10 facts you should know about addiction Whether it’s drugs or alcohol, addiction is a big problem here in the United States and all over the world. An estimated 21.6 million Americans are dependent upon drugs or alcohol. One factor which contributes to this is a lack of information or misinformation about addiction. Here are ten facts to empower you and dispel some common misunderstandings about addiction:
There are a number of specialized terms when it comes to addiction and the rehab community. Four terms which you need to know and understand are: drug abuse, tolerance, dependence and addiction.
Drug Abuse is the recurrent use of illegal drugs, or the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs with negative consequences.
Tolerance is a state in which an organism no longer responds to a drug – a higher dose is required to achieve the same effect.
Dependence is defined as a state in which an organism functions normally only in the presence of a drug. It is further characterized by such symptoms as taking the drug in larger amounts than intended, an inability to reduce dosage, and continuing to use in spite of health or social problems brought about through drug usage.
Addiction indicates a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences as well as neuro-chemical and molecular changes in the brain.
While the terms dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably, addiction commonly indicates a protracted and even more severe development of dependence.
Opioids are not the only addictive medication. According to a 2013 government survey, 21.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse. Out of this number, the most commonly abused drugs were:
We commonly hear about the abuse and addiction to opioid pain relievers like Vicodin or OxyContin, because these are extremely addictive and widely prescribed. However, other addictive medications include:
- Anti-anxiety medication: Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax are highly addictive and can be deadly. After prescription opioids, benzodiazepines are the leading cause of death by prescription drug overdose.
- Over-the-counter cough medicines: Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a decongestant in many over-the-counter cold medicines. It can cause euphoria and hallucinations when more than the recommended dosage is consumed.
- Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft as well as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor, Pristiq, and Anafranil are all linked with severe side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
- ADHD drugs: Drugs like Concerta, Metadate, Methylin, and Ritalin contain methylphenidate while other ADHD medications like Desoxyn contain methamphetamine. Still more ADHD meds like Adderall and Dexedrine contain amphetamines. All of the above listed drugs are highly addictive stimulants.
- Sleeping pills: Hypnotics like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata can all cause serious dependence and addiction.
The above drugs are only some of the commonly prescribed drugs which can lead to addiction. It is always important as a patient to understand whether the drugs prescribed to you contain a risk of dependency. You also have the right to know the side effects, how drugs interact with one another, how they affect pregnancy and breastfeeding, and other considerations. Just because one doctor says a drug is “safe” does not make it so. You have the right to get other opinions, consult independent and unbiased research, and make your own decisions.
Addiction can cause severe malnutrition in two ways:
1. A side effect of the drug is a reduced appetite. Amphetamines, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine all can change a user’s appetite and cause them to stop eating a healthy amount of food.
2. Drugs burn up essential vitamins and minerals, causing severe deficiencies and adding to the discomforts the user experiences. For example, many drugs deplete the body of vitamin B1 (thiamine), causing memory problems, nerve damage, lack of coordination, swelling in the extremities, trouble breathing, uncontrolled eye movements, cataracts, depression and anxiety. Lack of this nutrient has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
A benefit of holistic addiction treatment is the correction of these deficiencies, which results in improved mental and physical health.
There are more alcoholics in the U.S. than drug addicts. Out of an estimated 21.6 million Americans classified with substance abuse or dependence problems in 2013, 17.3 million were alcoholics. This means that over 80% of American addicts are alcoholics.
While every drug has side effects, risks increase and get more dangerous the longer one stays addicted. Drugs are not a natural part of the human makeup and therefore cause unwanted effects to the human body. Short-term side effects of many drugs can include headache, nausea, digestion problems, and changes in blood pressure. Long-term effects tend toward more serious issues like organ damage or even organ failure. The most commonly abused drug, alcohol, can shorten one’s life expectancy by 30 years either from accidental death or organ failure. Fatal overdose from opiates and other drugs can occur whether it’s the first use or the 1,000th.
Marijuana can be addictive. A common misconception is that cannabis is not addictive, but, as is the case with the majority of drugs that cause a high, marijuana can cause addiction.
Marijuana affects the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These receptors influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, senses, and time perception. Marijuana over-stimulates this system and causes a high. Some users continuously pursue this high, dedicating their life to marijuana. If they stop using, they can experience severe depression and other symptoms, so they keep using their entire lives.
