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Drug Addiction

Drug addiction ruins health, relationships and disrupts lives. Discover why it occurs and how to work toward recovery.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex disease that effects people in profound and highly individualized ways. If left unaddressed, it ruins users' health, relationships and entire lives. Although there’s no quick or comfortable solution for kicking drug addiction, addicts and those who support them can and should hope for a better future.

The common signs and symptoms of drug addiction are building up a tolerance to a particular drug; taking drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms; and the inability to stop the use of drugs. While each drug of abuse produces different effects, all abused substances share one thing in common: they alter brain chemistry, causing long-lasting changes to brain functioning. Drugs effectively assault the brain by interfering with the user’s ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control behavior and feel normal. These brain-altering changes are also responsible for the drug cravings and compulsions to use drugs that make addiction so powerful.

At Caron, we can help you build a treatment program that meets your needs.

Effects of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a dangerous and potentially fatal disease, but it can be treated. Understanding the science and psychology behind addiction enables skilled professionals to manage addiction and successfully treat it.

How drug addiction impacts the brain’s reward system.

Drugs are psychoactive substances that alter brain chemistry and physiology when introduced into the body. Although each works a little differently, most drugs target and alter the brain’s reward system by altering the brain’s natural chemical activity. At least initially, taking drugs causes euphoria and intense pleasure, thus teaching the drug user to repeat drug use.

How drug addiction develops.

As the individual continues to abuse drugs, the brain begins to compensate for drug-induced alterations in brain activity (usually surges in the neurotransmitter dopamine) by suppressing its natural reward circuit. This, in turn, reduces the drug user’s ability to enjoy drugs and other pleasurable stimuli. Eventually, the drug user is compelled to continue abusing drugs in larger quantities to achieve normal brain functioning. This process of developing tolerance to and dependence on drugs eventually leads to drug addiction.

Types and effects of drugs.

While some drugs are used for medicinal purposes, others are taken illegally for their narcotic or stimulant effects and can often become addictive.

Medical drugs are used to diagnose, treat or prevent of illnesses or medical conditions. There are three types of medical drugs:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available in pharmacies and supermarkets without special restrictions.
  • Behind-the-counter (BTC) are dispensed by a pharmacist without needing a doctor's prescription.
  • Prescription drugs must be prescribed by a physician or licensed medical professional.

Prescription drugs can also be harmful when not used for their intended purposes. Doctors prescribe medication in carefully measured doses to treat specific medical conditions. They provide instruction for how to take the medications, including things to avoid while taking the drug — such as drinking alcohol, smoking or taking other medications. Most importantly, doctors are aware of potentially dangerous side effects and monitor patients accordingly. For all of these reasons, prescription drugs are only safe when taken in the correct amounts by those who have a script.

Like all drug abuse, using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons results in drug addiction and serious risks to a person's health.

Illegal drugs or street drugs, are chemical compounds that are forbidden by law often and frequently lead to addiction. Learn more about illegal drugs here.

Social and psychological effects of drug abuse and addiction.

Whether they're abusing street drugs or medications, drug addicts often have trouble at school or work, at home, in relationships or with the law. In fact, the likelihood that someone will commit a crime, be a victim of a crime or have an accident is higher when that person is abusing drugs — regardless of whether those drugs are medications or street drugs. In fact, any drug (when taken too frequently or in inappropriate quantities) can become addicting when the user looks forward to the effects of the drug produces, despite knowing the risks is poses.

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Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Most drug addiction treatment programs begin with detox, or the process of eliminating chemical dependency by ridding the body of addictive drugs. For most patients (especially long-term users or those with cases of severe addiction), detox is accompanied by drug withdrawal symptoms, or the physical side effects that occur when a person suddenly reduces or discontinues drug use. Drug withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to a few weeks and range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to life threatening, depending on the duration and severity of addiction.

The acute stage of drug withdrawal.

Drug withdrawal occurs in two stages. The first, the acute stage, typically lasts for about 2 weeks and involves the following physical and psychological symptoms:

Physical symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss due to loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing or racing heart
  • Cold flashes

Psychological symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Depression (occasionally combined with suicidal thoughts or hopelessness)
  • Paranoia
  • Social isolation
  • Poor concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings (preoccupation with obtaining drugs)

Symptoms associated with detox from tranquilizers.

