It is difficult to establish how many people are affected by drug abuse. Drug users often do so in secret, and functional addicts may not be obvious to those around them. There is also an issue of definition—at what point is someone classified as an addict and at what point use becomes abuse are subject to debate. However, surveys have found that close to 10 percent of Americans age 12 and over use drugs, including unauthorized use of prescription medication, with 87 percent of them classified as addicts.
While the word "addiction" is often used to refer to a strong love or a habit, it has a narrower medical meaning. Drug addiction is a medical condition, and a drug addiction is more than just a drug use ritual or an inordinate fondness for them. Drug use certain can change the structure of the brain; in particular, the way it responds to stimuli. Eventually, rather than using the drug causing pleasure, the time between when the effects wear off and the next dose causes unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms, called withdrawal. At this point, the drug is used simply to eliminate these withdrawal symptoms.
Experts have noted that the concept of "drug abuse"—and the degree to which addiction is regarded as a problem—is tied into notions of "drug" and "abuse." Caffeine is, from a chemical and psychological perspective, a drug, and, from a neurological perspective, an addictive one. The feelings of being jittery and out of sorts before ones first cup of coffee are in part withdrawal symptoms. However, because it is legal practically everywhere, "caffeine addiction" is not regarded as abuse. On the other hand, regulated or illegal substances, such as cocaine, heroin, and crystal methamphetamine, are deemed drugs of abuse. Even marijuana, which is not addictive and generally considered less dangerous than alcohol, is considered subject to abuse, though alcohol is as well.
More and more, people are recognizing what experts have been saying for years: drug dependency is an illness. That’s because it has become clear that treating it as an illness, rather than an indication of bad character or a simple failure of will, has the best outcomes in terms of helping addicts break away from addiction and lead healthy and productive lives. When addiction is treated as the sickness it is, a cure becomes possible.
Not all drug use is drug addiction. In fact, some common drugs, such as marijuana, do not lead to physical addiction, though a person can develop a habit. There are some signs you can look for that indicate if someone has a problem. Addiction is more than just an interest in the addictive substance; addicts refocus their lives around the object of addiction. Addicts tend to disregard responsibilities, relationships (including but not limited to intimate ones) and safety if those things stand between them and the high. Less subtle signs are mood swings, sudden changes in behavior, withdrawal from family members, losing interest in things like hobbies or even personal grooming, and changes in sleeping patterns.
If you think a loved one may have a substance abuse problem, there are things you can do to help. While treatment is most effective when it’s totally voluntary, there are success stories that start with the patient being pressured or even forced into a rehabilitation program. An intervention requires some planning beforehand—determining the extent of the problem, figuring out who will participate directly—but directly confronting an addict with the negative consequences of their behavior can prove to be precisely what is required to induce them to get help they need.
When someone is in recovery, it’s important to be supportive, particularly if you had (explicitly or otherwise) made maintaining the relationship contingent on their kicking their habit. That means, first and foremost, listening to what they say they need. You don’t have to listen uncritically, particularly to someone who has a history of being manipulative, but do listen. At any rate, be aware that there is no quick fix, and recovery is a process. In the long run, things can work out.
One in ten Americans have quit drugs or alcohol, according to New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. More than one in three have given up cigarettes.
The survey found that most people in recovery are men between 35 and 44. Perhaps surprisingly, parents are as likely to report being in recovery as people without children.
These findings show that addiction– and recovery– are far more common than many people, even many experts, realized. They also show that recovery is possible for just about anyone. Unfortunately, the stigma around substance abuse often prevents people from seeking and accepting the help they need. It can be difficult for an addict to admit to being an addict, with all that the label implies. Substance addiction is a disease. Because addiction can lead not only to personal problems but also to health problems, such as stroke, hepatitis, and lung disease, it is important that substance abusers be encouraged to embark on a recovery process.
It is possible to recover on one’s own– even some of the heroin users in the study had recovered without formal treatment– but most people with addiction problems will benefit from some sort of treatment and rehabilitation program. This program should be tailored to the needs of the patient; no one approach is best for everybody. However, a treatment program should be grounded in scientifically sound, evidence-based techniques.