What is drug addiction?

For many people, the concept and background of drug addiction may be difficult to understand. Drug abuse is not a linear issue that affects everyone equally, and the root cause of drug use is generally not straightforward either. When you read an article about drugs from many sources, you’ll often find reference to a lack of morals, principles or willpower attributed to people in active addiction.

In a vacuum, these articles on drugs and alcohol may make sense to those with less experience of what is drug abuse. But in reality, when we define drug addiction, it is less about the scruples or behaviours of a person and more about a complex, difficult disease that takes far more to overcome than a strong will or positive thinking.

How is drug addiction defined?

So, what is drug addiction? At its most basic, drug addiction refers to a chronic disease defined by compulsive drug seeking and using behaviours, regardless of risk or consequence. Drug addiction can happen to anyone, no matter their age, status, or any other factor. As many drug addiction articles cover, the initial decision to take drugs is often voluntary. At the same time, continued and repeated use leads to changes in the brain that directly impacts self-control and the continued urge to use drugs.

If you’re still wondering ‘drug addiction, what is it?’, the exact nature of addiction varies from person to person. Substance abuse doesn’t just apply to one form of drug or chemical. Many drug abuse articles focus on substance abuse of the most extreme drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In the real world, a single paragraph on substance abuse isn’t enough to detail the different forms, causes and types of addiction, which are as diverse as the people with this disease.

Drug addiction as a chronic disease

Unlike other conditions that may have a lifetime treatment, drug abuse is often considered a chronic disease where relapse is far more likely than different kinds of illness. Even years after recovery, people with a history of drug abuse still risk returning to drug use or even using other addictive substances. As with other chronic conditions, ongoing treatment and case are essential for continued recovery from drug addiction to prevent relapse.

Understanding addiction, its causes and its symptoms are necessary concepts related to drugs treatment and rehabilitation, providing individuals with the drug use information they need to make a recovery following addiction. Recent drug abuse articles and guidelines place far more focus on education and recovery over demonising people in need of support for recovery from addiction.

Drug addiction

Understanding drug abuse and addiction

Understanding what drug abuse addiction is, what it looks like, and how drug use and abuse happens are integral ways for people to move forward towards treatment. Having the correct information and insight into the drug abuse addiction definition, what drug abuse looks like, and some of the key facts about drug use can help on the road to recovery. The more informed you are, the better you can understand addiction in yourself or others.

Drug-related health articles will often focus on recovery over information. For addicts in long-term recovery or individuals seeking help, understanding their background of drug abuse and having access to drug abuse addiction information can be critical to successful recovery. We’ve covered some of the fundamentals of drug use and drug abuse to support you in understanding why drugs are a problem and the effect they can have over time.

What is drug use and abuse?

Drug abuse and addiction typically occur when an individual takes a drug over a significant period and finds they cannot stop. This use is usually despite drug abuse causing negative issues in their lives, relationships, or health. When you look up ‘what is drug addiction and drug abuse’, you’ll likely find that most drug addiction and abuse essays cover these fundamentals as well as critical symptoms and signs of addiction.

Why drugs are a problem

Many people have had experiences with drugs in their lifetime, whether as prescribed medications or in recreational settings. Not everyone will become addicted to drugs when they consume them, but that does not mean the risk is not there. Factors such as your environment, biology, and development can all affect whether you develop a drug addiction.

What are the effects of drug abuse?

Drug addiction applies to many legal and illegal substances that affect the ‘reward circuit’ in our brain, producing positive feelings and a flood of neurochemicals when the drug is taken. Over time, our brains come to rely on that substance to produce the response, with resistance causing drug abuse to increase over time to achieve the same results. Over time, substance use can change other areas of the brain, impacting anything from learning to memory to behaviour.

Substance use and abuse information

Understanding drug addiction and its effects make it easier to be informed about the risks and options for substance use and abuse. Substance abuse articles and services can provide insight into what drug addiction is and how to recognise it in yourself and others. It’s important to seek unbiased information on substance abuse beyond asking ‘which of the following does not lead to addiction’ or which substances are less likely to lead to addiction to be fully informed on the risks and problems involved in taking substances.

Drug abuse facts

NHS reports completed in 2020 and ONS studies revealed key information about drug abuse in the UK. Here are some of the top facts:

  • Admissions to hospital for drug-related conditions was 5x more likely in deprived areas
  • 16,994 people were admitted to hospital for poisoning from drug misuse
  • 99,782 people were admitted for primary or secondary diagnosis of drug-related disorders
  • 1 in 11 adults aged 16-59 have taken drugs in the last year
  • 9.4% of adults 16-24 had taken Class A drugs in the last year

When drug use becomes drug abuse or addiction

Some people may be able to take substances recreationally occasionally without developing an addiction, while others may because addicted from the first time they try a drug. As a variable condition that doesn’t affect all people equally, a range of factors can affect the likelihood of drug use becoming drug abuse. Anything from their environment to their genetic predisposition can have an impact on the risk of addiction for an individual.

