Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a condition in which a person uses a drug so much that it interferes with daily life. Treatment involves behavioral therapy, counseling, and rehabilitation.

Drug Addiction Overview

Reviewed: May 19, 2014

Drug addiction is a complex illness characterized by intense and, at times, uncontrollable craving for a drug, as well as compulsive drug seeking and use that persist even in the face of devastating consequences. The path to drug addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs, but, over time, a person's ability to choose not to use the drug becomes compromised, and seeking and consuming the drug becomes compulsive. This behavior results largely from the effects of prolonged drug exposure on brain functioning. Addiction is a brain disease that affects multiple brain circuits, including those involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and inhibitory control over behavior.

Because drug abuse and addiction have so many dimensions and disrupt so many aspects of an individual's life, treatment is not simple. Effective treatment programs typically incorporate many components, each directed to a particular aspect of the illness and its consequences. Addiction treatment must help the individual stop using drugs, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and achieve productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society. Because addiction is typically a chronic disease, people cannot simply stop using drugs for a few days and be cured. Most patients require long-term or repeated episodes of care to achieve the ultimate goal of sustained abstinence and recovery of their lives.

Drug addiction can be treated, but there is no cure. It is a long-term disease that people must learn to manage. Most treatment plans for addiction involve behavioral changes, cognitive therapy, and rehabilitation programs.

Drug Addiction Symptoms

The hallmark symptom of any addiction is the inability to stop or limit the use of a drug.

You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Craving or compulsion to use the drug
  • Increasing amounts of the drug are needed to achieve the desired effect
  • Irritability, anxiety, shaking, and nausea if you attempt to stop using the drug
  • Impaired work, social, and family responsibilities when you use the drug
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, and failure
  • Anxiety or depression
See your doctor or health care provider if you think you have an addiction.

Drug Addiction Causes

There are no specific causes of drug addiction. There is no way to accurately predict who will become dependent on the use of a drug.

Any substance or activity that is pleasurable can become an addiction by impacting the reward, motivation, and memory pathways of the brain.

People of all ages, life stages, and socioeconomic strata can be affected by addiction. A combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors likely contributes to and increases the risk of addiction. You are more likely to experience addiction if you:

  • Have parents or older family members who suffer from addiction or are involved in criminal behavior
  • Have friends who suffer from addiction
  • Experience academic failures or have poor social skills
  • Have unstable family relationships
  • Have mental illness
  • Experienced trauma or abuse

Drug Addiction Diagnosis

Most drug addictions are diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms and behaviors. There are no specific tests to diagnose addiction.

Living With Drug Addiction

Living with drug addiction is difficult and can be debilitating. Daily activities and relationships are negatively affected. However, help is available for the person suffering from addiction and the families. Many support services and organization can help live with and manage addiction. Living with and overcoming drug addiction is easier with encouragement, comfort, and guidance.

Drug Addiction Treatments

Drug addiction is treatable, though there is no cure. Most addictions are life-long diseases that require consistent management to prevent relapses to unhealthy behaviors or new addictions. Most people seek treatment for addiction because a court ordered them to do so or family members encouraged them to obtain help. Fortunately, people can benefit from treatment programs regardless of the initial motivation for seeking treatment.

The first phase of addiction treatment is withdrawal from the substance or activity. You will likely experience physical and/or psychological effects of withdrawal, including nausea, vomiting, chills, sweating, muscle cramps and aches, sleeplessness, changes in heart rate, fever, anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings. Medical supervision is recommended for some substance addictions and medications can be used to manage the effects of withdrawal of certain substances. For example, methadone (Methadose), buprenorphine (Butrans, Buprenex), and naltrexone (Revia, Vivtrol) are effective for treating opiate addictions; nicotine replacement systems, including patches, gums, sprays, and lozenges, are effective for treating tobacco addictions; and naltrexone (Revia, Vivtrol), acamprosate (Campral), and disulfiram (Antabuse) are effective for treating alcohol addictions.

Behavioral therapy and counseling helps identify, avoid, and cope with situations that make you want to use the substance or activity of the addiction. Family therapy teaches the family of the person suffering from addiction to provide a safe and supportive environment.

Rehabilitation programs help people who are overcoming addictions to regain life skills.

No single treatment approach is appropriate for every person or every addiction. Treatment should be individualized and continually assessed to ensure that it meets the changing needs of the person with addiction.

Drug Addiction Prognosis