There are a number of different types of addiction, but one of the most talked about is drug addiction. This is because of the damage it can do to both mental and physical health as well as the devastation it causes to the lives of so many people who are directly or indirectly affected by one person’s illness.
Drug addiction is a commonly misunderstood illness, with many individuals failing to realise that those affected have not chosen to become addicted to drugs. Most people who take drugs have done so through choice initially, but not one person decides to develop an addiction. Many of those who take drugs for the first time are of the opinion that ‘once can’t hurt’. And, while most people who take drugs will not go on to develop a problem, a large number will become dependent on these chemical substances to the point where their desire for the drug becomes the most important thing in their lives.
For most individuals, it is the abuse of illegal drugs that causes addiction, but some people become dependent on prescription drugs without even realising. They may have been taking the drugs as prescribed, but because of the addictive nature of the medication prescribed to them, the person unwittingly develops an addiction that he/she finds hard to break.
Those who take drugs for the first time have generally made the choice to do so. However, if they like the effects of the drug, or if they feel it has made them feel better, they may be tempted to take it again. This can happen with both illegal drugs and prescription medication.
Although some individuals can take drugs occasionally, there are a number of people who will begin to abuse drugs and will start to take them more frequently. As they continue to use the drugs, their brain starts to adapt to the effects of the substance they are abusing. The individual loses his or her ability to make good judgements and, over time, his/her control over their actions is reduced. Pretty soon, the affected individual will experience intense cravings for the drug and will actively seek it out.
When their need for the drug becomes all they can think about, and when they begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating and irritability when they do not have the drug, they are in the grip of addiction and need help as soon as possible.
As with most addictions, those who are affected by drug addiction may deny they have a problem – at least in the beginning. They may be still enjoying the effects of the drug, so the thoughts of having to quit may fill them with dread.
Some may not realise they have developed an addiction because he/she has not tried to quit. It is only when they try to stop and experience strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms that they are aware of having a problem.
And just like those who practice denial when they find out they have an illness such as cancer, those with addiction often cannot see the truth of their situation. The person with cancer does not want to face up to the seriousness of his or her illness, and the person with addiction may not want to face up to his or her situation either. Cancer patients are often scared of the treatments they will have to have; addicts may be embarrassed or ashamed about their situation because of the stigma attached to it.
Those who practice denial are not being stubborn or pig-headed; they are genuinely unable to see what may be plainly obvious to everyone else. Denial is a type of defence mechanism employed by the brain. It causes individuals to reject things they are uncomfortable with.
It is impossible to run a test to tell if someone is a drug addict, but behavioural signs can indicate if there is a problem. It is typical for the loved ones of an addict to realise there is an issue before the person with the addiction is ready to face up to reality.
Family members and friends who do not know for certain that a loved one is taking drugs but who suspect they may be should be on the lookout for a number of signs, which can be physical or behavioural. Physical signs include:
You may also notice that your loved one has started acting strange, and you may have noticed a change in behaviour. Signs to look out for include a loved one who has suddenly begun socialising with a new group of friends and who is now performing poorly at school or work.
The affected individual may be neglecting spending time with loved ones or taking part in activities that he or she previously enjoyed. You may also notice that he or she has become secretive or possessive about his or her things.
Other signs commonly displayed by those with addiction include mood swings, confusion, paranoia, hyperactivity, agitation, lethargy, and lack of motivation.
Drug addiction can destroy the lives of those affected, but it also causes problems for many other people to. It has an effect on the individual, on family members and friends, and on the wider community as well. In fact, it is said that an average of five people is affected by one person’s addiction to drugs. It is usually the individual’s family members and friends who are caught up in the addiction, but the reality is that drug addiction can have a devastating impact on the wider community.
The effect of drug addiction on the individual tends to be in relation to both physical and mental health. Those with this illness will usually suffer some degree of damage to their internal organs. As long as they continue to abuse drugs, their health will continue to deteriorate, and they could suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
It is not just the individual’s health that is affected by drug addiction, though. Finances and relationships can also be damaged when one person is affected by drug addiction. Living with a drug addict can be tough on all involved, and relationships inevitably suffer. Addicts have a tendency to be manipulative, and many become physically or verbally abusive to family members. Their behaviour is often unpredictable and erratic, and those who live with them often live in fear.
Drug addicts generally find it difficult to function because of their illness, which can make it hard for them to hold down a job and provide for their family members. Children of addicts are often neglected, and some are taken into care because their parent is unable to look after them properly.
Those addicts who do manage to hold a job, at least in the early stages of addiction, may cause problems within their workplace. They might be unable to perform to their usual standards, and many will miss days at work because they are under the influence of drugs or because they are suffering the after-effects.
This has an impact on others working for the business as well as the company. Colleagues of an individual with a drug addiction may be required to pick up the slack when their addicted co-worker is performing poorly or is absent. The company may be affected if this person continues to perform poorly and is constantly calling in sick.
The effects of drug addiction are not limited to those who know the affected individual. The reality is that drug addiction has a negative impact on society in general. Millions of pounds are spent every year on the national health service and the criminal justice system because of drug-related incidents and injuries. Because there is a close link between addiction and crime, the taxpayer’s money must be spent on police, court cases, and the cost of incarcerating those convicted of drug-related crimes.
Then there is the cost of treating those who become ill due to their addictions. Many people around the UK are hospitalised every year due to overdose or illnesses caused by their addictions.
Many people believe that the wider community would benefit if more money were spent on treating those affected by addiction rather than on criminalising them. Here at Recovery.org.uk, we know the benefits of effective treatments and early intervention for drug addiction. We work with organisations all over the UK and beyond where those affected can access top quality care and support. Contact us today for further information.