More severe drug withdrawal symptoms can occur after quitting abruptly without medical assistance, especially when the patient is detoxing from tranquilizers. They include:

  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens
  • Heart attacks

The post-acute phase and post acute withdrawal syndrome.

For many, the more difficult stage of drug withdrawal is the second, post-acute phase. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is likely to occur during this stage. The symptoms of PAWS can severely impact the recovery process. They include:

  • Inability to process and organize thoughts
  • Emotional instability or inability to feel emotions
  • Memory problems
  • Sleep disorders
  • Lack of physical coordination
  • Inability to cope with stress
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Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all.

Drug addiction is a complex, difficult disease to overcome. Because of this, no single treatment suits all patients. There are many different drug addiction treatment options, and clinical professionals must decide how to structure rehabilitation plans so that they are tailored to individuals' needs.

Drug addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For many addicts, unresolved issues from the past are at the root of addiction. For others, comorbidities such as depression, anxiety disorders or eating disorders trigger drug abuse and addiction. Most addicts cannot identify or address the reasons for their addictions without professional assistance. Because of this, people struggling with drug addiction benefit greatly from comprehensive rehabilitation programs that address the whole individual, not just the addiction.

The typical course of drug addiction treatment.

Nearly all drug treatment programs start with detox. Those with severe addictions may need to go through medically assisted detox, a process in which clinical professionals administer medication to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Once detox is complete, many drug treatment programs progress to behavioral therapy. Many different types of behavioral therapy exist, but the most common are individual or group counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy. These help addicts learn to identify, avoid and cope with situations that trigger drug abuse.

In addition to behavioral therapy, drug rehab typically incorporates ongoing medical interventions, or pharmacotherapies. Ongoing medication use can help restore normal brain functioning, but should always be supervised by clinical professionals to avoid more substance addiction.

Support groups and fellowships, such as 12-Step support groups, are often part of care.  These groups assure the patient that they are not alone and promote emotional healing through shared experiences and stories. Family support groups may also benefit loved ones affected by drug addiction.

Inpatient drug treatment programs.

For many, inpatient treatment programs are most effective. These programs provide detox, behavioral therapy, group and individual counseling, family education and medical interventions in controlled environments.

Caron’s programs offer safe, medically supervised detoxification, therapy and counseling, family counseling, aftercare plans and, when possible, pharmacotherapy—all within a professional, supportive, therapeutic environment. Contact us for more information. 

Medically assisted drug detox.

Drug withdrawal symptoms can be quite painful for and potentially dangerous to patients—so much so that, sometimes, addicted persons attempt to self-medicate. For these reasons and more, medically assisted detox is strongly recommended. 

Medical detox safely manages the physical symptoms of drug withdrawal. Although detox alone is rarely sufficient to help patients achieve long-term abstinence, it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment.

Medically assisted detox can take place in outpatient and inpatient settings, but the latter is preferable (and often more successful) for several reasons. For starters, inpatient facilities are able to dedicate teams of specialists to care for the addict 24 hours a day. They’re well equipped to handle severe drug withdrawal symptoms. Not to mention, they remove the addict from the environment in which they were abusing drugs. Lastly, detoxing in the inpatient setting affords patients the opportunity to remain at the facility as they transition to the treatment stage of recovery. Fully completed inpatient programs have very high success rates.

Detox is just the beginning.

It is important for drug addicts and their families to remember that detox, while essential, is only the first step in an effective treatment plan. In fact, those who do not begin a treatment program following detox are rarely able to overcome addiction. Nevertheless, with the right help and holistic, individualized treatment, there is hope. Contact Caron and explore our programs for more information.

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About Caron

With 60 years in the field, Caron Treatment Centers operates lifesaving addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment. Caron is headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania with Ocean Drive and Caron Renaissance located in Palm Beach County, Florida. Caron has recovery centers in New England, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which offer community and recovery support. Caron’s Recovery Centers in Atlanta and New York City also offer pre- and post-treatment services. Caron has the most extensive continuum of care including teens, and adults, chronic pain, executives, healthcare professionals and legal professionals. Caron’s outcomes-driven treatment care plans are customized to meet the needs of individuals and families – with highly trained teams prepared to address co-occurring disorders. Caron offers an innovative approach to ongoing recovery care support for its former patients and their families with online peer groups and other resources during the first year of transition following discharge

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