man lighting cigarette
assorted medication tables and capsules

If you use drugs regularly and feel a compulsion to do so, you may have an addiction or “substance abuse disorder” as it is sometimes known. Casual drug use can quickly turn into dependence. Most addicts started using drugs casually and never had the intention of becoming addicted to them. People use drugs for a variety of reasons, including to escape reality, as a coping mechanism, or simply in social situations to have a good time. However, the line between casual use and addiction is very thin, and it’s easy for users to step over that line without noticing. It often takes drug addicts a long time to admit they have substance use issues and denial is commonplace.

If you have concerns over your drug use, then you are at an advantage. Many addicts do not realize the scale of their substance use issues until they become severely problematic. If you feel like drugs are taking over your life, then it’s likely you have an addiction.

The effects of drug addiction penetrate many aspects of an individual’s life. It may have an effect on relationships with family and friends, your career or education, your financial situation or your health. Drug addiction can also make you more likely to get into trouble with the law.

Understanding Addiction and Substance Abuse

Understanding addiction is something that can help you determine whether your drug use is problematic. If you feel as if your drug use is impacting your everyday life, then you may need to seek help.

Many people mislabel drug addicts as people with poor morals or willpower. However, drug addiction is an incredibly complicated disease that can affect anyone, regardless of upbringing or socio-economic factors. Drugs create changes in the brain that make quitting them really difficult, even if you want to.

Viewing addiction as a disease is paramount when it comes to creating recovery plans for addicts. Addiction is a disease that is manageable with the right interventions.

The decision to take drugs initially is usually a choice made by the individual. However, when addiction sets in, addicts may no longer feel the choice to take drugs, and instead, this choice becomes a need. The brain and body start to display signs of withdrawal and crave the substance. It’s important to remember that although drug use may have been voluntary in the first instance, many people turn to drugs when they’re in a tough place.

Addiction may feel as if the individual has no self-control over their substance use. They may find it impossible to resist urges and feel powerless over the symptoms they display.

Relapse & Substance Abuse

Like any other chronic disease, the chance of relapse for addicts in recovery is high. Due to the nature of addiction, it isn’t uncommon for addicts in recovery to experience relapses long after going “drug-free”. Relapse highlights the need for ongoing treatment, it is very difficult for an addict to just stop taking drugs and never feel the urge to use them again. This is why most recovery plans take a “one day at a time” approach.

The Impact of Substance Abuse on the Brain

Understanding the impact drugs have on the brain makes it easier to understand why people become addicted to them. Drugs often trigger areas of the brain that make us feel good. They commonly awaken the brain’s reward circuit1 and release dopamine into the brain (the chemical that makes us feel pleasure). This means the brain associates the activity of taking drugs with pleasure. It’s this that makes addicts feel a compulsion to take drugs.

As an individual continues to take drugs, they begin to build a tolerance to them. This means the initial “high” produced by taking the drug becomes less noticeable. Tolerance often leads to individuals taking larger quantities of the drug to feel a more substantial high. Unfortunately, this can mean the body becomes more reliant on the drug and can lead to addiction or overdose.

Long-Term Effects of Drug Use and Substance Abuse

Continued drug use can not only lead to addiction but may also reduce cognitive function2 Addicts may have difficulty with retaining information, making decisions, or sensible judgments and experience greater levels of stress.

Why Not All Users Become Addicts

Some people may be more susceptible to addiction than others. There are some common risk factors that can indicate the likelihood of addiction. Usually, a combination of these factors can influence an individual’s risk of addiction. However, some people may still become addicted to drugs having no risk factors Some risk factors3 include:

Environment – The environment in which a person lives can play a huge role in their chances of developing an addiction. The environment can include social groups such as family and friends, the normalization of drug use in their community, and peer pressure. A person’s quality of life can also put them at greater risk.

Biological factors – there are several biological factors that can increase the risk of addiction. These include gender and whether the individual experiences mental health issues. Many individuals use drugs as a form of escapism and to ease the symptoms of mental health problems.

Developmental factors – although drug addiction can occur at any age, teenagers are at a greater risk of addiction. They may be more likely to make decisions without considering the risks have a lower level of self-control and experience more peer pressure than other groups. Starting substance use at an early age is a substantial risk factor in the development of addiction.

