likely he or she is to be affected by addiction.
- Early Exposure – The younger a person is when he or she experiments with drugs, the higher the risk for addiction in later life. The majority of drug addicts began taking drugs when they were in their teens.
The Importance of Recovery
Those who continue to abuse drugs without getting help are likely to find that their life spirals out of control. It is difficult to beat addiction alone, and failure to seek help will mean a deterioration of life as they know it.
Admitting the truth can be hard, but as soon as the individual is in a position to do this, he or she will be on the right path. The road to recovery is long and can be difficult, but it is also very rewarding. Those with an ardent desire to get better have every chance of a full recovery.
The benefits of recovery are many. Those who want to overcome their addiction will be able to do so with help from fully qualified professionals who will do everything in their power to make it happen. There is so much to look forward to in a life of sobriety.
If you are ready to get better, you can look forward to a new and healthy life with your loved ones. Recovery is about building a better life for yourself and learning how to enjoy it. You can look forward to rebuilding relationships with loved ones as well as making new loving relationships with others. You will develop strong ties with an entire new community and may even make some lifelong friends along the way.
Recovery is also about healing; the first thing that begins to heal is your health and your body. As soon as you give up the drugs that have been destroying various parts of your life, your body will begin healing itself. Your brain will also start to heal over time and you can look forward to being able to make good choices once more. The longer you are sober, the more your cravings will subside and you will find that your every waking thoughts are no longer occupied with thoughts of your next fix.
It takes patience and determination to recover from a drug addiction, but it can be done. If you would like more information on the recovery process and how you can get started, speak to one of our advisors now. We can help you on the path to recovery and a new exciting life where drugs are no longer a feature. Call today for more information.