Addiction is a diagnosed disease that alters the brain functions of an addict. Obsessive thoughts of using drugs and extraordinary measures to get them are often clues that point to drug use that has become addiction. Addiction will eventually spiral into a destructive force that obliterates everything good and fine about the addict and their life.
As more becomes understood about the workings of the brain, it is more often recognized that addiction is not a moral issue and it does not have anything to do with the willpower of the person using drugs. Habitual use of addictive drugs changes the thinking and behavior of the addict. Your loved one will become someone who is very unlike the person you know them to be.
Signs of Addiction
Many signs appear that indicate there might be a problem for them with drugs. They begin to lie and steal and hide behind larger and larger deceptions. Their defensive denials of the problem become stronger and can escalate into violence.
Stopping the behavior or substance brings the addict to a cycle of denial of the addiction, craving and relapse. There are other symptoms, but these are the basic building blocks of addiction.
Some changes to look for:
- missing work or school when too high the night before and are unable function today;
- stealing money or drugs from friends or family members;
- selling personal possessions to get money for drugs;
- inability to function appropriately in normal daily tasks;
- falling asleep or staying awake in unusual patterns;
- forgetting important dates or appointments;
- sudden rages or angry outbursts;
- defensiveness when questioned about motives for unusual behavior or attitudes;
- other alarming and noticeable changes in personality or behavior.
If a loved one is taking prescription medication that has addictive properties, they may begin to abuse the medication. While it may relieve symptoms of an ongoing or chronic health condition, they may begin to steal to get more of the drug than the prescription provides. This happens with some pain medications and with some people who take benzodiazepines for mental health conditions.
Symptoms of Addiction
Tolerance: After a drug has been used for a period of time, the user will begin to develop the need to take higher doses of the drug to get the same effect. They continue to escalate the amount of the drug being used or take it more often. This is an easy symptom to recognize.
Withdrawal: As use of a drug increases, the user will begin to feel effects of the drug leaving their system. As they become more dependent on the drug, withdrawal symptoms become more uncomfortable. More drugs need to be obtained to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay. This begins the cycle of dependence and addictive use.
Withdrawal from any substance may cause depression, anxiety and lack of energy for the user. Other symptoms may occur, some of which may be psychological and some physical. Some withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Get medical help for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using the drug(s).
Craving: Persistent and constant thoughts about the drug, to the point where they have to have it, are called cravings. The thoughts become obsessive and compulsive as addiction becomes more a part of the users’ life. Addicts will begin to go to extraordinary lengths to get drugs when cravings persist.
Triggers: Triggers are sense-driven reminders of drug use. Users who have developed dependence on a drug have associated certain smells, certain environments, or specific items that remind them of getting high. It can be a physical location that they frequently associate with drug use, a smell, or some ritual of drug use, or sensations that remind them about the drug. These triggers can lead to cravings and relapse if the user dwells on them for any length of time.
Relapse: The return to active drug use after a period of abstinence. Motivation for stopping drug use may be high, but it is recognized that most addicts will have periodic relapses to active addiction before they can maintain complete abstinence. Addiction is difficult to overcome, and some addicts are not able to do so without a great amount of help and patience.
Substitution: Some addicts may trade one drug of abuse for another, believing that they are only addicted to the specific substance that is causing the current problem. This is seldom effective, as it is not the substance, but the addiction that controls the behavior.
Can They Stop?
Most addicts need help to stop using drugs. Once they become abstinent from drugs, they can seldom return to use of any amount or type of drugs. The idea that they can become “normal” when using a different drug or alcohol is untrue. Few real addicts can overcome the changes created in their brain functions to the point where drugs do not pose addiction risks.
Addicts can recover. Remaining hopeful, in spite of the effects of addiction on someone you love, is necessary. Often, family and friends are a strong resource the addict needs to find help. Remaining detached from the situations created by addiction and allowing the addict to get to the point of asking for help can be the key.
Learn all you can about the role of family members and friends in recovery. Access support groups, treatment programs and other resources for families and friends of addicts. Despite the addiction of a loved one, those around them can go on to enjoy healthy lives with recovery of their own.