Identifying Addiction

Identifying if you or a loved one has an addiction can help determine whether help is necessary. There are several general signs to be aware of that can signal an addiction or substance abuse disorder. These include:

  • Isolating from others
  • An inability to stay away from a particular substance
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms
  • Risky behavior, such as sharing needles
  • Mood swings
  • Financial issues

An addict will usually deny they have a problem with drugs and justify their use. Addiction won’t always be easy to identify in the early stages. However, there are some behaviors that an early addict may display. These can be things like experimenting with different substances, seeking social events where they can consume the substance and binges with a loss of control.

More About Isolation

Many addicts may justify their use by stating it is just a way to deal with stress or relax at the end of the day. There are different types of isolation common with addicts, physical and emotional. Physical isolation means going away to an area of the home or outside of the home away from others to partake in substance use. Emotional isolation means an addict may still use substances around others, but emotionally withdraw from others. Addicts that physically isolate to hide their drug use may find excuses to leave the house to take substances. In these instances, a quick trip to the grocery store for a couple of items may end up with the addict not coming back for several hours.

Isolation can also lead to an addict withdrawing from their favorite activities. So, someone that loves to play basketball may stop attending practice suddenly. They may stop socializing with friends and family too, usually because their addiction is consuming their free time.

More About Financial Issues Relating to Substance Abuse

Financial issues are often a good indicator that an individual is hiding an addiction. Drugs are expensive and as the addiction progresses, so does the cost. Usually, an individual will exhaust every available source of funding before turning to illegal activity. Financial issues can display as a sudden inability to afford basic items that the individual would have no trouble buying in the past. They may struggle to pay their bills, buy groceries or new clothes. An addict may use all of their savings, turn to a 401k, take out loans and credit or steal money from loved ones.

A sign that someone you live with may be struggling with an addiction is that their contributions towards the household start reducing. You may notice that after a while, their contribution may stop altogether. Sometimes you may not notice this right away, but it’s a good idea to look for financial changes if you have concerns over a loved one’s substance use.

More About Mood Swings

Mood swings can be a sign that someone is struggling with addiction issues. Mood swings can result from withdrawal or the influence of the substance itself. An addict may feel irritable and anxious and even paranoid when experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This can cause them to lash out verbally and physically at family members or friends. Many substances also decrease an individual’s inhibitions and cause them to behave in a risky manner. Paranoia is also a side effect commonly associated with a variety of drugs. Paranoia combined with a lack of inhibitions can make an individual misinterpret situations and may cause them distress or anger and result in a sudden change in mood.

People with addictions may also display changes in their personalities. This means they may do things like:

Avoid responsibilities or miss obligations – they may miss work, classes, or other commitments or be late.

Take greater risks – an addict may take more risks than they normally would, especially to get drugs. This may include illegal activity or mixing with dangerous individuals.

Disregard consequences – an addict may struggle to see the consequences of their actions or ignore them.

Covering up usage – someone with an addiction may not admit to others how much of a substance they take.

Sleep at strange hours – the use of many drugs can cause insomnia. This means an addict may have trouble sleeping or they may sleep at strange hours, like throughout the day.

Is Your Addiction Bad Enough to Seek Help?

Admitting that you have a substance use issue is tough. If your substance use is having consequences in your everyday life, then it’s a good idea to consider treatment. The number of addicts that struggle with substance use and receive treatment is fairly low. A SAMHSA survey4 found that this was only around 10 percent. This is likely because many people don’t think their addiction is bad enough to seek help or they may not have hit “rock bottom”. However, the fact that you’re considering getting help is a sign that you probably need it.

The DSM criteria

If you’re still unsure whether you have a substance use disorder, then the DSM criteria5 can be useful to help you determine whether you have a problem. It can also help you understand the severity of your addiction.

