Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Why do drug addicts do what they do?
"People with substance use disorders engage in their behavior for various reasons, often complex and interconnected. Understanding these reasons is crucial to treating addiction. Here are some common factors:
Pleasure Seeking: Drugs often produce intense feelings of pleasure, euphoria, or relief from pain. The initial high can be so powerful that individuals continue using the substance to experience that feeling again.
Escape or Self-Medication: Many people use drugs as a way to escape from reality or cope with difficult feelings, trauma, stress, or mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Drugs can temporarily dull these feelings, but they do not address the root cause of the distress.
Physical Dependence: Over time, the body can develop a physical dependence on the substance, requiring it to function normally. Without the substance, the individual may experience unpleasant or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological Dependence: Even after physical dependence is managed, psychological cravings can persist. The desire to use drugs can become a powerful mental urge that dominates a person's thoughts and behaviors.
Peer Pressure or Social Influence: The influence of friends or social circles where drug use is common can encourage initial use or ongoing abuse of drugs.
Genetic Factors and Early Exposure: Genetics can play a role in vulnerability to addiction, as can exposure to drugs at a young age or in the prenatal period.
Lack of Coping Mechanisms: Without healthy coping strategies for life's stresses and challenges, some people turn to drugs as a way of dealing with these issues.
Changes in Brain Function: Long-term substance use can lead to changes in the brain that result in increased cravings and decreased ability to resist drug use, despite harmful consequences.
Are some individuals genetically predisposed to drug and alcohol addiction?
Yes, research indicates that genetic factors can play a significant role in an individual's susceptibility to drug and alcohol addiction, although they are only part of the picture. It's estimated that genetics account for approximately 40-60% of a person's vulnerability to addiction, with the remaining risk coming from environmental and psychological factors.
Here's a closer look at the role of genetics in substance use disorders:
Genetic Predisposition: Certain genetic variations can influence how an individual reacts to drugs or alcohol. For example, some people might experience a more intense "high," or they might not get unpleasant side effects that deter others from continued use. These genetic differences can increase the likelihood of repeated use and, ultimately, addiction.
Co-occurring Disorders: Genetic factors can also contribute to mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Individuals with these conditions are often at a higher risk for substance abuse and addiction, creating a potential link between genetic predisposition to these mental health conditions and increased risk for addiction.
Family History: A family history of addiction can indicate a possible genetic predisposition. If close relatives, such as parents or siblings, have struggled with addiction, an individual may be more likely to develop a substance use disorder. However, a family history of addiction also often comes with certain environmental factors that can increase risk, such as exposure to substance use at a young age or a lack of stable, supportive family structures.
Epigenetics: Epigenetics, or changes in gene expression due to experiences and environment, can also play a role in addiction. For instance, exposure to high levels of stress or trauma can cause changes in the way genes function, potentially increasing susceptibility to addiction.
However, it's essential to understand that while genetics can increase the risk for addiction, they do not determine destiny. Environmental factors such as exposure to drugs, family environment, peer influences, and individual resilience can heavily influence whether a person with a genetic predisposition will develop a substance use disorder. Furthermore, effective prevention and treatment strategies can help individuals at risk for or struggling with addiction to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
What are the symptoms of opioid withdrawal?
Opioid withdrawal can be a challenging process that presents both physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on factors like the type of opioid used, the duration and intensity of use, individual health status, and genetic factors. Here are common symptoms that might be experienced during opioid withdrawal:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Restlessness and agitation
- Runny nose and teary eyes
- Excessive yawning
- Goosebumps (hence the term "cold turkey")
- Abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Intense cravings for opioids
These symptoms can begin as early as a few hours after the last dose of the opioid and typically peak within 72 hours, though they may persist for a week or more. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which are primarily psychological, can continue for weeks or even months.
It's important to note that while opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, it is generally not life-threatening. However, complications like severe dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea can occur, which is why medical supervision is recommended during the withdrawal process. Furthermore, the risk of relapse is high during withdrawal, and using opioids again after a period of abstinence can lead to a potentially fatal overdose, as tolerance may have decreased.