What is substance use disorder or addiction?
The initial stages of substance/drug use and ultimately abuse often start with tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and prescription drugs – these can include opioids – fentanyl,oxycodone, codeine, morphine and many others that are issued as pain relief; anti anxiety medication and sedatives. This can then lead to an inability to control the use of legal/illegal substances (drugs) and medication.
Dependency or addiction generally start with experimental use in a recreational/social setting and for some individuals becomes more and more frequent until they’re ‘hooked’ on their substance/s of choice. Studies show that children as young as 12 or 13 are involved in substance/drug use. How fast a person becomes dependent/addicted varies by substance/drug and can also be influenced by an individual’s personality and mental/emotional state; as well as peer pressure.
As a person becomes more dependent, larger doses are required to get the same ‘high’ and they become reliant on the substance/drug to ‘feel good’ but sometimes just to feel ‘normal’. They find it increasingly difficult to stop taking the drug and attempts to stop may cause overriding ‘cravings’ and make them feel physically ill – ‘withdrawal symptoms’.
Dependency and addiction are NOT the same, although dependency can often lead to addiction. The two are hard to distinguish between – while addiction is classified as a disease; dependency is a state of being; being physically dependent on a certain substance or behaviour.
Addiction is rooted in the brain, however dependency occurs when your body as a whole becomes used to the effects of a substance, drug or behaviour and goes into withdrawal if you stop using the substance/ drug or stop participating in the behaviour.
While it is possible to successfully treat addiction and for people to live normally; ultimately there is no cure.
People who are not addicted generally have control over their substance use or behaviour and can usually stop without the need for extensive treatment. However, addiction can develop quickly and once an individual becomes addicted, the option to simply stop no longer exists. In this case, often an intervention is necessary to encourage the person to recognise the damage addiction is causing in their lives.
Help from a Doctor, family/friends, support groups and sometimes even admittance to medical ‘rehab’ to overcome the dependency or addiction and stay substance/drug; free can be necessary.
Are you dependent or addicted?
These are some of the symptoms and behaviours that may indicate you’re dependent/addicted to substances/drugs:
- Having to use the substance/drug on a regular basis – daily or even several times as day as dependence gets worse
- Getting intense urges for the substance/drug as it ‘blocks’ out other thoughts
- Requiring more of the substance/drug to get the same effect
- Maintaining a supply of the substance/drug
- Spending all available money on the substance/drug, even though you can’t afford it and you may be committing a crime to attain money for it
- Shunning responsibilities – not attending work, withdrawing from social and recreational activities because of substance/drug use
- Taking part in risky activities whilst under the influence of substance/drug
- Continued substance/drug use, even though you know it’s causing problems in your everyday life – physical and psychological harm
- Spending increasing amounts of time getting hold of the substance/drug, taking it and recovering from its’ effects
- Continually failing to stop taking the substance/drug due to withdrawal symptoms
Is a young person, friend or family member taking a substance/drug?
It can be very difficult to determine normal teenage moodiness and difficult behaviour from signs of substance/drug use. The following indications may alert you to the fact that a teenager, friend or family member is using substance/drug:
- Problems at school or work – frequently missing school or work, total disinterest in school activities or work. Drop in grades or performance at work.
- Health issues – lack of energy, becoming lethargic and losing motivation. Conversely some substances/drugs cause excess energy. Weight loss or gain. Watery or blood shot eyes. Pupils that are either larger or smaller than normal. Tremors and impaired coordination.
- Changes in behaviour – efforts to bar family members from entering his/her room. Being secretive about where they’re going and with whom. Drastic changes in their general behaviour and relationships with family members. Moody, aggressive or exceedingly quiet and insular – sudden personality shifts. Dishonesty, a lack of motivation, paranoia, anxiety or nervousness and sudden outbursts.
- Sleeping problems – such as difficulty falling to sleep, being awake at odd times or falling to sleep at strange times (not always in bed).
- Personal hygiene – change in grooming habits or a decline in personal appearance. Strange smells emanating from their clothes/body.
- Communication – from extreme talkativeness or hyperactivity to being totally speechless and withdrawn. May also start to clench their jaw.
- Eating habits – changes such as loss of appetite or an increased appetite.
- Social life – one of the most common signs of substance/drug use is a complete change in the people they hang out with or hobbies/activities they participate in suddenly change. Lack of interest in social interactions tend to become prevalent; along with apathy and disinterest in friends and family activities
Whilst the above signs of substance/drug use are some of the initial indicators to look out for; it must be acknowledged that these often become more severe and their behaviour will be entirely focused on obtaining their next dose of the substance/drug, to maintain their ‘high’.
The physical, medical and psychological effects of each substance/drug generally differ. As we have not focused on all the substances/drugs individually, it’s important to try and find out which substance/drug is being used and look at the specific physical,medical, psychological and withdrawal symptoms that are specific to it.