There are a variety of reasons why people start using drugs – for recreation; out of curiosity; because of peer pressure; as a way to cope with problems, stress, or depression; or even as a result of a medical condition. In the U.S., addiction to prescription medications, opioids in particular, has been a serious public health problem for decades. It is a major risk factor for heroin abuse; and opioid overdose actually kills more people on a daily basis than traffic accidents and gun violence combined.
What are the risk factors for drug addiction?
Almost anyone can develop drug-dependency, but certain factors can make some people more vulnerable than others. These include:
- History of addiction in the family.
- Drug use earlier in life.
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
- Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences.
- Method of drug use, i.e. taking drugs via intravenous injections often increase their addictive potential.
Fact or myth?
You can quit drugs through sheer willpower.
This is a myth. Prolonged drug use alters brain chemistry in a way that makes it practically impossible to resist the need to keep using in order to keep experiencing the desired effects of the drugs. Drug dependence is a chemical compulsion that cannot be undone through sheer force of will.
Opioid painkiller dependence is safe because the drugs are doctor-prescribed.
A myth. Using opioid painkillers beyond what is prescribed also leads to dependence and addiction that can have serious and adverse effects on health, not to mention behaviors and relationships.
Addiction is a disease.
This is a fact. Addiction has long been considered by experts as a disease that involves the brain. The changes that occur in the brain, however, are treatable and reversible with cessation of drug use, therapy, and other medical interventions.
Forced treatment is not effective.
This is a myth. Whether or not a person with a drug problem is willing to get treatment for their addiction, treatment plans can work. The incidence of relapse, however, is higher among those who were resistant to treatment in the first place than those who underwent treatment willingly. But sobering up is often effective in making an addict realize that they do want to change.
A relapsed addict has no hope of getting cured.
Another myth. Relapses are normal, but they do not mean that treating the patient again and again is a futile effort. Some patients take longer than others to fully recover, and treatment strategies, often, have to be modified to suit the patient’s needs.
Watch out for these signs of drug abuse/addiction:
- Bloodshot eyes with abnormally sized pupils
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Sudden changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns
- Significant lack of attention to physical appearance and personal grooming and cleanliness
- Slurred speech, poor coordination, tremors
- Disinterest in responsibilities, e.g. academic, work, or family
- Sudden, unexplained change in personality
- Frequent mood swings and outbursts of anger, interspersed with periods of hyperactivity, agitation, anxiety, fear, and paranoia
- Chronic borrowing or stealing of money
- Lack of motivation; frequent lethargy
- Getting in trouble more frequently, such as fights and accidents; engaging in other suspicious and even illegal behaviors
- Sudden change in social circles, activities, and frequent hangouts
If you fear that a loved one may be suffering from drug abuse or addiction, consult a HOMA family medicine doctor asap to discuss the steps you’ll need to take to help them.