Addiction can be described as a complex disease, one that is chronic and can impact people for the rest of their lives. If you’re ever attended a speech about drugs and alcohol abuse, much of the focus is on the addictive qualities of drugs, particularly illegal drugs. While some drugs are more addictive than others, the possibility of addiction is formed from numerous different factors and circumstances.

It’s important to understand what makes drug use turn into drug abuse to understand better how addiction can happen to anyone in your life. There’s no single ‘type’ of person that is a drug addict. Looking beyond the surface can provide more insight into what drug addiction is and how it works.

Why do people abuse drugs?

What makes people abuse drugs? While it isn’t a foregone conclusion that drug use ends with addiction, the use of recreational or prescription drugs will always carry a risk if they have addictive qualities. Some of the most common causes for drug abuse include:

  • Self-medication to handle personal circumstances in life
  • Recreation
  • Environmental factors, such as being in an environment where your friends and family use substances.

Risk factors play a significant role in how vulnerable a person may be to addiction, including:

  • A history of addiction in the family
  • A background of traumatic events or experiences
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
  • Introduction to drugs early in development
  • The method of drug use, such as snorting or injecting

What is illegal drug addiction?

Illegal drug addiction and legal drug addiction are the one and the same regarding the effects that substance abuse can have on your body and brain. The key difference between addiction to readily available or prescription drugs and illegal drugs is the risk involved in the substances themselves. The unknown purity of the drug and the danger of obtaining substances can be a considerably higher risk for people in active addiction to illegal drugs.

Examples of drug abuse

Drug abuse takes many different forms, some of which most people are more familiar with than others. While there is a certain stigma attached to particular kinds of addiction, it’s important that you seek treatment and information whatever the substances. Prolonged drug abuse can have consequences regardless of whether you buy illegal drugs from a dealer or purchase opioids over the counter.

Some examples of drug abuse include:

  • Overuse of prescription medications such as opiate painkillers
  • Persistent and increased drinking of alcohol
  • Abuse of solvents such as aerosols and glue
  • Addiction to illegal drugs such as cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, heroin, and cocaine
  • Continued use of ‘legal high’ products

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How drug abuse and addiction develops

The exact pathway to addiction can vary for each individual, even if the end results of drug abuse are similar. There is an extremely fine line between using drugs regularly and becoming dependent on them, and it can be challenging to see when that line is crossed in many cases. Drug frequency does not automatically equate to addiction, but the more drugs are taken, the riskier it is for the health of you or a loved one and the greater the chance of addiction.

What causes drug abuse and addiction?

What causes a drug addiction? There’s no one answer to what is the one spark that causes this chronic disease. But we do know some of the main causes of drug abuse and key circumstances in what leads to drug addiction. Some of the most common causes of drug abuse include:

Socially connecting with others

Recreational drugs are often used in social settings to connect with others and improve enjoyment. For example, ecstasy is most commonly found in nightclubs or at parties and is often considered a social drug. Many people try drugs for the first time when they are provided them by peers, friends or even family members as a way to ‘fit in’.

Providing relief

One of the key causes of drug addiction is to provide relief and escape from everyday life. People with past trauma or individuals who live in deprived areas or bad living situations may choose to take drugs to provide relief. This cause is one of the key reasons why deprived regions of the UK have more prevalent drug addiction problems.

Managing pain

We may typically associate addiction with illegal drugs, but prescription and even over-the-counter medication can be a source of drug abuse. Prescriptions for opiates for pain relief, such as co-codamol, introduce many people to highly addictive opiates, leading to drug dependency and abuse in a short space of time.

How do people get hooked on drugs?

People get hooked on drugs for many different reasons, some of which we have detailed above. There isn’t one straightforward route to addiction, and many people don’t realise they are in active addiction as drug use can increase gradually over time. For some people, what may start out as occasional use can slowly spiral into consistent dependence so slowly that it’s hard to see that change.

Is drug abuse and addiction the same thing?

Drug abuse and addiction are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. While addiction is the chronic disease that causes people to seek out and take substances, drug abuse is the act of using drugs in ways that may endanger the health or wellbeing of yourself or those around you. People who are inactive addiction will abuse drugs because of the intense impulse and physical need to do so.

