WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ADDICTION?

The most obvious sign of addiction is continuing to use drugs and/or alcohol, despite the fact that use is causing considerable problems. Addicted people’s mood and behavior can change dramatically, causing them to act out of character. Additional behavioral warning signs may include unusual aggression, secretive behavior, and inability to fulfill responsibilities at work or at home. Some physical signs of addiction may include neglected appearance, sudden changes in appetite or weight, slurred or agitated speech and frequent medical complaints. If you have noticed marked physical, behavioral, or emotional changes, be ready to investigate the possibility of addiction.

HOW DOES ADDICTION START?

The path to drug addiction often begins with experimentation. You or someone you know may have originally tried drugs out of curiosity, because others were doing it, or in an effort to cope with another problem. At first, the substance seems to solve the problem or make you feel better, so you continue to use the drug.

But as the addiction progresses, getting and using the drug becomes more and more important, and your ability to stop using drugs on your own starts to diminish. What began as a voluntary choice can quickly turn into a physical and psychological dependence.

WHAT ARE THE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF ADDICTION?

Many people use drugs in order to escape physical and emotional discomfort. Maybe you started drinking to numb feelings of depression, smoking pot to deal with stress at home or school, relying on cocaine to boost your energy and confidence, using sleeping pills to cope with panic attacks, or taking prescription painkillers to relieve chronic back pain.

But while drugs might make you feel better in the short-term, attempts to self-medicate ultimately backfire. Instead of treating the underlying problem, drug use simply masks the symptoms. Take the drug away and the problem is still there, whether it be low self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness, or an unhappy family life. Furthermore, prolonged drug use eventually brings its own host of problems, including major disruptions to normal, daily functioning. Unfortunately, the psychological, physical, and social consequences of drug abuse and addiction become worse than the original problem you were trying to cope with or avoid.

IS ADDICTION HEREDITARY?

There is plenty of evidence for a connection between genetic endowment and addiction to alcohol and drugs. By analyzing patterns of inheritance, researchers have learned that heredity accounts for about half of the risk that a person will develop an addiction.

WHY CANT DRUG ADDICTS QUIT ON THEIR OWN?

Nearly all addicted individuals believe in the beginning that they can stop using drugs on their own, and most try to stop without treatment. However, most of these attempts result in failure to achieve long-term abstinence.

Research has shown that long-term drug use results in significant changes in brain function that persist long after the individual stops using drugs. These drug-induced changes in brain function may have many behavioral consequences, including the compulsion to use drugs despite adverse consequences – the defining characteristic of addiction.

IF ADDICTION IS CONSIDERED A CHRONIC DISEASE, THEN HOW CAN TREATMENT HELP?

Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, but that doesn’t mean you’re a helpless victim. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, social support, lifestyle change and other treatments.

DO YOU HAVE TO “HIT ROCK BOTTOM” IN ORDER FOR TREATMENT TO BE SUCCESSFUL?

Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes, and the harder it is to treat. Don’t wait to intervene until you’ve lost it all.

CAN RECOVERY BE SUCCESSFUL WITH INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE FORCED INTO TREATMENT?

Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.

WHAT IF I HAVE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH TREATMENT, BUT HAVE RELAPSED?

Addicts are most vulnerable to drug use during the few months immediately following their release from treatment, so it is especially important to remain connected to recovery resources. Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or by re-engaging in continuing recovery support programs.