Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
How do addictive drugs influence behavior?
Addictive drugs influence behavior by interacting with the brain's reward system. This system is responsible for driving pleasurable feelings and motivating behaviors essential to human survival, such as eating and socializing. Addictive substances can hijack this system, leading to changes in behavior and brain function.
Here's a simplified explanation of how this works:
Alteration of Neurotransmitter Activity: Addictive substances often increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. One key neurotransmitter affected by many drugs is dopamine, which is closely associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Overstimulation of the Reward System: By increasing dopamine levels, addictive drugs overstimulate the reward system, often creating a sense of euphoria. This intense pleasure can lead individuals to repeat the drug use to recapture this feeling.
Development of Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the brain adapts to the increased dopamine levels by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the drug's effects are lessened, a phenomenon known as tolerance. This can lead users to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same dopamine high. This cycle can lead to dependence, where the brain relies on the drug to function normally.
Withdrawal and Cravings: When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms can occur as the brain attempts to rebalance itself. These can include negative emotions like anxiety and depression, physical symptoms like nausea or restlessness, and intense cravings for the drug.
Compulsive Drug-seeking Behavior: As the cycle of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and cravings continues, individuals may engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when faced with negative health, social, or legal consequences. This is a key characteristic of addiction.
Impairment in Decision-making and Self-control: Long-term drug use can also cause changes to other areas of the brain that impair decision-making, self-control, judgment, learning, and memory, further fueling the cycle of addiction.
What are the signs of meth addiction?
Physical appearance: Meth use can lead to drastic changes in physical appearance, such as rapid weight loss, poor dental hygiene (often called "meth mouth"), skin sores from excessive picking, and premature aging.
Sleep disturbances: Meth is a potent stimulant, causing users to experience insomnia or erratic sleep patterns. They may stay awake for extended periods, followed by crashing for long hours to recover.
Increased energy and hyperactivity: Meth use can cause a surge in energy, leading to hyperactivity, rapid speech, and fidgeting. The person may engage in repetitive or obsessive behaviors, such as cleaning or disassembling objects.
Paranoia and hallucinations: Meth can induce feelings of paranoia, suspicion, and even auditory or visual hallucinations. The person may become increasingly mistrustful of others and exhibit irrational or delusional beliefs.
Aggression and mood swings: Meth addiction can lead to unpredictable mood swings, including irritability, aggression, anxiety, or depression. The person may become easily agitated or display violent tendencies.
Impaired cognitive function: Chronic meth use can cause difficulties with memory, concentration, and decision-making. The person may struggle to maintain focus or display confusion and disorientation.
Social isolation: Meth addiction can lead to social withdrawal, as the person prioritizes their drug use over personal relationships and activities they once enjoyed.
Risk-taking behaviors: Meth use can impair judgment, leading to increased risk-taking behaviors such as unsafe sexual practices, criminal activities, or driving under the influence.
Neglect of responsibilities: Meth addiction can cause a person to neglect personal, professional, or family obligations, resulting in job loss, financial difficulties, or relationship problems.
Tolerance and withdrawal: Over time, meth users may develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher doses or more frequent use to achieve the desired effects. If the person stops using meth, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and intense cravings for the drug.
Can alcohol withdrawal be fatal?
Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal in severe cases, which is why it should always be managed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. This is especially true for individuals who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time or who have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms.
The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens (DTs), which occurs in approximately 5% of patients undergoing withdrawal. It typically starts 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, and symptoms can include severe confusion, hallucinations, high blood pressure, fever, heavy sweating, and rapid heartbeat. In addition to these, seizures can occur, which add to the risk.
Delirium tremens is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Mortality rates without treatment are estimated to be as high as 35%, but with appropriate treatment, this rate drops to 5-15%.
Even less severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous because they can lead to dehydration, severe vomiting, or other complications. Furthermore, withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult for an individual to maintain abstinence from alcohol, increasing the risk of a potentially dangerous relapse.