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction

Drug addiction is often a very gradual process, making it difficult to identify when you or a loved one crosses that invisible line. Knowing the signs of drug addiction and how to identify a drug addict can help in seeking faster treatment to start on the path to recovery. Are you trying to identify symptoms of drug addict behaviour in yourself? Or are you unsure if a loved one is showing signs of drug use? The relevance of drug addiction information can help you spot symptoms as early as possible.

Common symptoms of drug abuse

Drug abuse is the practice of consuming substances in a way that goes beyond recreational or occasional use. This abuse directly impacts different areas of the individual’s life. While various drugs may have different physical effects on the body, the surrounding behaviours and drug abuse information generally remains the same. Common symptoms of drug abuse include:

  • Neglecting personal responsibilities at home, in school or at work
  • Risk-taking behaviour such as using dirty needles, driving on drugs or having unprotected sex
  • Repeated legal trouble from criminal activities such as stealing to buy drugs, DUIs and disorderly conduct arrests
  • Difficulty in maintaining relationships with friends, family members and partners
  • Increasingly secretive and sometimes manipulative behaviour with loved ones

Common symptoms of drug abuse

Drug abuse is the practice of consuming substances in a way that goes beyond recreational or occasional use. This abuse directly impacts different areas of the individual’s life. While various drugs may have different physical effects on the body, the surrounding behaviours and drug abuse information generally remains the same. Common symptoms of drug abuse include:

Common symptoms of drug addiction

Knowing how to detect a drug addict and understanding drug addiction facts can be the first stage to seeking help for yourself or a loved one. While the symptoms of drug abuse are primarily seen from an outside perspective, the signs of drug addiction may be less noticeable for a longer amount of time. Here are some key signs of drug addiction to look out for:

  • An increasing tolerance to drugs
  • Using drugs to relieve or avoid withdrawals
  • Lack of control over drug use
  • Focusing on drug use as the critical factor in your life
  • No longer taking part in activities you used to enjoy
  • Continuing to use drugs despite the physical, psychological, and legal harm it has caused

What are the signs someone is on drugs?

Drug abuse addiction can be easier to spot in some people than others, with many drug abusers in the early stages of addiction covering their tracks well until a certain point. People closest to addicts are often the first to spot changes in their physical health, behaviour, or mood. Here are some of the facts about drugs use that can help you in how to identify a drug addict:

Physical signs

  • Bloodshot eyes or changes in pupil size
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Worsened personal grooming habits
  • Lack of coordination, slurring and shaking
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Behavioural signs
  • Poor attendance at work or school
  • Sudden financial difficulties, seeking to borrow or steal money
  • Acting secretively or suspiciously
  • Changes to friendship groups, where they hang out, and choice of hobbies
  • Getting into fights and legal trouble often
  • Psychological signs
  • A sudden change in attitude or personality
  • Extreme mood swings, outbursts and irritability
  • Manic behaviour, hyperactivity or giddiness
  • Lethargy, lack of motivation and spacing out
  • Anxiety, paranoia and fearful behaviour

Why does drug abuse happen?

Drug abuse happens for many different reasons, from individuals with bad circumstances at home to those looking to socialise and join in with a new friendship group. It’s important to note that drug abuse information tends to be the same, whatever the cause of the addiction. If you’re concerned that a loved one or family member is in the midst of drug abuse addiction, the symptoms we’ve listed above are a good starting point in identifying patterns or areas of concern.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

When a person takes drugs, whether they are prescribed or purchased illegally, the purpose of the substance is to have a direct, chemical effect on the brain. This effect can depend on the exact drug taken, but many drugs directly impact the ‘reward circuit’ in the brain, prompting euphoric or calming feelings. Over time, the brain craves that surge of dopamine in the brain more and more, encouraging drug-taking behaviour to continue.

What happens when you abuse drugs?

The initial euphoric effect you experience when you take any kind of drug doesn’t continue at the same level as you continue using. Over time, the brain adapts to the ‘new normal’ within its reward circuit, dulling the effects of drugs and prompting the individual to increase their consumption to make up for this increased tolerance.

While this may primarily affect the brain’s response to specific drugs, the continued use of substances also dullens the pleasurable response from other areas of life, such as socialising or food. The longer a person abuses drugs, the less the brain can create that positive feeling, while other areas of the brain can be changed chemically over time. Anything from an individual’s judgement to their memory and learning ability can be affected by chronic drug use.

Why do people abuse drugs?

Why do people abuse drugs? Primarily, drug abuse is a behaviour that forms over time in response to the lack of positive feeling that drugs once provided. While drug addicts are constantly chasing that feeling, the brain can no longer deliver that dopamine rush despite creating the urge to achieve that pleasurable outcome. Many of the ways drugs can be abused, such as increasing the amount or even taking more potent forms of drugs, are caused by people on drugs ‘chasing the high’. An example of this would be someone prescribed prescription opioids moving onto stronger, illegal opioids in addiction.

