For some people, addictions to drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine come as a foresight to having abused them recreationally or “just for fun.” Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of knowing whether a particular substance of abuse will or will not lead to a definitive addiction for a user—some are simply more prone to physical dependence than others.
Regardless of or why drug abuse begins, feelings of isolation, shame and hopelessness are all common in users who fall victim to the perilous effects of substance abuse. If you or someone you know may be using drugs, it’s important to know that there is help available—you don’t have to fight drug abuse and addiction on your own. By taking the time to understand the nature of drug abuse, the effects that drug abuse can have on the user and the treatment options that are available, there’s a greater chance that the stronghold will never be enough to fully weigh you down.
What is Drug Abuse?
Drug abuse usually begins with experimental use of a substance for recreational purposes but it may occur as a result of mistake too. Often times, people will take additional prescribed medications in an effort to control pain or to compensate for feelings of withdrawal; unfortunately, this too is considered drug abuse and behaviors like this can also lead to addiction.
A single instance of drug use is not necessarily abusive, but repeat use of a drug, in an effort to mask emotions or compensate for withdrawal symptoms or “just for fun” is considered drug abuse. When a user repeatedly abuses drugs, there is an increased risk for consequences such as physical and psychological dependence, overdose, injury and other serious outcomes.
How Does Drug Abuse Begin?
Experimental use of drugs is often the culprit for continued drug abuse, but not always. Some people are prescribed medications such as painkillers and anxiety reducing drugs that they become comfortable taking. It’s very common for a user to believe that because a medication has been prescribed to them by a doctor, then it “must be safe.” Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nonmedical use of prescription drugs is on the risk and affects an estimated 52 million people.
People abuse drugs for many different reasons, including:
- A desire to fit in with others
- A desire to overcome negative emotions
- A desire to illicit a positive emotion
- A desire to “get high”
- A need to fill a void
- A desire to relax
- A desire to feel comfortable in social situations
- A desire to relieve pain
What are the Signs of Drug Abuse?
Early drug use does not always shed light on the negative consequences that can arise from abusing substances such as heroin, prescription drugs, cocaine or methamphetamine; but this doesn’t mean that there is not grave danger under way. Each drug that is abused or each class of drug that is abused has the potential to cause a number of physical and psychological side effects for the user. The following are some of the most common signs of general drug abuse:
- Taking drugs in situations that are considered dangerous or risky
- Taking drugs while driving, operating machinery, working or while performing routine duties
- Allowing drugs to interfere with responsibilities such as school work, homework, household chores, or employment
- Taking drugs when you know that you have important responsibilities to tend to (such as staying up late to use drugs even though you know you have a test the next day)
- Using drugs despite problems that arise in your relationships such as confrontation with a loved one or spouse
- Getting into trouble legally as a result of your drug use
Is Drug Abuse the Same as Drug Addiction?
The terms “drug abuse” and “drug addiction” are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. Drug abuse is the early misuse of drugs that does not include physical dependence characteristics. During this time, a user can more easily quit and is not burdened by the weight and physical stronghold of dependence on drugs; the user really just enjoys using drugs and that’s the only thing holding them to the drug use.
Drug addiction, however, is much more serious. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, drug addiction is a, “long-term, compulsive drug use.” Drug addiction is characterized by a strong bond to the drug that prevents ease of quitting even when there is a general desire to stop using. People who are addicted may make many attempts to stop using drugs but despite their efforts they relapse back to the same previous patterns of use.
What are the Signs of Drug Addiction?
The signs of drug addiction are much more pronounced and characteristic of consequences than those of drug abuse. Because people who are addicted to drugs cannot feasibly quit on their own without help or at least without a very strong commitment and the support of loved ones, drug addiction signs tend to present in the form of chronic relapse and continued consequences. The most common signs of drug addiction include:
- Persistent cravings for the drug
- Symptoms of withdrawal when the drug is not used
- Feeling like the day cannot go on without the drug
- Becoming preoccupied with drug use
- Continued drug use despite legal, financial, personal, emotional or health problems
- Lack of control over drug use
- Life revolves around using drugs
How Can I Tell if Someone I Love is Abusing Drugs?
If you suspect that someone you care about may be abusing drugs, consider the following warning signs:
- Changes in personal appearance
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Constricted pupils
- Changes in sleep patterns such as staying awake at odd hours or sleeping more
- Slurred speech
- Inappropriate movements
- Lack of coordination
- Changes in friendships or groups that the individual spends time with
- Changes in hobbies or interest in activities
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Acting secretive or as if something is being hidden
- Wearing long sleeve clothing or pants to cover up the skin
- Being moody or irritable
- Acting depressed or anxious
- Acting unusually happy
- Acting unusually sad
- Acting as if there is nothing else that matters except using
- Acting as if there is no motivation to do anything
- Being lazy or otherwise not accomplishing things
- Acting scared or paranoid about things that are unreasonable
- Laughing at or talking to things that are not there
- Acting inappropriately in any manner
Who’s At Risk for Drug Abuse?
Nobody is fully safe from the potential dangers of drug abuse—in fact, anyone who has taken a drug, whether for fun or as a result of a legitimate prescribed need, is at risk of becoming a victim of drug abuse. Drug abuse risk factors are increased when:
- There is a history of drug abuse in the family
- There is a history of mental illness
- There is a history of abuse
- Antisocial behavior has been exhibited
- There is ease of access to drugs
- There is a high stress level such as with work or at home
- There are others in the household that abuse drugs
- There are friends or family close by who use
What to do if Someone You Know is Abusing Drugs
While it can be downright scary to think about someone you love using drugs, seeking help is the first attempt that you can make at achieving a safe and effective outcome from this problem. If you think someone you know might be abusing drugs, consider taking the following steps to help him or her:
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the individual about your suspicions and concerns.
- Offer support and assistance without placing judgment on the individual.
- If you are pushed away, consider seeking professional help through an interventionist or treatment professional.
- Be open and honest, and don’t take no for an answer.
- Don’t let yourself become an enabler.
- Keep your own health up by seeking support through groups such as Nar-Anon or Al-Anon.
- Refrain from placing yourself into situations that can put your life at risk—when in doubt, stay out!
- Encourage professional treatment in a controlled atmosphere where the user can receive adequate counseling, therapy and medical care.
- Don’t allow excuses to take over—the individual is responsible for the actions and behaviors that he or she takes part in regardless of drug use—it’s important not to allow the drug abuse to be the excuse for every action.
Treatment Options for Drug Abusers
If you’re ready to get help and to overcome the challenge of drug abuse and addiction, there are plenty of options to help you make the best out of your recovery and achieve your goals. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following methods of treatment for drug abuse are the most common:
- Medications – such as Methadone or other methods of medical intervention that help to curb cravings, stop withdrawal or stabilize the individual.
- Behavioral therapies – such as CBT or Motivational Interviewing which capitalizes on the motivational response of the user with positive changes in behavior.
- Residential treatment programs – such as those which provide around-the-clock medical monitoring, supportive care and counseling.
- Outpatient treatment programs – such as those that offer limited support and treatment options.