According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 20 million Americans age 12 or older suffer from substance dependence or abuse due to alcohol, illicit drugs or both. Substance abuse disorders continue to proliferate in alarming numbers, especially in the African-American community. African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the population in the United States, yet they account for more than a quarter of admissions to publicly funded substance abuse treatment facilities.
Many people do not understand why individuals become addicted to drugs or abusive drug habits begin in the first place. They mistakenly view drug abuse and addiction as strictly a social problem and may characterize those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior.
What people often underestimate is the complexity of drug addiction – that it is a disease that impacts the brain and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower. Through scientific advances we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the individual that is addicted and to those around them. Drug addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Although it is true that for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person’s self control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time send intense impulses to take drugs.
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person who is addicted to stop abusing drugs.
Similar to other chronic, relapsing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed successfully. And, as with other chronic diseases, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. Relapse, however, does not signal failure — rather, it indicates that treatment should be reinstated, adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed to help the individual regain control and recover.
Physical and health warning signs of drug abuse
- Eyes that are bloodshot or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal.
- Frequent nosebleeds–could be related to snorted drugs (meth or cocaine).
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
- Seizures without a history of epilepsy.
- Deterioration in personal grooming or physical appearance.
- Injuries/accidents and person won’t or can’t tell you how they got hurt.
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
- Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination.
Behavioral signs of drug abuse
- Drop in attendance and performance at work or school; loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise; decreased motivation.
- Complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers or classmates.
- Unusual or unexplained need for money or financial problems; borrowing or stealing; missing money or valuables.
- Silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
- Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
- Frequently getting into trouble (arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities).
Psychological warning signs of drug abuse
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
- Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing.
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
- Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appearing lethargic or “spaced out.”
- Appearing fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.