Drug Addiction is a Disease
Help4Addiction can put you in touch with the right people to get you off drugs and back on your feet.
*This page was medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever June 16th, 2021.
Drug addiction is a disease, let’s make no mistake in this. It’s not “all in your head” and it’s not always something you can deal with on your own. There should be no shame attached to asking for help.
Much in the same way as other diseases can prove detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing, addiction can be detrimental to you.
When it comes to drug addiction, you must bear in mind that drugs can change your brain’s chemistry and encourage you to act in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise dream of.
Are you Addicted to Drugs?
So, what is drug addiction? What symptoms and behaviour can highlight drug addiction?
Drug addiction is when someone actively seeks out drugs and either uses them compulsively or finds that use difficult to control[i]. They will continue to seek out and use drugs regardless of negative impacts that it may be having on their life.
While most people voluntarily begin taking drugs, it is repeated use, that can affect their levels of self-control and interfere with their capability of resisting urges.
This sounds straightforward, but it’s important that you can determine the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction, as these are two related but completely different problems.
What is a Drug Addict?
A drug addict is someone who cannot go without drugs to feel ‘normal’. They use drugs routinely, usually all day if they can. They may need a small hit to feel well enough to face the day.
Drug addictions can be mild, for example, a glass of wine every night with your meal that leaves you with a headache if you skip it. They can also be intense, for example, an all-day heroin user that no longer functions in society because of the amount of time they spent getting high.
What is a Drug Abuser?
While drug addiction sees someone become reliant on drugs, drug abuse is when someone uses drugs in a quantity or fashion that can be dangerous to themselves and those surrounding them.
Someone can engage with drug abuse without being a drug addict. Of course, drug abuse is still a serious problem. Many people die of overdoses associated with drug abuse every year.
Why do people become drug addicts?
This is a good question because nobody intentionally sets out to become a drug addict. If your addiction is to recreational drugs such as cocaine or heroin, then it probably started out mildly. The occasional use becomes every weekend, which becomes every day.
On the other hand, not all addicts are hooked on illegal drugs. A study by the ONS in March 2020 found that roughly 3.2 million UK adults are frequent drug users. Of those, 20% of 16-24 year olds[ii] have admitted taking an illicit drug in the last year. The percentage of these that are hooked on prescription medication is thought to be high, with opioid painkiller use responsible for most prescription drug hospital admissions[iii].
Prescription opioids are legal, but again, you can become addicted to them. Tobacco is legal but contains extremely addictive nicotine. Even the caffeine in coffee, which people of almost all ages can consume, can prove to be addictive.
What Sort of Drugs do People Become Addicted to?
In theory, you could develop a behavioural addiction even to things that aren’t normally deemed to be addictive. This is how you become a gambling addict, or a sex addict. When drugs are involved, the drugs are usually addictive in themselves, which causes the cravings.
The types of drugs people can become addicted to include:
- Heroin is one of the most addictive substances known to man. It is so addictive that we need to take methadone to wean ourselves off it, then work our way down from there.
- Opioid medications, particularly painkillers like codeine and tramadol, are highly addictive.
- Cannabis, although many argue it is not, is an addictive substance.
- Cocaine addiction is usually treated with a combination of abstinence and therapies.
- Hallucinogenics, such as mushrooms and LSD, are addictive if used in abundance.
- Anabolic steroids are so addictive they had to be banned in the world of athleticism.
- Many other party and date rape drugs such as GHB, DMT, Rohypnol, MDMA and amphetamines[iv].
Recently the rise in synthetic cannabinoid use on English streets has drawn cause for alarm, too.
What Causes Drug Addictions?
Multiple factors can cause someone to turn to drugs for relief. In general, these are dissected into their genetics, their development as a youngster, and their environment.
The environment that we grow up in or find ourselves in at a later stage in our lives can largely influence whether we become a drug addict or not. Someone who is exp
osed to drugs and offered them regularly is more likely to become an addict than someone who has never seen drugs in real life.
Similarly, someone who socialises in circles where people are regularly engaging with drugs is more likely to also engage with drugs and risk addiction than someone who doesn’t.
Peer pressure or a wish to fit in can prove to be a major influencer when it comes to people trying drugs, getting involved with drugs, and becoming addicted. Other environmental factors that can impact our likelihood of becoming an addict can include economic status, experiences of physical or sexual abuse, stress, and parental guidance.
Believe it or not, biology plays a major role in someone’s chances of becoming a drug addict[v].