Why are many teens curious about trying illegal drugs?

Why do people do drugs at any age? Teenagers may be particularly susceptible to being in environments where drugs and alcohol are readily available. Peer pressure, lack of proper judgement and less development in self-control can all affect how likely someone is to use drugs. Teenagers have not yet reached full development, leaving them more at-risk to unsafe behaviours and impulsivity.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs while others don’t?

Addiction is not a one-and-done thing, and the perfect storm that changes occasional recreational drug use into drug addiction won’t be the same for every single person. Anything from the way drugs are abused to the accessibility of substances can influence the likelihood of addiction. Drug abuse requires the drug user to take substances at least once to become addicted, but there’s no such thing as a threshold or number of uses for addiction to take hold.

What does it mean to be dependent on drugs?

Becoming dependent on drugs means that your body and brain crave specific substances, causing many addicts to engage in risky and dangerous behaviour to access the drugs they need. People who abuse drugs are also referred to as victims of substance abuse because once drug addiction takes hold, they are victims of their urges, cravings, and behaviours. While some drug abuse facts will state you need to hit ‘rock bottom’ to seek treatment, the reality is that people at all stages in addiction should be supported in recovering from drug abuse.

Can you get addicted to drugs on your first try?

Addictive substances can prompt drug abuse, whether you take them for the first time or the hundredth. There’s no hard limit or a free pass to using substances. People that are particularly vulnerable or predisposed to addiction can develop a need for a particular drug even after taking it a single time. In many cases, this need builds up over time through social use, making it difficult to spot when addiction begins.

What to do if you suspect drug use

If you suspect drug use from a loved one, whether you believe it is recreational or drug addiction, being informed about your options is the best place to start. Identifying key symptoms and behaviours of drug abuse and speaking to the person you are concerned about can provide a foundation to work toward recovery or help them help themselves. It’s crucial to avoid threatening, guilting, or covering up for a drug user, as this may push them further into addiction.

Can drug addiction be cured or prevented?

Similarly to how other chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma don’t have a one-off ‘cure’, addiction treatment typically involves ongoing care and management to remain in recovery. With the proper support and help, people with drug addictions can significantly reduce their risk of relapse. While some health articles about drugs and alcohol may talk about a permanent cure, it’s essential to be realistic about the work taken to remain clean following addiction treatment.

Drugs and reality: how does recovery work?

Recovery from drug addiction isn’t a case of one-size-fits-all treatment. Successful treatment is typically a combination of a range of different recovery options, such as medications in addition to ongoing behavioural therapy. Recovery from drug addiction takes time, and people in recovery are often at most significant risk shortly after their initial treatment. This risk is why ongoing care and support are vital to recovery.

How do you prevent drug addiction?

Prevention is an effective way to stop people from getting involved in drugs in the first place. Providing information and guidance on what addiction is, the facts of drug abuse and how to avoid addiction are all key components to preventing vulnerable people from using substances. Education and outreach are vital, particularly with teenagers, to understand the risks and problems that drug use can cause.

Is it possible to be cured of drug addiction completely?

It is possible to live a full, drug-free life after drug addiction. Drug abuse and addiction causes symptoms, and prevention facts show that, while people do relapse, many spend years or the rest of their lives without returning to drug abuse. With the right treatment and ongoing care, addicts can leave their past lives behind and work towards regaining the relationships, interests and hobbies in their post-treatment life.

Next step: Getting help for drug abuse or addiction

If you or a loved one is looking to enter into hooked recovery from any form of substances, illegal, prescription or otherwise, the next step is seeking help. Simple curiosity about drugs can lead to life and health-changing risks, making it essential to find support in overcoming substance abuse and addiction. The problem of drug addiction can only be effectively resolved with the right service to aid in recovery.

Seeking substance abuse and addiction treatment

The problem of drug addiction can be challenging to escape from. The proper care and support can make a complete difference to recovery by accessing the services and support needed to start on the right path. Seeking treatment for substance abuse and addiction, whether you’re facilitating a loved one or you are struggling yourself, is the foundation for successful recovery.

Resolving the problem of drug addiction

Why is it important to learn about drugs and understand the consequences of drug abuse? Anyone informed about the risks and symptoms of addiction has the knowledge needed to make better choices. Whether you want to know how to stop taking drugs recreationally or you’re concerned about signs of addiction, getting help today is the next step to a healthier and happier life in recovery.