Addiction is often a misunderstood disease. Many people can’t fathom how anyone could become addicted to substances, yet millions of people struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, and dependence in the U.S. Without understanding the nature of addiction, and the need for treatment of it, we cannot adequately help those struggling with addiction and dependence issues.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), “20.2 million adults (8.4%) had a substance use disorder.” Yet so few of the people who need specialized treatment for addiction ever receive it.
SAMHSA further explains that, “in 2015, approximately 1.3 million adolescents (5.1 percent of this age group), 5.4 million young adults (15.5 percent of this age group), and 15.0 million adults aged 26 or older (7.2 percent of this age group) needed substance use treatment in the past year.” Of the people in need of treatment, 2.3 million received some form of treatment, and about 19.3 million (or about 89.2 percent of all people in need of treatment for a substance use disorder) did not receive treatment.
The following are commonly-abused substances which foster addiction and/or dependence issues. If we remove the stigma associated with addiction, and view it instead as the chronic disease it’s become, we can aid more people in overcoming it, preventing relapse, and managing addiction long-term.
Nearly 16 million people have some sort of alcohol use disorder as of 2015, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Alcohol use disorders (alcohol addiction or alcoholism) are characterized by a number of symptoms, including:
- Strong cravings when not drinking
- Regularly drinking more, or for longer than intended
- Trying or wanting to cut down on drinking and being unable to succeed
- Spending a lot of time drinking, or being sick from the after-effects of it
- Drinking, or the after-effects of it, begins interfering with work, school, family, or other obligations
- Engaging in risky or even criminal activities during drinking or after drinking
- Continuing to drink even after realizing it’s becoming a problem
- Drinking more to get the desired effects (development of tolerance)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, depression, irritability, nausea, headache, tremors, trouble sleeping, or sweating
Alcohol is a substance that fosters not only addiction (a mental reliance), but dependence as well (a physical reliance). At first drinking may start out as recreational or a social habit. With time, drinking may become a personal habit, which turns into addiction. Soon, your body may become reliant on it, meaning dependence has formed, and without drinking you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous. People who have had an alcohol use disorder for a prolonged period of time will likely need medically-supervised detoxification in order to safely overcome addiction and dependence issues.
People with alcohol addiction and dependence issues will benefit from multiple types of treatment modalities, as alcohol use disorder may affect all aspects of health. Some effective treatment modalities for alcohol addiction may include counseling, group therapy, holistic therapies, medication-assisted therapy, adventure or wilderness therapy, and more.
Opioids are a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers, like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), and morphine, illicit drugs like the semi-synthetic heroin, and other synthetic and semi-synthetic combinations, like the dangerous and deadly street drug, Gray Death. Opiates are naturally-derived opioids.
Some of the most commonly abused opioids in the U.S. include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Hydromorphone (Exalgo ER)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Morphine (Duramorph)
- Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
Prescription opioid drug abuse is a large problem in the U.S. What often begins as a prescription for serious pain issues after an injury or surgery may become a substance abuse problem before a person realizes what’s happening. Opioids are highly addictive, and addiction to the drugs can happen very quickly, even after just a few days.
Abuse of prescription opioids may include changing the dosage, frequency of dosage, or taking a prescription that doesn’t belong to you. Opioids work by binding to receptors in your brain, changing the way your brain responds to pain. Our brains naturally regulate our response to pain by emitting “good” chemicals, such as dopamine. When abusing opioids, this process is interrupted.
After abusing the drugs, and forming addiction, the brain may stop naturally emitting the good chemicals, which means instead of relief from pain, you may experience increased sensitivity to pain or worsened pain. This cycle of addiction is often what keeps people seeking opioids, long after their prescription runs out. Coupled with withdrawal symptoms, a person may find it extremely difficult to overcome addiction or dependence to opioids without help.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Cold flashes and goose bumps
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Involuntary leg tremors
Without treatment, opioid dependence can be dangerous. In addition to affecting your health with regular withdrawal symptoms or neglect of daily self-care such as proper sleep and nutrition, prolonged opioid abuse increases your risk of overdose. When you take opioids, the drugs work by lowering certain body functions, like breathing and heart rates.
Taking large or frequent doses, then, increases the risk of lowering these functions to dangerous levels. Also, when abusing illicit opioids like heroin, you are at risk of overdose each time you take it. Heroin is sold through dealers, and they often “cut” the drug with other substances to increase their profits.
This means that you never know what substances will be in the drug you’re taking. Of late, heroin has been laced with fentanyl, which is about 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Combination opioids are the most deadly forms of the drugs, as overdose is far more likely with more than one opioid present.
Opioids also foster dependence, which means with prolonged abuse of the drugs, you’ll likely experience physical withdrawal symptoms when not taking them, sometimes as soon as a few hours after the last dose. Addiction to opioids thus becomes difficult to maintain, and increasingly an all-consuming life problem.
Fortunately, with increasing opioid addiction and dependence issues has come improved and effective treatment modalities. Some methods which have proven effective at helping people overcome opioid addiction and dependence issues include medically-supervised detoxification, counseling, group therapy, behavioral therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), medications like buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv, and many more.
“Stimulants make people more alert, increase their attention, and raise their blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing,” explains SAMHSA. There are many types of stimulants, both legal and illegal, all of which can foster addiction when abused.
