Defining drug addiction is not a simple matter. Drug addiction is the compulsive behavior of seeking out and using drugs to maintain normal function. Drug addicts that fail to administer the daily amount of the drug needed to function properly will suffer from withdrawal symptoms, which can vary depending on the drug of choice. Addiction can be defined in many ways, so it may depend on the text from which it is derived.
Defining Drug Addiction
Addiction is sometimes stigmatized as a condition in which an addict suffers from a lack of willpower, but in reality, addiction is a real disorder that has science to back it up. Addiction has psychosocial, genetic, and environmental factors influencing its overall development. Defining drug addiction is traditionally done by characterizing behaviors of compulsive use, an impaired control over the use of the substance, cravings, and continued use despite the harmful consequences of repeated drug use.
Another term that helps shed light when defining drug addiction is physical dependence. Physical dependence is defined as being in a state that would elicit withdrawal symptoms if the user were to cease, antagonize, reduce, or decrease the blood concentration of the substance in question. Tolerance is defined as the physical changes the body undergoes with repeated usage of substance. When tolerance builds, the amount of the drug needed to attain the same effect also increases.
Theories for the Cause of Drug Addiction
One of the first theories of drug addiction was proposed by both biological researchers and psychoanalysts. The Self-Medication Hypothesis stated that individuals that suffered from drug addiction abused drugs to escape from some intolerable and unique state of mind. Sigmund Freud, a famous psychoanalyst, was one of the first scientists to espouse this theory while studying the antidepressant properties of cocaine.
The theory is supported by the fact that stress can be a major contributor to the relapses and drug cravings felt by addicts. In fact, addicts’ drug of choice is highly dependent on how the effects of the drug work to relieve their particular psychopathological symptoms. For example, patients who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to seek drugs that serve to combat the symptoms of depression and PTSD. For the most part, depressed individuals will find alcohol, opioids, and other drugs to relieve their symptoms.
Another theory lends to the fact that social development plays a significant role in drug addiction. The theory predicts that because some people are slower to reach certain developmental milestones throughout their lives, they are more prone to negative consequences, such as drug and alcohol dependence.
The Science of Drug Addiction
The utilization of drugs causes the release of two primary feel-good neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine ostensibly has the largest effect on the drug user by acting on the reward circuit, or mesolimbic system, of the brain. Dopamine is also associated with being the number one factor causing drug addiction, because of its ability to create an intense feeling of euphoria.
Dopamine acts naturally as a reinforcing agent to certain behaviors that are advantageous, like eating and fornicating. However, dopamine also reinforces the bad habit of drug use because of the inherent pleasure associated with it. Drug use can cause the brain to release dopamine two to ten-fold greater than what is considered to be reasonable amounts. Thus, the utilization of substances is perceived by the brain as highly rewarding, leading to the repeated use of the drug.
Although the prospect of curing addiction may be hopeless at the moment, drug addiction is treatable. One of the most fulfilling endeavors to end substance dependence is attending an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility. Most drug rehabs get down to business in two phases of treatment: the detoxification (detox) phase and the treatment phase.
During the detox period, patients will spend 5 to 10 days under constant surveillance by healthcare professionals who strive to ease the process of withdrawal and detoxification. Once the patient is cleared from detox, they are then able to participate in the treatment phase of rehabilitation. This phase will usually last during the remainder of the 30 day period spent in the facility, though it is possible to stay up to nine months at a rehab facility if necessary.
Most programs voice a philosophy of complete abstinence from drugs upon the patient’s release. Hence, rehabs will offer some group and individual therapy that focus on ways to stay completely drug-free. The idea is that enabling further drug use would only subserve the possibility of addiction and health complications in the future. Thus, drug rehabilitation programs, along with continued treatment after that, is one of the best ways to battle the affliction of drug addiction.
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