Drug Addiction

Addiction to drugs is very common in today’s society. Thousands of people are addicted to illicit drugs like crack cocaine, heroin and crystal meth. Many people also misuse common prescription drugs. The symptoms and dangers of drug addictions vary with each substance, but the bottom line is that any addiction must be treated immediately.

Understanding Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. With drug addiction, your personality and daily routine change for the worse. Your days become a never-ending quests to get and use drugs. Drugs control your entire life despite injury, loss of wealth and isolation from loved ones.

Drug addictions are also known by doctors as substance use disorders (SUDs). They form after constant drug use or drug dependencies.

Drug Dependence

Drug dependence is a problem that develops when the brain and/or body adapts to constant use of a drug so that it only functions normally when the drug is used. Withdrawal symptoms occur when drug intake stops. However, the dependent person may still engage in normal life functions.

Drug Addiction

Drug addictions come in many different forms and anyone can fall prey to them. Addiction adds negative behaviors to dependence.

These behaviors can include:

  • Uncontrollable use of the drug
  • Neglecting work, friends and other responsibilities
  • Continuing to use the drug despite consequences

Addiction to illicit drugs like cocaine, crystal meth and heroin is a prevalent issue. However, more people today are addicted to prescription drugs.

Types of Drugs

There are three main types of drugs which are prone to misuse. While each drug affects the body differently, drugs of the same type can produce similar highs and withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids

Opioids are used to treat pain. They depress the body’s central nervous system and decrease your heart rate,  blood pressure and drive to breathe. OxyContin, Fentanyl and Heroin are all opioids.

Opioid addiction involves both dependence and tolerance. Addiction to opioid drugs is particularly dangerous, with a quadrupling of deaths due to opioid abuse over the past 20 years.

Sedatives

This is a broad category of drugs that includes tranquilizers, sedatives and other hypnotic drugs. People who take them legally use them for sleep problems or anxiety. Valium, Ambien and Klonopin are all sedatives.

Stimulants

Stimulants, like amphetamines and methamphetamines, are often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Popular stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, cocaine and crystal meth.

Prescription Drug Addiction

A prescription drug addiction occurs when someone misuses or uncontrollably consumes medications from doctors. Those addicted to prescription drugs may get the drugs from their doctor, or they may illegally acquire the drug elsewhere.

Doctors prescribe medications to help their patients. However, some people misuse the drugs to get high.

Common forms of prescription drug abuse:

  • Taking high doses of a prescription
  • Taking someone else’s prescription
  • Buying drugs from a third party
  • Taking the wrong dose for a real reason like muscle aches

There are millions of Americans who admit to misusing prescription drugs. About 12% of these will meet the criteria for prescription drug use disorder.

Misuse and addiction to prescription drugs are increasing. This has led to more emergency room visits and overdose deaths due to prescription drugs.

Fast Facts About Prescription Drug Addiction

  1. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), over 1.2 million visits per year to the emergency department are for the nonmedical use of prescription drugs. This is over half of all emergency department visits related to the misuse of drugs.
  2. There are over 150,000 visits per year to the ED for the non-medical use of narcotic painkillers. Treatment for those cases amounts to $70 million each year.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse comes in many forms. In nearly all of these cases, the deciding factor between regular use and misuse is a change to the doctor’s original instructions.

Increasing dosage or changing the method of intake may indicate a drug dependency or addiction. Because prescription drugs are used legally, they are easy to seek out and exploit.

Adderall

Adderall is a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall provides the user with increased alertness, happiness and productivity. As it wears off, mental fogginess and exhaustion set in.

Your body can also quickly become tolerant to it so that you need higher doses to get the same effects later on. This puts you at a higher risk of overdose. College students are twice as likely to become addicted to Adderall.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is used to treat severe pain while recovering from cancer or other surgical procedures. It is so potent that you can die instantly from taking it.

Non-lethal symptoms include blurred vision, confusion, seizures and anxiety. Fentanyl is often sold on the streets disguised as heroin or oxycodone, leading to deadly overdoses.

Oxycodone

Oxycodone suppresses the body’s respiratory system and relieves pain. Its strong high brings on euphoria. This causes your body to quickly come to need more of it.

Doses of oxycodone can result in life-threatening or serious complications if the drug is mixed with other substances like alcohol or sedatives.

Common signs of an oxycodone addiction are exhaustion, antisocial behavior and a lack of personal hygiene. Oxycodone is a key ingredient in drugs like Percocet and OxyContin.

OxyContin

OxyContin gives off a long and powerful high. Its main ingredient is oxycodone. It is designed to give extended relief to those in chronic pain.

Withdrawal symptoms occur a few hours after the high wears off. Early withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, aches and mood changes. These symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia.

