What is addiction/substance abuse?
Initially, consumption of drugs is voluntary for most people, but its use over time makes changes in the brain that challenge your self-control and inhibit your ability to resist strong impulses to take more drugs.
Substance abuse results from continued intake of drugs even when faced with physical, emotional or social difficulties. Compulsive substance abuse over a long period of time becomes drug addiction. As someone addicted to drugs, you may attempt to stop using them but will repeatedly return for another dose because of the development of drug dependency. Drug dependence signifies that your body now requires the drug in higher doses to achieve the same effect and to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Most people addicted to drugs find it difficult to quit on their own, and require external help.
What are the causes?
The exact cause for addiction and substance abuse is unclear but theories suggest that addiction is influenced by certain factors such as:
- Genetics – Genetic makeup, gender, ethnicity and presence of other mental disorders are linked to a person’s addiction vulnerability.
- Environment – Socioeconomic influences like peer pressure, stress, physical and sexual abuse can influence drug addiction.
- Development – Interplay of genetics and environmental factors can greatly influence a person’s key developmental life stages, like adolescence, making them prone to risk-taking behaviours that defy self-control and good judgement.
The more risk factors you have, the more prone you are to substance abuse and addiction.
What you need to know about symptoms or signs?
A person habituated to drug abuse and suffering from addiction will commonly deny their dependence on the drug. Watch out for the following signs of substance abuse:
- Recurrent problems at work, school, or home or with law
- Use of drugs despite risk to physical health
- Deterioration of personal relationships
Common symptoms for substance addition are:
- Craving for drug
- Inability to stop or limit its usage despite physical, emotional and social harm to self
- Requirement of larger doses to feel same effect (Tolerance)
- Withdrawal symptoms if drug not taken
Which specialist should you consult if you have any of the signs and symptoms?
Seek help from your general practitioner when you realize that you do not have control over your drug use and experience withdrawal symptoms when you do not take the drug for a longer period. Your doctor will refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist to commence therapy.
Emergency help is needed if you or someone you know has overdosed on a drug, is having a seizure, heart attack or breathing problem, or is losing consciousness.
What are the screening tests and investigations done to confirm or rule out the disorder?
Initial screening is often carried out by a concerned family member who notices abnormal changes in another member’s behaviour. When taken to a doctor, you will be asked questions regarding your drug usage. A confirmative diagnosis is pronounced by an addiction counsellor, a psychologist or psychiatrist.
What treatment modalities are available for management of the disorder?
Treatment for drug addiction involves counselling, participation in self-help groups, and withdrawal or detoxification therapy from the drug. Treatment success is measured in form of your recognising and accepting the problem followed by a desire to change, and the ability to stay sober without relapse.
What are the known complications in management of the disorder?
Withdrawal from different drugs produces different side effects:
- Depressants (barbiturates, benzodiazepines, etc.) – Anxiety, restlessness, sweating, hallucinations, tremors, seizures, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and high body temperature.
- Stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, etc.) – Depression, fatigue, anxiety, intense cravings, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, psychosis.
- Opioids (heroin, morphine, codeine, etc.) – Sweating, runny nose, anxiety, cravings, sleeplessness, depression, dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, tremors, bone and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.
What precautions or steps are necessary to stay healthy and happy during the treatment?
Relapse is common and there is a high risk of falling back to your old pattern of addiction despite continuing treatment. Avoid situations and areas that make the drug more accessible to you, call your doctor or support group immediately if you experience mental weakness towards the drug, and stick to the treatment plan till the doctor and counsellor determine you fit and free of your addiction.
What are the dietary and physical activity requirements during the course of the treatment?
Overcoming drug addiction and staying free of drugs necessitates immense effort on your part. You can find help in form of a therapist who can guide and motivate you during the process, join a support group of people dealing with the same issue, and/or seek treatment for any other mental health disorder that led you to addiction.
How can you prevent the disorder from happening or recurring?
The best prevention of addiction is to not take the drug at all, and maintain caution when taking a prescribed drug known for its additive properties. Medications like narcotics for pain relief, barbiturates for nervousness, benzodiazepines for anxiety or insomnia are prescribed by doctors in safe doses and for a short period of time. Consult your doctor if you need to take more than the prescribed amount.
Substance abuse can be controlled through prevention programmes that actively involve family and community in understanding the risks associated with drug abuse and addiction.
As a caregiver, how can you support and help the patient cope with the disorder?
Notice physical and behavioural patterns in your family member or friend that could be associated with addiction. Your role is important because people addicted to drugs deny having a problem and will not actively seek help for themselves. You can help by persuading the person to seek medical help.
Drug Abuse, Addiction, and the Brain,”https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/drug-abuse-addiction
DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction
“Drug addiction,” Mayoclinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-addiction/DS00183
“Drug abuse and drug addiction,” NYU Langone Medical Center, Debra Wood, https://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=11896
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