The criteria includes 11 problems that can arise from substance use. These include:

  1. Taking more of a substance than you should or for longer than you should.
  2. Having the desire to reduce consumption of the substance but being unable to do so.
  3. Spending most of your time, sourcing drugs, using them or recovering from using.
  4. Experiencing cravings or urges to take the substance.
  5. Failing to meet commitments such as work, school or home due to substance use.
  6. Experiencing relationship problems relating to substance use with a spouse, family or friends but continuing to take the substance.
  7. Withdrawing from hobbies or activities or social events.
  8. Continuing the use of a substance even though it puts you in danger.
  9. Using a substance even though you are aware of a physical or mental health problem that is caused by or made worse by taking it.
  10. Building a tolerance to a substance and having to take a larger amount to feel the effects.
  11. Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal that you can relieve by consuming more of the drug.

If you relate to some of these problems above, then you likely have a substance use disorder. The DSM uses this criterion to determine how severe your addiction is. If you identify with 2-3 of the symptoms above, then your addiction is considered to be mild. Identifying with 4-5 of these shows a moderate addiction and 6 or more show a severe addiction. A mild substance use disorder is still worthy of treatment. If you relate to any of the problems above, then entering recovery can be beneficial to you.

Influence From Peers

It can be very difficult to feel as if seeking treatment is the right thing to do if your peers are reluctant to recognize you have a problem. You may struggle to reach out for help if a friend or family member tells you that your substance use isn’t problematic. However, if you think you have a problem, then you’re probably right. It’s important to remember why peers may discourage you from getting help. They may use substances themselves and may even have their own addiction. Sometimes they’ll be in denial about their own addiction. Another factor is that they may be worried about losing you as a friend and want someone to continue to use drugs with.

It isn’t only peers that use substances you should be aware of. Some of your peers may have never seen you consume substances around them and you may not have discussions about your use with them. If you have hidden your addiction from them, they may struggle to believe it’s true and think you may be overreacting about your drug use.

Although it can be tempting to take advice from peers, it’s important to trust yourself. Only you know the severity drugs are having on your life and it’s easy for peers to sway you away from recovery by not acknowledging your addiction.

Addiction Often Gets Worse

If you think you only have a mild addiction, it’s tempting to continue using. You may think that because your addiction is mild, you will be able to keep it under control. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Addition often gets worse over time. If you view addiction as a chronic disease, it’s easy to understand this. For example, cancer in the early stages can easily get worse and progress if left untreated. It’s the same principle with addiction. If you leave your addiction untreated, it has the opportunity to worsen.

Many addicts believe they’re ok until they reach “rock bottom”, but this isn’t the case. It makes more sense to get treatment in the early stages of addiction than to let it progress and leave a trail of devastation behind you and your loved ones. If you are at “rock bottom”, then you still have the chance to become drug-free and can start recovery as soon as you feel ready. However, “rock bottom” shouldn’t be the determining factor for seeking help.

Functioning Addicts

For some people, seeing their addiction as a problem that requires treatment is determined by their ability to function. You may think that because you have a successful career, a happy family, and can function perfectly fine with an addiction that you’re ok. However, if this is the case, you are a high-functioning addict. If you are a high-functioning addict, it’s important to understand that your addiction will probably catch up with you. Just because your addiction isn’t consuming you now, doesn’t mean it never will. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek help as soon as possible to avoid reaching this point.

You may be a high functioning addict if:

  • You make excuses for your drug use.
  • You often take more drugs than you mean to.
  • You have friends with their own addictions.
  • You often feel ill in the mornings.

Remember, you don’t need to be at rock bottom to get help.

Entering Recovery

If you think that you or someone you know have a drug addiction, then entering recovery ASAP is the best idea. Waiting for an addiction to worsen isn’t a good idea. It can mean that recovery is a tougher process and withdrawal may be much more difficult to cope with than if you seek help early on. Talking to professionals about addiction is the best way to begin your recovery and discover the treatment options available. Rehabilitation, medication, and therapy are often the most useful tools for addicts that want to enter recovery. A professional with experience in helping addicts become drug-free can be the best person to turn to for advice.

Call us when you’re ready and we can discuss treatment options with you. You can find out more about the treatments we offer by clicking here.

It’s never too late to get help. By recognizing the role substance use is playing in your life, you are regaining control. Admitting your addiction to yourself is the first step to recovery. Take the next step now.

Related Pages

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5