Medication can ease withdrawal pains and cravings during detox.

Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is found in combination with other drugs in pill form. While only half as potent as oxycodone, it is still highly addictive. It is used to suppress pain or a cough. Vicodin, Norco and Lortab all contain hydrocodone.

Withdrawal symptoms set in 6-12 hours after the last dose and include muscle pains, vomiting and intense suicidal thoughts.

Ambien

Ambien is a hypnotic drug used to treat insomnia. Ambien abuse can lead to delusions, hallucinations, fatigue, nausea and sleepwalking issues. It is especially dangerous when used with alcohol.

Ambien reduces short term memory, so those who are addicted may take too much without realizing and overdose.

Ambien withdrawal can cause irritability, insomnia, delirium and life-threatening seizures.

Valium

Valium is a dangerous tranquilizer. You may become so addicted to the drug that it is impossible to function without it. This is due to its long-lasting effects.

Valium’s withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening and include comas and seizures. Valium is 55% more likely to cause permanent harm or death when used with alcohol or opioids.

Klonopin

Klonopin is a highly addictive drug used to treat seizures, anxiety and sleep disorders. It lessens anxiety by slowing your heart and breathing rate, but your body will quickly build up tolerance.

Your brain will not be able to function properly without Klonopin if you take it for an extended period of time. Symptoms of Klonopin abuse include slurred speech, drowsiness, vomiting and severe depression.

Klonopin withdrawal can cause extreme anxiety and life-threatening seizures.

Illicit drug addiction

An illicit drug addiction occurs when someone compulsively seeks out and uses illegal substances. The main difference between prescription and illicit (illegal) drug addiction is the nature of the substances.

While prescription drugs provide benefits to users if taken properly, illicit drugs do not hold any medical value. This causes more problems for people addicted to them, because they must search out the drugs through dangerous means.

Drugs bought on the street may be misrepresented or laced with other substances, meaning there is a higher chance of overdose or other adverse side effects.

Those with illicit drug addiction also run a higher risk of death, as overdose or withdrawal effects are more powerful than in most prescription drug addictions.

Fast Facts About Illicit Drug Addiction

  1. About 10% of people in the US use illicit substances at least once in the past month.
  2. One-fourth of those people have a substance use disorder which harms their mental state, relationships or income.

Commonly Abused Illicit Drugs

Though prescription drug abuse may be more prevalent, illicit drugs present additional dangers. The different methods of use and intermixing of these drugs with other substances present great threats to users.

For these reasons it is important to know the differences between each illicit drug so proper help can be sought. Any use of these drugs is considered abuse because they are illegal substances.

Heroin

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in existence. It is derived from morphine and users typically inject it for an immediate high.

An intense burst of euphoria tapers off to a dull high, but long-term heroin use causes permanent brain damage. It destroys the body’s natural ability to feel pleasure or pain and ruins your ability to make rational decisions.

Heroin withdrawal is a two-step process. Powerful cravings and moodiness are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and muscle spasms.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant that can be breathed in, injected or smoked. It provides users with a short high that makes them joyful, talkative and energetic. The crash comes all too quickly and the user will soon crave more.

Continued use leads to paranoia, weight loss, hallucinations, heart disorders and strokes. Long-term users will experience schizophrenic symptoms, depression and a general decline in emotional and physical activity.

Cocaine is the main ingredient in crack cocaine, which also runs a high risk for overdose.

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth is a dangerous form of methamphetamine. It increases breathing and heart rates when injected, smoked or inhaled. Users often inhale its vapors by heating a glass pipe. The high lasts for approximately 12 hours.

Crystal meth can cause permanent damage to your mind and body. People suffering from crystal meth addiction will often have what is called “meth mouth.” This leads to bleeding gums, tooth loss and unending mouth pain.

Chronic use of crystal meth leads to seizures, depression, anxiety, strokes, and heart attacks.

Ecstasy

Ecstasy is the street name for 3,4-Methyl enedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA), a stimulant with hallucinogenic properties. Ecstasy is typically found in pill form. A close relative to ecstasy is a drug called molly. Molly is also made up of MDMA and is usually found in powder form.

Ecstasy is usually combined with other drugs even when advertised as being ‘pure’. Common partners include cocaine, heroin, LSD or rat poison.

The drug produces a long-lasting high that lowers inhibitions and increases friendliness. However, the crash after the high lasts for several days.

People who take more of the drug may overdose, causing deadly body temperature increases (hyperthermia) and convulsions. Long-term effects of ecstasy include brain damage, deadly organ failure and depression.

Ecstasy withdrawal symptoms include anorexia, insomnia and paranoia. More symptoms may be present during withdrawal if ecstasy was mixed with another drug.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Dr. Kent Hoffman has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/14/2019