Addiction, Drug Addiction, Drug Abuse, Drug Dependence

This health blurb is simply an overview about addiction and the subtle distinction between drug addiction and dependence. It is not meant to offer a cure, just an understanding. And hopefully an appreciation of “why” sparks your curiosity to learn more about addiction that ultimately leads to a cure elsewhere.

An addiction is marked by compulsive, uncontrolled behavior. For the most part, what’s driving these behaviors is the dopamine reward. The key effect of dopamine in relation to addiction is the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. It’s these sensations that drives you to “do it again” and overrides any negative consequences.

The pleasurable reward of dopamine is not solely generated via drugs and alcohol, but behaviors can trigger this neurotransmitter release as well. Some of the behaviors that can deliver the sought after reward include:

  • sex
  • food
  • work
  • gaming
  • exercise
  • gambling
  • shopping

Under healthy conditions, your brain normally responds to behaviors linked to survival by producing dopamine for its movement, emotional, motivational and euphoric effects. What sets a behavioral addict apart is the intensifying craving to engage in a behavior (for survival or not) that’s only relieved once the behavior is carried out. Unfortunately, just the thought of negative consequences is no match to an addiction.

Whether repetitive behaviors driven by dopamine reward is a “true” addiction is controversial. Controversy aside, the necessity for treatment is the same and methodology used for recovery is similar to that of a drug addiction.

One factor that catapults drug addiction into a more serious health condition is the finding that drug abuse can lead to a change in the structure and function of your brain. Drug abuse means an excessive or improper use of drugs.

Drug abuse can change your brain cells and the pleasurable memory is very strong. There’s a couple of ways a drug can affect your brain, for instance by imitation (marijuana, heroin) or over stimulation (cocaine, methamphetamine).

Typically, the drugs that are most abused cause a dopamine flood. This euphoric outcome sets in motion a pattern of behavior, that’s debatable as to whether it’s actually a conscious choice. And usually a physical drug tolerance results in you needing more to get the craved effect, which too often ends in an overdose.

Because drug addiction changes your brain, your self control and ability to make sound decisions, coupled with the strong impulses makes stopping extremely challenging. However, many have been successful through treatments that help counteract drug addiction’s powerful effects to regain control.

Typically, drug abuse addiction is treated through behavioral psychotherapy and medications that assist with certain types of addictions, e.g. methadone. Drug addiction is considered a chronic diseases, like diabetes, asthma or heart disease. Thus, ongoing management is necessary to prevent a relapse.

Drug dependence is different than addiction. It means your body needs a drug to function normally, so abruptly stopping leads to withdrawal symptoms. You can have a physical dependence on a drug without having an addiction, for instance certain antihypertensive drugs do not cause addiction but they’ll cause a dependence. On the other hand, some drugs cause an addiction without a drug dependence, like cocaine.

Some withdrawal symptoms of a drug dependence include:

Initial treatment of drug dependence may involve an abrupt (detoxification) or gradual stoppage.

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