Drug addiction is a disease that affects your brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control your use of a drug or medication. Alcohol, marijuana and nicotine are also considered drugs. When you're addicted, you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes to your health.
The beginning of drug addiction can be traced to experimentation with recreational drugs in social settings. For some people, drug use becomes increasingly frequent. For others, the road to addiction begins with exposure to prescribed medications—or receiving medications from a friend or relative who has been prescribed the medication.
The risk of addiction and the speed at which you become addicted varies depending on the drug. Some drugs, such as opioid painkillers, have a high risk of addiction and cause it more quickly than others.
As time goes on, you may need larger doses of the drug to get high. Soon you may need to use drugs just to feel good. As your drug use increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to go without the drug. Quitting may cause intense cravings and make you feel physically ill.
You may need help from a professional, family, friends, support groups or an organized treatment program to overcome your drug addiction and stay drug-free.
Drug addiction symptoms or behaviors include, among others:
Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day
Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts
Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended
Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it
Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it's causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm
Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing
Driving or doing other risky activities when you're under the influence of the drug
Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug
Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
Recognizing unhealthy drug use in family members
Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish normal teenage moodiness or angst from signs of drug use. Possible indications that your teenager or other family member is using drugs include:
Problems at school or work — frequently missing school or work, a sudden disinterest in school activities or work, or a drop in grades or work performance
Physical health issues — lack of energy and motivation, weight loss or gain, or red eyes
Neglected appearance — lack of interest in clothing, grooming or looks
Changes in behavior — exaggerated efforts to bar family members from entering his or her room or being secretive about where he or she goes with friends; or drastic changes in behavior and in relationships with family and friends
Money issues — sudden requests for money without a reasonable explanation; or your discovery that money is missing or has been stolen or that items have disappeared from your home, indicating maybe they're being sold to support drug use
When to see a professional
If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, get help. The sooner you seek help, the greater your chances for a long-term recovery. Talk with John Corbett as a mental health professional, who specializes in alcohol and drug addiction.
Make an appointment to see a professional if:
You can't stop using a drug
You continue using the drug despite the harm it causes
Your drug use has led to unsafe behavior, such as sharing needles or unprotected sex
You think you may be having withdrawal symptoms after stopping drug use
Staging an intervention
When a person is addicted to drugs, they usually deny that their drug use is problematic and are reluctant to seek treatment. An intervention presents a loved one with a structured opportunity to make changes before things get even worse and can motivate someone to seek or accept help.
An intervention is carefully planned. It may be done by family and friends in consultation with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, or directed by an intervention professional. Co-workers, clergy, or others who care about the person struggling with addiction can also be involved.
During an intervention, concerned loved ones gather to have a heart-to-heart talk with the person about the consequences of addiction. They ask him or her to accept treatment.