Drug addiction is a serious, chronic disease that affects millions of people in the United States and worldwide. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug addiction as a complex and relapsing brain disease that interferes with a person’s ability to control their urges and behaviors related to drug use.

Drug addiction is difficult to control despite its harmful consequences and can lead to serious problems that affect a person’s overall health and livelihood. Knowing more about how drug addiction works can help you determine whether you or a loved one is at risk and needs professional treatment.

What Is the Prevalence of Drug Addiction?

Illicit drug addiction affects an estimated 8.3 million people in the U.S. aged 12 years and older, representing about 3% of this age group, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Illicit drug addiction includes addiction to drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, inhalants, and illicit opioids (i.e., counterfeit painkillers and synthetic fentanyl).

Drug addiction also refers to prescription drug addiction, such as those involving opioids (painkillers), stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers. Of all these drugs, opioids are the most problematic due to the way they cause a high amount of drug overdose deaths. SAMHSA reports that an estimated 2 million people (0.8%) in the U.S. are addicted to prescription painkillers. The NIDA reports that in 2019, prescription painkillers were involved in 14,139 overdose deaths, which represents more than 20% of all drug-related deaths that occurred that year.

Why Do People Use Drugs?

People use drugs for many different reasons, which is why addiction uniquely affects each person.

For instance, many cases of prescription drug addiction are unintentional and occur when someone uses these drugs for a long period to treat health conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, and ADHD. Many people who are addicted to heroin first used prescription painkillers before switching to heroin.

Other reasons people may use drugs are to feel good from the effects, such as to feel more energetic and confident when using stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. People may also use stimulants — including prescription stimulants like ADHD medications — to perform better in certain areas of their life, such as at work or in social situations. The NIDA reports that some people may also use drugs to numb difficult emotions such as depression and anxiety. In contrast, others may use drugs simply because they are curious and want to experiment.

Whatever the reason for using drugs, this behavior can eventually become difficult to control due to the way drugs interact with the brain. Prolonged, regular use of drugs can lead to increased tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.

What Are Risk Factors for Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction can affect anyone, but some risk factors make people more susceptible to addiction than others.

According to the National Library of Medicine and the NIDA, common risk factors for drug addiction include:

  • Early exposure to drugs during childhood
  • Spending time with other people who use drugs
  • Mental illness such as depression and anxiety
  • Problems at home, such as domestic abuse or lack of parental supervision
  • Problems at work or school, such as being bullied
  • Aggressive behavior in childhood
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access to drugs
  • Living in a poor community
  • Drug experimentation
  • Having a family history of addiction

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction?

People who suffer from drug addiction generally exhibit the same types of behaviors regardless of the drug being used. These individuals tend to prioritize drug use above everything else in life, including important obligations related to family, home, work, and school. Physical symptoms of drug abuse and addiction will depend on the type of drugs being used.

Behavioral signs of addiction include:

  • Being unable to control drug use
  • Spending lots of time obtaining and using drugs, and recovering from the effects
  • Having new friends or changing friends frequently
  • Having strong cravings or urges to use drugs
  • Reduced performance at work or school
  • Missing more work or school than usual
  • Spending more time alone
  • Unpredictable and unexplainable mood changes
  • Changes to eating and sleeping patterns
  • Having persistent social problems due to drug use
  • Giving up favorite and important activities to use drugs
  • Continuing to use drugs even though they are causing health problems
  • Having a higher tolerance for drugs, characterized by needing a higher amount to feel the effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like nausea and vomiting when not using drugs

Physical symptoms of drug addiction may include:

  • Constricted or dilated pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating
  • Shaking/tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Drowsiness/sedation
  • Changes to sexual libido
  • Extreme talkativeness
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Involuntary twitching
  • Slowed breathing
  • Rapid or rambling speech
  • Tooth decay
  • Poor personal hygiene, such as not showering or brushing teeth

How Can Drug Addiction Be Effectively Treated?

Medications and behavioral therapy are the most common treatments for drug use disorders. Medications are often used as part of medical detox treatments for drug withdrawal and dependence, while behavioral therapy is used as part of rehab programs for addiction.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy helps patients develop healthier and more productive lifestyles without drugs and alcohol. Most patients receive several types of behavioral therapies — each of which addresses a different component of the addiction. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients change harmful drug-using behaviors, while dual diagnosis therapy helps patients learn how to manage and live with a co-occurring mental illness.

Baystate Recovery Service will develop a customized treatment plan for each patient based on their unique situation and recovery needs.  Behavioral therapies are available in both residential and outpatient settings.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug addiction, give Baystate Recovery Services a call.