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Updated: Dec 4, 2022

When used as a coping strategy, drug use can develop into compulsive, harmful behaviours with very serious physical and mental health consequences. Both prescription medication and illicit drug addictions can be fatal if left unmanaged.

Drug Addiction and Abuse - Definition

When defining drug addiction, we must first consider what we mean by the term drugs. In this context, a drug is a substance that will have a psychological impact when consumed. We can drill down further into sub-categories, for example, illicit drugs, prescription drugs and medication, or legal drugs. Although alcohol can be classed as a drug, alcohol addiction or alcoholism are often viewed separately from drugs, though some of the impacts and treatment options are similar.

A very simple definition of alcohol and drug addiction is that a person develops tolerance to a drug, so they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect, that they suffer from withdrawal symptoms if they do not take the drug, and that they continue to use the drug despite a build-up of negative consequences. Negative consequences of substance abuse include an impact on physical health, an impact on mental health, and changes in behaviour. They also experience cravings and urges to use drugs.

The First Signs of Substance Abuse

Drug addiction or substance use disorders do not happen instantly or overnight. There is a build up with identifiable signposts and behavioral changes along the way that may indicate substance abuse. Family members will often become aware of the signs that something is not right with a loved one. These first signs help us to recognize when someone is using drugs.

First signs of drug addiction or drug abuse would include:

  • Losing interest in things that used to be important or that the loved one enjoyed doing Poor self-care - not looking after their appearance, not attending medical appointments, not eating well, a disrupted sleep pattern

  • build-up of effects on physical health - weight loss, or weight gain, frequent colds and health issues, drowsiness

  • Behavioral changes - becoming more isolated from friends and family, being secretive, keeping strange hours, becoming defensive or argumentative over relatively minor things or if being challenged about their behaviors

  • Spending increasing amounts of money, this might include stealing money from family, or manipulating situations to get more funds

  • Taking a prescription drug or medications outside of the prescribing guidelines of their doctor

  • Distinct changes in mental health, including mood swings, periods of depression, anxiety

  • Symptoms Drug addiction symptoms or behaviours include, among others: Feeling that you must use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day

  • Having intense urges for the drug that block out any other thoughts

  • Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect

  • Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period than you intended

  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug

  • Spending money on the drug, even though you cannot afford it

  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use

  • Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it is causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm

  • Doing things to get the drug that you normally would not do, such as stealing

  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you are under the influence of the drug

  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug

  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug

An addict needs help Contrary to general belief, addiction of any kind is not an indulgence or bad habit. It is a medical disorder. Most people’s view of addiction is hinged on the idea that addicts have a choice. In reality, it is a chronic disorder characterised by the compulsive need to use drugs despite harmful consequences. An addict is a patient whose life is going out of control and needs professional help to recover.

Drug addiction not only affects the substance abuser but also affects families. The family members must face social consequences, mental stress and are put under a huge financial burden. This affects the entire family and often members end up helpless or depressed.

In cases where the addict is the sole breadwinner in the family and the money for the household gets spent on drugs, the family members struggle to sustain themselves.

Early Access to treatment: First Steps When a client is motivated to make some changes, it is important to search for and consider the programmes available and act quickly. When the window of opportunity opens, fast access to treatments and treatment centres can be crucial.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when considering treatment for addiction is cost. However, recent research has shown that, over time, the costs associated with rehab dwarf the costs related to continued addiction, hospitalization, and death by drugs. With the help of insurance, it is possible that your treatment could be fully covered. Professional Intervention

If your attempts to talk to your loved one have been unsuccessful then you may want to consider using professional intervention services. An Intervention is a carefully planned therapy strategy to help families to talk openly and about their feelings regarding the impact of the misuse of drugs or alcohol on themselves, on the person