Marijuana can cause the following withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped:
- Decreased appetite
The use of needles is not the only way addictive behavior brings about the spread of disease. HIV/AIDs, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are most often transmitted by ingesting fluids from an infected person. This opens up a number of ways drug users can contract STDs and other diseases.
- Needle sharing
- Use of dirty needles
- Passing around a blunt, joint or pipe
- Sharing a device for snorting
- Having unprotected sexual contact with an infected person
- Kissing or exchange of bodily fluid with an infected person
- Unhygienic practices and surroundings, such as a meth house or crack house
- Promiscuity and using sex as a way to get money or drugs
One can be completely educated on the subject of sexually transmitted diseases and still contract one due to one moment of irresponsibility. Drugs and alcohol loosen inhibitions and lower cognition. An individual on drugs or who is drunk is more likely to do something they would not otherwise do, like have unprotected sex. Teenage pregnancy, unwanted pregnancies and abortions all too commonly result from the bad judgment associated with binge drinking and drug use.
So-called “club drugs” can be addictive. There is a widespread belief that drugs like GHB, Rohypnol (“roofies”), ketamine, and Molly (ecstasy) are not addictive or even dangerous when one administers them to oneself. Here are the facts:
GHB and Rohypnol are known for their criminal use as “date rape” drugs. When a girl wakes up the next day, after a party for example, she may not recall that she was unknowingly administered the drug and sexually assaulted. These substances are also commonly abused for their muscle-relaxing, sedative and hypnotic effects. They are easy to overdose on, can cause seizures and coma, and can be addictive. When attempting to stop using these drugs, one can experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings.
Ketamine is called a dissociative anesthetic because it distorts the reality of the user and causes them to feel detached from surrounding sights and sounds. Effects include impaired memory, delirium, hallucination and amnesia. Ketamine also creates a binge-type addiction similar to the addiction experienced by cocaine or amphetamine users.
Ecstasy or “Molly” (MDMA) causes an increase in sensory perception and a euphoric state. Some of the pop music today glamorizes ecstasy use to one degree or another. What is not advertised by pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj are the dangers of ecstasy. Undesirable effects of MDMA include:
- Involuntary jaw clenching and teeth grinding
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Reduced interest in and pleasure from sex (despite its reputation as a “love drug”)
- Anxiety, irritability, depression, aggression
- Reduction in cognitive ability
- Drug cravings
- High blood pressure
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
These factors show that ecstasy and other club drugs are far from safe.
Drugs used to treat opiate addiction are themselves addictive. Methadone is a synthetic opioid that has proven to be highly addictive. It is however widely used in treating opiate addiction – heroin in particular. Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) and Subutex (buprenorphine) are also opioids, but are used in opiate withdrawal due to less addictive properties.
Methadone is not only addictive, it causes dangerous withdrawal symptoms when stopped cold turkey, particularly after prolonged use. An individual using methadone for legitimate medical reasons will still experience tolerance and will gradually need a higher prescription to stave off withdrawal symptoms like muscle and bone aches, insomnia, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, increase in heartbeat and blood pressure, drug craving, and seizures.
Taking a drug as prescribed can still cause addiction. Many individuals start on the path to addiction by taking a medication they have been prescribed, such as an opioid like Percocet or a sleeping pill like Ambien. If the medication causes dependence in users, there is a possibility that additive behavior can result.
Addiction potential can be minimized by understanding the side effects associated with a drug. Obviously, a prescription medication should be taken only as prescribed. Once the prescription is no longer needed, dispose of any leftover pills according to the guidelines laid out by the Food and Drug Administration at www.FDA.gov.
There are many non-drug alternatives to mental conditions like depression and anxiety. Psychiatric (psychotropic) drugs such as antidepressants, psycho-stimulants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines are packaged with warnings of side effects; they also cause side effects which are not even listed on the packaging. Antidepressants for example contain warnings about increase in suicidal thoughts in the user.
It is therefore a very good idea to look into non-drug alternatives. There are websites and groups that specialize in guidance and education on non-drug treatments and that have no vested interest in marketing or selling psychotropic drugs.
Addiction is a huge problem in America. Understanding the causes, educating oneself and others, and avoiding addictive substances whenever possible, can all go a long way in reducing the ranks of those addicted. It will also reduce the casualties. If you or a loved one suffers from dependence or addiction, the time to seek help is right now!
When it comes to addiction, it is every American’s responsibility to help solve the problem and make a better society.