Some of us are simply biologically hardwired through our genes to be at more open risk of experiencing addiction. Some of us have a naturally addictive personality and will indulge in things to a state of excess or detriment.
Addiction can occur at any point in someone’s life. We could have gone our entire life drug free, only to become an addict at a much later date.
Studies[vi] show that the earlier in someone’s life that drug use begins, the more likely they are to experience trouble with addiction as they grow older. Introductory steps towards addiction tend to be particularly problematic in teenagers.
Rehab offers Drug and Alcohol Support
Detox and rehab centres can help us get off drugs. To do so, they employ the following stages.
The Detox from Drugs Process
Your stay will begin with a detoxification or “detox” period. This helps to clear any drugs from your system. Withdrawal symptoms may manifest in this time, but you will be surrounded by professionals who can help to alleviate any discomfort better than anyone else will be able to. They will be able to help you through this process with medication and support.
You will also be around other people who have been through similar experiences and will be able to understand what you are going through. Once you have completed your detox process, you will be able to progress to the next phase with a clean slate. Detox can take between 7-15 days and is usually followed by immediate therapy work.
The Rehab from Drugs Process
Rehab is when you spend an extended period in a rehabilitation treatment centre. This can last a week or a month in the centre, but sometimes you may be required to stay longer to complete your treatment.
Therapy during rehab will help you to unveil whatever it may be that is causing and triggering your addiction. Identifying these things will help you to understand your addiction and consequently overcome it more effectively. The most effective form of therapy for drug addiction tends to be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)[vii]
Secondary Treatment for Drug Addiction
Once you feel you are well enough, you will be encouraged to go out into the world and return to your old life. This can cause a lot of anxiety but, if you have put in the therapy work, you will benefit from it.
Rehab clinics are known for extending support during this time as a complement to your stay. That support might be by phone, in group therapy sessions, or via check-ins with your medical team. Take full advantage of these services to avoid relapsing.
This is the last step. With persistence and effort, you will soon be drug free. It might seem a long way away now, but it could be your life in a matter of weeks.
How to Spot Symptoms of Addiction in a Loved One?
If you’re concerned, chances are that there’s cause for concern, and it’s better to tackle the problem sooner when you are in doubt as to whether you or a loved one is an addict, rather than later, when you may be sure that you are they are an addict.
Here are some warning signs of drug addiction to look out for:
- You continue to take prescription drugs when they are no longer required to counteract the health problem they were prescribed to treat.
- Your tolerance increases – you need to take more and more of a given substance to experience the same effect it provided you with in smaller volumes to start with[viii].
- You feel unwell or strange when the drug wears off. You experience a wish to take more to “feel okay” again.
- You spend a lot of your time thinking about the drug and when you can next have it or where you can get some more.
- You regularly take more of the drug than you told yourself you were going to.
- You lose interest in things that used to occupy your interest.
- The drug, thinking about the drug, sourcing the drug, or taking the drug begins to interfere with your day to day life. You might begin to miss work, miss, or cancel social meetings, or you may even stop eating or washing properly.
- You begin to borrow or steal money to be able to pay for the drugs.
- You attempt to hide the drug and the effects it’s having on you from others.
- You notice changes in your personality or behaviour. You may be irritable, lack motivation, feel paranoid, or get angry more quickly.
Where to get Support to Start Drug Addiction Treatment?
If you need support through a drug addiction, require more information about addiction, or feel that you are ready to move forward with your journey towards recovery, don’t hesitate to call us at Help 4 Addiction 0203 955 7700. We understand you and we are here to help!
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I get help for a drug addiction?
How do you know if you are a drug addict?
What happens if you don’t stop taking drugs?
What’s drug rehab like?
How long does rehab for drug addictions take?
Who will help me with a heroin addiction?
Can you get free rehab in the UK?
Who will help me with my cocaine addiction?
Can you be addicted to prescription drugs?
What will my doctor do if I tell them I am a drug addict?
On the surface, drug addiction can be pretty confusing. It’s detrimental to the individual engaging with it. It’s detrimental to friends and loved ones. It’s detrimental to society as a whole.
So why would anyone engage with it? Well, here at Help 4 Addiction, we understand exactly how and why an astounding 5.4 percent of people become drug addicts at some point in their lives.
We understand that drug addiction is a disease. We understand that it is an illness. But we also want to ensure that you know that it is something that you can overcome. Believe it or not, there is light at the end of the tunnel.