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Drug addiction recovery

— a complex illness that affects the brain

Addiction is a complex disorder

Drug addiction occurs when an individual becomes psychologically and / or physically dependent on substances, which may include illegal drugs or prescription medication.

People who suffer from addiction experience a strong compulsion to use drugs despite negative consequences, and they are unable to stop by willpower alone. Chronic drug abuse can have catastrophic effects on an individual’s mental and physical health.

The causes of addiction are complex and may include psychological, physical, genetic, social and lifestyle factors. It can cause immense distress to family and loved ones, as addicts may be in denial about their problems and be powerless over their compulsions.  Thankfully, through scientific advances we know how drugs affect the brain and it is possible to treat addiction.

The human scale of drug addiction

The "World Health Organization" estimates that around 250 million people (up to 5.7% of the population) use psychoactive substances, which may include:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana 
  • Prescription drugs 

According to the United Nations, 29 million people suffer from drug use disorders, resulting in 200,000 recorded drug-deaths annually. However, the true toll is likely to be far higher as many drugs fatalities go unrecorded due to the underlying cause of death being misreported.

Why do some of us become addicted?

No single factor can predict whether or not a particular person will become addicted. People of all ages may be affected but drug abuse can be particularly damaging in adolescence.

The risk of addiction is influenced by a person’s individual biology, genetic factors and social environment. People who are addicted to drugs may use substances as a way of masking underlying issues such as emotional distress or mental problems. However, this merely exacerbates what is, in effect, a killer disease. 

The initial decision to take drugs may be voluntary but over time repeated usage changes the brain and affects an individual’s self-control and their ability to make rational decisions. 

Drugs that can lead to addiction

Drug addiction is associated with a wide range of different substances, which include:

Cocaine

Cocaine is a potent brain stimulant and one of the most powerfully addictive drugs. It comes in two common forms: cocaine hydrochloride (a white crystalline powder) or rocks of crack cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride mixed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate). Cocaine can be ingested by snorting, smoked or dissolved in water and injected.

Short-term effects of cocaine can include: constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased body temperature, insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, irritability and anxiety.

High doses or prolonged use of cocaine can cause paranoid psychosis. Smoking crack cocaine can result in particularly aggressive paranoid behaviour. Chronic use of cocaine may lead to seizures, brain haemorrhages, heart attack and kidney failure. 

Heroin

Heroin is an opiate drug that is highly addictive. It is derived from morphine obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin is a depressant that interacts with the brain’s pleasure systems to cause feelings of euphoria. It can be ingested in a variety of ways, including smoking, injecting or snorting.  

Short-term effects of heroin include drowsiness, dry mouth, flushing of the skin, heavy extremities and diminished mental function due to depression of the central nervous system. Other effects include, slowed speech, constricted pupils, droopy eyelids, vomiting or constipation.

Chronic heroin use can result in collapsed veins, heart infection and liver disease. Pulmonary complications such as pneumonia may also result from heroin’s effect on the respiratory system. Heroin may contain additives that lead to complications, and users are at risk of fatal overdose.

Marijuana

Marijuana is a widely available substance that according to the United Nations is used by around 183 million people. The main active chemical in marijuana / cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahdyrocannabinol), which has a relaxant effect on the brain. It can be ingested by smoking, mixed into food or brewed as tea.

Whilst the use of cannabis has been liberalised in many parts of the world, concerns remain that chronic use can lead to physical and psychological problems.  Short-term effects may include memory loss, distorted perception, difficulty concentrating, loss of coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety (particularly if mixed with other drugs).

Long-term use of marijuana can lead to paranoid psychosis, which may require institutionalisation. Marijuana smoke is also likely to contain the same carcinogenic chemicals as tobacco smoke. 

Prescription drugs

Many people believe that prescription and OTC (over the counter) drugs are safer than illicit substances, but when they can be just as addictive and dangerous. When used over a prolonged period in high doses or in conjunction with other substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs can lead to severe physical and psychological damage.

They are misused is far greater extent than cocaine and heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 20% of people in the USA have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.

Prescription medications that are often abused include narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin, sedatives such as Xanax or Valium and stimulants such as Dexedrine, Adderall or Ritalin.

For further details take of drugs self assessment test or please contact us

Useful links:

National Institute on Drug Abuse

United Nations (Illicit drug markets)

World Health Organization (Management of substance abuse)

Go to treatment and costs for drug addiction

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