The terms drug addiction and abuse are often used interchangeably. However, they are in fact two separate situations. Drug abuse generally leads a person down the path toward drug addiction, but not every individual who abuses drugs becomes an addict. The definition of drug abuse continues to change because the term is subjective and infused with the political and moral values of the society or culture one lives in. An example of this is the drug caffeine. It is physically addicting but is not considered an abused drug because it does not generally trigger antisocial behavior in users.
Drug abuse affects people of all income levels, ages, and stations in life. Quite often the last person to see that there is a problem is the drug abuser. For those who have never been addicted to anything, drug abuse can be a confusing subject. It seems counter-intuitive that someone would persist in drug and alcohol abuse when it causes so many negative consequences in that person's life. The key to understanding substance abuse is knowing what triggers it and why it persists.
Most people begin using drugs and or alcohol as a way to temporarily escape a problem of some kind. Using the substance makes them feel better at the time and they come to associate those good feelings with the substance. Over time, when they want to feel better, they will use this same substance. The drugs or alcohol become valuable to them as a means of feeling good. As a result of the physiologically addictive affects of drugs and alcohol, the person will lose control with continued use. Chemical dependency is the result.
Over time, a person's ability to choose not to take drugs can become compromised. Soon enough the person rationalizes the need to use constantly and will do anything to get high. They are now caught in the vicious cycle of using drugs to alleviate pain and creating more pain for themselves by using the drug. They now display the physiological symptoms of drug addiction. It becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with them, they become withdrawn, and begin to exhibit other strange behaviors associated with drug addiction.
In addition to the mental stress created by their unethical behavior, the addict's body has also adapted to the presence of the drugs. They will experience an overwhelming obsession with getting and using drugs, and will do anything to avoid the pain of withdrawing from them. This is when the newly-created addict begins to experience drug cravings.
They now seek drugs both for the reward of the "pleasure" they provide, and also to avoid the mental and physical horrors of withdrawal. Ironically, the addict's ability to get "high" from alcohol or drugs gradually decreases as their body adapts to the presence of the foreign chemicals. They must take more and more drugs or alcohol, not just to get an effect, but often just to function at all.
At this point, the addict is stuck in the vicious downward spiral of drug addiction. The drugs taken by the addict spawn changes both physically and mentally. They have crossed an invisible and intangible line from drug abuse to drug addiction. It is not a question at this point, of whether the person has the desire to stop abusing drugs or not, it is a question of whether they have the analytical ability to do so without professional treatment. Once the point of complete drug addiction has been reached the person's brain function has been so severely changed that it is not impossible but scientifically doubtful that the person can stop on their own without a professional drug addiction treatment program.
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