Getting A Handle On Addiction

To deal with school and her problems, Jolene drinks alcohol in the morning, then continues throughout the day. If she doesn’t drink, Jolene feels nauseated and gets a headache.

Devon chews half a can of tobacco every day. When he tries to stop, he gets strong cravings and starts chewing again. Devon has a painful white lump inside his mouth where he places the tobacco.

Devon’s brother Alan is addicted to cocaine. Four months ago, Alan tried some cocaine at a party and now snorts it regularly. He has lost weight and his nose runs constantly. His grades have slipped and he dropped off the hockey team.

Who has the drug addiction? Actually, all three teens are addicted to a drug: Jolene to alcohol, Devon to nicotine, and Alan to cocaine.

Mind and Body Dependence

Any substance that can change a mood or state of mind is called a psychoactive or mood-altering drug. Using psychoactive drugs can escalate into an addiction, which is a physical or psychological dependence on the drug. With psychological dependence, a person needs to keep taking a drug to get its effects. A physical dependence means that if someone stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms occur and the person feels uncomfortable or sick. Some people have both types of drug dependence.

An addiction takes time to develop, usually weeks, months, or years. The drug addiction process follows a typical pattern:

Relief–If bored, lonely, unhappy, scared, angry, or feeling pressured, some people try a drug or drink alcohol for quick relief.

Increased use–To feel the same relief, the person must take more of the drug or alcohol more often.

Preoccupation–The person frequently thinks about taking the drug and/or about its effects. Daily use becomes the norm. Problems with parents, relationships, or school increase.

Dependency–More of the drug or alcohol is needed just to feel OK. Physical signs such as coughing, sore throat, runny nose, weight loss, and fatigue are common Blackouts and overdosing may occur. The person now has an addiction.

Withdrawal–If users can’t get the drug, most experience withdrawal symptoms: itching, chills, feeling tense, nausea, sweating, and stomach pain.

These physical effects vary, depending on the drug, but are signs that a teen is smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or using other psychoactive drugs.

Watch Out!

Use these questions to detect drug use or addiction:

* When faced with a problem or stressful situations, does the person drink, smoke, or use other drugs?

* Does the person drink until drunk?

* Does the person miss school, work, or fun times because of alcohol or other drugs?

* Is the user preoccupied with how to get drugs?

* Does the person drive while drunk or high?

* Can the person have fun only if using drugs or alcohol?

* Has home and/or school become intolerable because of drinking or drug taking? Or is the person drinking or taking drugs because of a miserable home life?

* Has the tobacco, alcohol, or drug user tried to quit and failed?

Teen drug users may hide or carry cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs; have abrupt mood or attitude changes or unusual flares of temper; steal, or borrow more and more money from family members or friends. They may skip school or let grades slip. Also some teens start hanging out with a new group of friends who use drugs.

Heading Off Trouble

People who take drugs or alcohol for fun or to deal with unhappiness may find they can’t stop and end up addicted. Teen drug abuse often starts with alcohol or tobacco. Although legal for adults, these drugs are illegal for teens. Users may next try an illegal drug such as marijuana, then possibly others. Use of other illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin is unusual in those who have not previously used alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. So, the surest way to head off an addiction is to not use these psychoactive drugs:

* Alcohol, a depressant, is the world’s most widely used drug. It slows down the brain, body systems, and reactions. More people are addicted to alcohol than to any other drug. This addiction is called alcoholism.

* The addicting ingredient in tobacco is nicotine, a stimulant. Users find nicotine addiction difficult to break because nicotine is a potent drug with painful withdrawal symptoms. More teens are addicted to tobacco than to alcohol.

* Other psychoactive, drugs include marijuana, PCP, and solvents. Marijuana remains the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. People can become psychologically dependent on marijuana and find it hard to stop using it. Cravings to smoke marijuana are very intense. Withdrawal from PCP also causes extreme cravings for the drug. Although inhalants are legal products (glue, hair spray, paint thinner, etc.), some people use them illegally. Inhalants depress the central nervous system. They can affect liver function and can kill.

* Stimulants or “uppers” are powerful and highly addicting. They include cocaine and methamphetamine (speed). Cocaine acts directly on the “pleasure centers” in the brain so that users want to feel this pleasure again and again. This triggers an intense craving for more cocaine. Many people who try methamphetamine also go on to compulsive use.

* The opiates, another type of mood-altering drug, include heroin. Heroin induces addiction by causing users to crave the drug. When they try to stop, they experience great physical pain.

Breaking Addictions

Addiction treatments vary according to the drug and are sometimes combined. Some people try going “cold turkey.” That is, they stop drinking or taking the drug all at once. Going cold turkey is not easy. When the body becomes physically dependent on a drug, it goes through withdrawal when the drug is absent. The physical and mental pain of an abrupt withdrawal can be difficult.

Another technique is to taper off. The addict gradually stops taking the drug or drinking. This method reduces the effects of withdrawal, giving the body time-to adjust.

Another approach is to use different substances to help people withdraw from their addiction. Alcoholics can take Antabuse, a drug that makes them sick if they drink, or a once-a-day pill that dampens alcohol cravings. Nicotine gum or patches help smokers ease away from smoking.

Twelve-step and other support group programs such as Rational Recovery have proven successful for many. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first 12-step program and is now used worldwide. AA has been adapted to many other addictions, including stop-smoking groups and drug-withdrawal programs.

Other treatments include crisis intervention, and hospital, clinic, and private programs. One-to-one or group counseling works for some people, too.

The long-term goal of treatment is to change the person’s life so that drug use is no longer satisfying. But it’s tough work to break a drug addiction.

External resource for individuals seeking help with opiate addiction: http://www.detox.net/clinics/methadone/california/

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