The most commonly abused stimulants include amphetamines (Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Strattera, Vyvanse), which are used to treat conditions like ADHD, cocaine, and methamphetamine (meth).
Abusing stimulants can be dangerous, as the drugs can cause hostility, violence, paranoia, and even psychosis. Other adverse side effects of stimulant abuse include high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, seizures, or heart failure.
People may abuse stimulants because the drugs can result in feelings of euphoria, increased energy and alertness, increased confidence, and sexual arousal. Yet chronic use of stimulants can have dangerous results, including the adverse effects previously mentioned, other effects to health, and overdose.
Meth abuse may result in permanent brain damage or behavioral changes. Yet, “with time and successful treatment and recovery, the negative effects of methamphetamine on the brain can be diminished or completely reversed,” SAMHSA reports.
The same is true of all stimulant addiction and abuse: proper treatment, which addresses all the unique needs of the individual, can result in addiction recovery success.
Benzodiazepines are depressant medications, typically prescribed for the treatment of conditions like anxiety and insomnia. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) explains, “to be characterized as such, each benzodiazepine displays one or more of the following drug actions: anxiety relief, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant, or an amnesiatic (mild memory-loss inducer).
The most commonly abused benzodiazepines include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of a certain neurotransmitter in the brain, gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA, and thus slowing nerve impulses in the body. This is why benzodiazepines can be effective for helping people with anxiety or sleep troubles.
However, the relaxing, calming effects of the drugs are what make them high targets of abuse and subsequent addiction. With prolonged abuse, you may form dependence on the drugs, or develop a tolerance to them. Tolerance is dangerous in that it can cause you to take more of the drug, increasing your risk of overdose.
Because benzodiazepines foster physical dependence, they may also result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Heart palpitations
- Insomnia or other sleep troubles
- Increased anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Pain in the muscles
- Profuse sweating
- Weight loss
If you have formed dependence on benzodiazepines, you may need detoxification, which is best completed under medical supervision. In medically-supervised detox, you will be constantly monitored for proper body function, comfort level, and to safely taper off use of the drugs. After detox is complete, you can participate in a combination of traditional or alternative forms of treatment as needed.
Barbiturates are an older class of depressant drugs that were highly popular a few decades ago. While use of the drugs has largely been replaced by use of benzodiazepines, barbiturates are still prescribed and still foster abuse and addiction.
The drugs are mainly sought for their hypnotic and sedative effects. Unfortunately, abuse of barbiturates is extremely dangerous. The difference between a safe dose of barbiturates and a lethal dose is extremely small, so potential for fatal overdose is high. As Medical News Today explains, “there is no antidote to reverse barbiturate poisoning.”
Commonly prescribed barbiturates include:
- Amobarbital (Amytal)
- Pentobarbital (Nembutal)
- Phenobarbital (Luminal)
- Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
- Secobarbital (Seconal)
Barbiturates can also cause physical dependence, and sudden withdrawal from the drugs can cause severe withdrawal symptoms or even death. For this reason, detoxification from barbiturates should never be attempted alone, or without medical supervision.
A medically-supervised treatment program for barbiturate abuse may include medication which can relieve withdrawal symptoms, and help you safely taper off use of the drugs. Counseling, behavioral therapy, and holistic programs, which work to treat all aspects of health, have all been effective at treating barbiturate abuse, addiction, and dependence.
The Importance Of Treating A Drug Or Alcohol Addiction
With most substances, the immediate risk of abusing them is the risk of overdose. Some drugs, like heroin, put you at risk of overdose each time you take them. Most drugs foster tolerance, which means you take more or frequent doses, constantly increasing your risk of overdose.
But addiction and dependence to drugs or alcohol can do more than make you fear overdose. Long-term abuse of alcohol or drugs can have any number of consequences to your health, such as sleep troubles, damage to a number of organs, increased risk of contracting diseases (from mild, like the flu, to chronic, like HIV), increased risk of development of several types of cancer, weight loss, and more.
In addition, you can experience deterioration of mental health as a result of drug or alcohol addiction. Many people may first seek drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms of a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Yet prolonged abuse of the substances may make the symptoms of such a condition worse instead of better.
In addition to your health, addiction can affect every aspect of your life: relationships with friends and family, finances, performance at school or work, involvement in obligations, criminal record, self-esteem, confidence level, and much, much more.
People who get in treatment, who are dedicated to addiction recovery, and who heed the principles learned in treatment will see excellent recovery success. It’s important to treat alcohol or drug addiction and dependence issues not just because treatment may save your life, but because in addiction recovery you can learn to build the life you want and work to keep it.
Learn More About Drug And Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to reach out to a treatment specialist at InpatientDrugRehab.org. All calls are completely confidential, and we are dedicated to helping you find a drug and alcohol rehab center that works for you. Learn more, contact us today.
Center for Substance Abuse Research—Benzodiazepines
Forbes—Why Fentanyl Is So Much More Deadly Than Heroin
Medical News Today—What Are Barbiturates? Uses, Side Effects And Health Risks
National Alliance of Advocates For Buprenorphine Treatment—Opiates/Opioids
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism—Alcohol Use Disorder
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Benzodiazepines And Opioids, What Are Stimulants?, Understanding Drug Use And Addiction
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—America’s Need For And Receipt Of Substance Use Treatment In 2015, Mental and Substance Use Disorders, Stimulants
U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Opioid Medications