The list of various chemicals that can be ingested, inhaled, injected, or otherwise taken into the body to create some sort of artificial effect is almost never ending. To fully describe each one is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, here are some broad strokes about the topic, ways to spot if a loved one is suffering from a chemical addiction, and resources to help an addict towards the path of recovery.
In the broadest terms, addicting substances can be categorized into three categories: stimulants, depressants, and psychoactive substances. Stimulants include cocaine in its various forms, amphetamines (speed), nicotine, and caffeine. Stimulants speed up body processes and create a state of heightened excitement and euphoria. Depressants include heroin, morphine, prescription pain pills, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and alcohol. Depressants slow down body processes and create a sense of well being and pleasure. Psychoactive substances include marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy, PCP (angel dust), and others. These substances interact with neurotransmitters in the brain in various ways to cause hallucinations, euphoria, or an artificial sense of intimacy. Of course, a number of substances can have a variety of effects on the brain, and so it is not always easy or even necessary to distinguish which category a substance might belong to.
Most of the substances mentioned above cause physical dependence, where the body gets used to having the drug in the system. Tolerance also occurs, in which over time, greater and greater amounts of the drug is needed to effect the same level of euphoria. And finally, symptoms of withdrawal occur when the chemical is suddenly removed. With certain drugs, withdrawal can cause life-threatening symptoms.
Addiction is a complex combination of neurobiological, psychological, and social factors. The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that addiction is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving. For an addict, using or the preoccupation of drugs starts to supersede and consume all other areas of life: work, family, recreation, money, and even food. The addict suffers a breakdown of interpersonal relationships. Job or school performance can decline. Lying and stealing frequently occur.
Although addiction can exist by itself, substance abuse and dependence frequently occurs in the presence of other psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others. Drug abuse can also be an unhealthy coping mechanism for previous trauma: physical or sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or emotional neglect. Dealing successfully with the addiction problem usually requires treatment for any concurrent psychiatric or psychological issues.
Recognizing that a loved one has an addiction problem can occasionally be difficult, since changes in behavior can progress slowly over the course of months or even years. School-aged children might become more withdrawn, with a change in friends or a drop in grades. One might notice a co-worker with a change in personality, tardiness that is out of the norm, or declining job performance.
There are numerous philosophies as well as programs to help an addict overcome her or his addiction. Some philosophies advocate complete abstinence while others emphasize functional status like going to school or work. Narcotics Anonymous is the most well known and prevalent of all the programs, with chapters in almost every town. NA is based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous and relies on an instant support network of individuals going through recovery together. Programs such as Jude Thaddeus tackle drug and alcohol addiction not as a disease but rather as series of choices a person makes to take back control of his or her life. Most communities have inpatient treatment centerssuch as the Institute of Living in Hartford and the Genesis Center in Manchesteras well as intensive outpatient therapy that meets for several hours multiple times a week. Adjunctive conferences such as the Discovery program in Austin and Dallas can help an individual find continued success with beating a drug addiction.
Medical treatment of a drug addiction depends on the substance(s) being abused. Acute withdrawal from an opiate such as heroin or a stimulant such as cocaine might require admission to the hospital in an Intensive Care setting. Outpatient narcotic treatment consists mainly of state-run methadone clinics. Clients are usually seen at the methadone dispensary center every morning, where random urine testing and regular meetings with a mental health specialist are required. An alternative is outpatient treatment with Suboxone, a partial agonist of the opiod receptor. The advantage is that once a patient has a stable dose of Suboxone and a proven track record, she might not need follow up visits but once a month. The disadvantage of Suboxone is that it is a branded medicine and very expensive, although insurance prescription plans might cover all or a portion of the medicine cost. Also, a distinct separate DEA license is required to order or dispense Suboxone. This office is certified to prescribe Suboxone. Dr. Han can talk to you to see if Suboxone is right for you.
Ultimately, the first step to freedom from an addiction is for a person to admit there is a problem. From there, help in some sort of format can be found. There are a multitude of online and local support groups available for those struggling with chemical addictions. Here are a few not previously listed:
Chemically Dependent Anonymous
Crystal Meth Anonymous
Dual Recovery Anonymous
Recovering Couples Anonymous
LifeRing Secular Recovery
JACS: Jewish Alcholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others
SMART Recovery: Self Management & Recovery Training: An abstinence program based on cognitive-behavioral principles
Furthermore, when an addict suffers with a chemical dependency, the lives of families and friends are also affected. If you have a loved one or friend who is struggling with an addiction, the following web sites might be useful:
Narcotics-Anon Family Groups
Cocaine-Anon Family Groups
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