The Definition of Drug Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug abuse is defined as a chronic disease related to the brain that causes those suffering from addiction to relapse into drug seeking and consuming, regardless of the harmful consequences.
Because the use of drugs over time changes the structure of the brain it makes it harder for an addict to use the part of the brain that would normally make the safe decision to refrain from the harmful substance.
Drugs and The Brain
There are different types of drugs that have different effects. The longer-term effects of drug use can quickly become addictive and negatively affects physical health and mental health. However, if you are only experiencing physical reactions to toxins in your body, you are more able to make the logical choices that can help you recover. For example If you have a physical intolerance to something such as a nut allergy, it does not have long-term effects on your ability to make important decisions in relation to protecting yourself from the toxicity the nuts would have on you, you can comfortably refrain from consuming them, unlike drugs that are addictive, which affect your ability to rationalise and make those safe decisions.
For most people, addiction does not happen suddenly. Drug use starts often with a choice to try the substance out, often as an experiment with friends as part of that process of socialising when younger. However, the impact of drug use can be profound, with initial euphoria that then gives way to other pleasurable experiences, depending on the type of drug taken.
Often, very rapidly the impact of drug use effects the brain functioning and one of the most significant signs of drug abuse, according to NIDA, is the noticeable inability to have self-control over the use of the drug.
Along with this lack of control comes additional behavioural and personality changes such as a decrease in the ability to focus and rationalise. Irritability, intense mood swings and depression also start to occur over time.
If these issues have not been a noticeable problem for you in the past, before the start of drug use, but are now, this could be a sign of how the drug use is now affecting your brain and an indication of addiction.
Physical Side Effects
Lack of control over whether or not to take a harmful drug is a major indication of addiction as well as mood changes.
The impact that drug use has on your body is also very telling in relation to whether you have developed a drug dependency.
There are many different categories of drugs available.
Below are some of the physical side effects of common addictive drugs such as heroin, crack, cocaine and marijuana. These drugs are not available over the counter as they are not legal, however, Some other addictive drugs, also discussed below, are very easily obtained over the counter (OTC) in chemists.
Heroin is a drug which contains opioids. The brain has receptors that can allow opioids to bind to them. When this happens it floods the body with an unnaturally excessive amount of dopamine which reduces the feeling of pain and creates a high, even euphoria. Over time opioids affect the proper functioning of the brain.
Part of the brain that is affected is the ability to regulate emotions and behaviour, this is diminished over time, along with long-term memory and decision making.
Initially euphoria then longer-term agitation, anxiety, depression, hostility.
(short term) Nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, itching, slowed breathing and heart rate.
(Long term) abscesses, infections, liver and kidney disease, fatality.
Note: There are also many OTC in the UK that can become addictive. Many OTC drugs contain the addictive drug codeine. Codeine is another opiate, and in large quantities will have the same side effects. Although it’s not easy to go into a chemist and then buy enough OTC drugs, such as Solpadeine, Nurofen Plus or Co-codamol, there are ways that individuals can obtain OTC drugs that can create very addictive effects.
Crack Cocaine is a stimulant to the nervous system and like opioids can cause an excessive amount of dopamine to enter the brain which gives the feeling of euphoria.
Dopamine is naturally released as part of the bodies reward system so when it is induced artificially it then alters the natural safe chemical balance of dopamine very quickly and addiction starts to occur. As time progresses this chemical imbalance in the brain can cause very serious depression.
Behaviourally: Initially euphoria, increased focus, increased energy, escaping reality then longer-term aggression, mood swings, psychosis, paranoia, obsessive thoughts.
Physical: Dilated pupils, muscle twitching, Insomnia, loss of weight, and some potentially fatal conditions such as raised blood pressure and increased heart rate.
Marijuana contains a chemical known as cannabinoids which also binds to parts of the brain and releases dopamine, the bodies chemical that relieves pain.
Like opioids, cannabinoids have side effects but generally, unlike opioids, they are not fatal, this is because cannabinoids mostly bind to different parts of the brain that don’t affect life-threatening functioning. However, marijuana does affect the brain and mental health in the long term. The longer-term effects can cause loss of memory, affect emotions and create feelings of paranoia.
Behaviourally: Initially euphoria and relaxation then longer-term paranoia, cognitive impairment,
Physically: impaired motor skills, increased heart rate, memory loss, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes.
At first glance, this definition may portray a grim picture for those who wish to kick the habit. So where can you get help if you feel you are addicted to drugs? The good news is there is very supportive help out there and for those who feel they are addicted, the realisation that they may be addicted to drugs can be the first step to kicking the habit.
Although this guide has hopefully scratched the surface of important information that can inform you more about your own symptoms, which you feel may relate to addiction. If you feel any concern that you are addicted, or someone you know is, then it’s important to get further professional support.
Contact Help 4 Addiction today to find out what help is available for you.