Recent studies show that more than one in ten people are addicted to at least one prescription drug, and nearly half have a medical condition like migraines or pain that a doctor prescribed them for treatment. Others suffer from mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, which can make it even easier to self-medicate with drugs.
When you add all of these together, we are talking about a large proportion of our population who are using medications beyond their initial purpose. It is important to note that addiction does not just apply to alcohol and illicit substances, but also includes legal medications.
It is very common to hear stories of people living with chronic pain who turn to opioids to manage their symptoms. This can sometimes lead to overdose and death due to lack of education around opioid use.
People often forget that although antidepressants and benzodiazepines may help treat your depressive or anxious moods, they can actually contribute to long term use and addiction. Health professionals do not always warn patients about the risks of overusing these medications.
Legal medication can be an effective tool for helping us cope with pain or other physical or emotional disorders, but there must be a balance. We need to realize that if we feel better while taking them, we may continue relying on them instead of trying something else.
Causes of addiction
There are many factors that can contribute to drug use and addiction, including genetics, early experiences, environment, stress, poor coping skills, and exposure to drugs or alcohol.
As we have seen so far, repeated exposures to addictive substances can change how our brains function, creating long-term chemical changes in brain cells that work to perpetuate more substance use.
The environments in which people grow up may also play a role in whether they develop addictions later in life.
People who experience neglect, abuse, or other significant childhood trauma are likely to struggle with mental health issues throughout their lives, including addiction.
Stress is an important factor in addiction. Addictive behaviors reduce overall levels of anxiety, but not for very long before there’s another bout of self-medicating.
Overall, researchers find that genetic risk, early experiences, environmental influences, and biological vulnerabilities all interact to increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.
The brain is an amazing organ! It requires something to function properly, otherwise we would not survive. Neurotransmitters are what makes this possible.
Neurotransmitter levels in your body rise and fall depending on how much stress you are experiencing. Stress can be caused by outside forces (for example, if someone cuts you off in traffic) or internal factors (loneliness, financial worries).
When neurotransmitter levels are high, people feel happier, more motivated, and able to concentrate better. This is why drugs of abuse increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.
These two chemicals make people feel happy and relaxed, which helps them relax and sleep well. And sleeping well is important because it allows time for recovery and regeneration.
However, over time these rewards begin to decrease as drug use continues. This is why there seems to be no end to drug addiction.
General treatments such as medication and therapy have been shown to help some patients recover but they do not work for everyone. For some individuals, medications may even contribute to their relapse since they interfere with the way their bodies respond to drugs.
Certain therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy focus on helping patients learn ways to manage their anxiety and depression. But this only works if the patient comes into the session regularly.
What about surgery? Some types of surgeries remove part of the brain that regulates emotions and behaviors. However, research has not proven that this actually cures opioid dependency.
Genetics and biology
Genetic factors play an important role in addiction, making some people more likely to develop addictions than others. There are several types of genes that influence whether you’re at risk for developing drug or alcohol use disorders.
Some genetic variations make it easier to give into temptations by offering slight increases in your desire for drugs and/or alcohol. This is called reward deficiency syndrome. People with this gene pattern may find it harder to resist temptation because they need less of a stimulus before they feel desire.
Other genetic differences prevent someone from seeking help when they want to stop using substances. This is referred to as low therapeutic efficacy.
Experts believe that most cases of substance abuse have both biological and psychological causes. But genetics makes it more likely that underlying biological issues contribute to addiction.
One of the major reasons that people get addicted to drugs is because they believe the drug themself is safe or even beneficial. Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are often marketed as mood enhancers or wellness tools.
The problem with this theory is it ignores how drugs actually work. The more you use drugs, the less effective they become. This is due to two things: addiction and tolerance.
Addiction occurs when your body gets used to the drug and needs bigger and bigger doses to achieve the same effect. Tolerance means your body requires higher and higher amounts of the substance to get the same effects.
Both of these changes occur because your brain wants the drug so badly that it goes into overdrive to get it. These changes happen not only in the mind, but also in the body.
Changes may include: skin becoming dry and flaky, heart changing its rhythm, breathing getting faster, and blood glucose lowering. All of these symptoms indicate problems for health.
Environmental factors play a big part in whether or not someone becomes addicted to drugs. Things like poverty, poor education, crime neighborhoods, and community stigma can contribute to creating an environment where using drugs is easy.
If you know anyone who is struggling with addictions, talk to them about the risk environmental factors pose in their recovery.
Treatment for addiction
Finding help to treat your drug use or addictions can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are many types of treatment, with varying levels of intensity and length. Some treatments work immediately, while others may require several sessions before they begin working.
Treatment for substance abuse typically includes counseling, medication management, group therapy, occupational therapy, nutrition counselling, and/or exercise. While some therapies take place entirely outside of the facility where patients receive medical care, most require at least one overnight stay so that therapists can address emotional issues related to quitting drugs and alcohol and helping you re-enter society.
Overall health also plays an important role in determining which type of treatment is right for you. Certain conditions such as diabetes or hypertension may make certain medications less effective or even contraindicated. Consulting with physicians and finding out if there are any other possible solutions can prevent unnecessary waste of time and money in seeking treatment.
For most people, quitting drugs is difficult without outside help. Fortunately, there are many helpful resources available to you as a drug addict. One of these is the twelve step program framework. Twelve step programs were created in the 1930s during a time when few had ever heard of addiction or how to treat it.
These programs focus on helping individuals identify what substances they use and why, finding new ways to cope with their emotions, and developing healthy relationships. There are also discussions about spirituality and recovery.
Twelve step groups offer supportive environments where other recovering people can meet. They typically have members who share their experiences, help each other stay focused on rehabilitation, and contribute money or services towards treatment for others.
Research shows that participating in a twelve step group service helps prevent relapse and recovers longer than trying to do things alone. Many health professionals now recommend them as part of standard care for patients seeking a sustained recovery.