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Drug Abuse And Addiction

Drug Abuse And Addiction

Alternate Names

  • substance abuse


Drug abuse occurs when a person feels the need to use a drug repeatedly for various reasons. Drug addiction is said to be present when a person compulsively abuses a drug after serious problems related to the drug use have occurred.

What is going on in the body?

Drug abuse is a widespread problem that affects people of all socioeconomic levels. The symptoms of abuse and addiction differ slightly based upon the drug being taken. Drug abuse and addiction cause many health-related and social problems.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The exact reason why some people abuse and become addicted to drugs is not known. There appears to be a complex relationship between biological and environmental factors that leads to abuse and addiction.
Commonly abused drugs are:
  • amphetamines, such as dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine
  • barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
  • benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (i.e., Valium), alprazolam (i.e., Niravam, Xanax), or lorazepam (i.e., Ativan)
  • combination pain medicines that contain narcotics such as hydrocodone, codeine, or oxycodone (e.g., Tylenol #3, Percocet, and others)
  • mind-altering drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, PCP, ecstasy, and angel dust
  • muscle relaxants, such as carisoprodol (i.e., Soma)
  • stimulants, such as cocaine


What can be done to prevent the condition?

The best prevention available now is education. If a person has any symptoms of drug abuse, it is important to seek help. The earlier the treatment, the better the results.


How is the condition diagnosed?

The condition is diagnosed by asking the person about drug use. If several of the symptoms or signs mentioned above are present, the person is said to be abusing drugs and may become or may already be addicted to drugs.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Problems associated with drug addiction vary widely among different people. Long-term use may result in changes in brain function that last long after the person stops using drugs. Tobacco dependence is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Alcohol is not far behind. People with drug dependence can have financial, social, legal, and other personal problems. These may last long after they stop using the drug. Death is fairly common in those with drug dependence due to harmful effects of the drug on the body.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Drug abuse is not contagious and poses no risk to others, but those abusing or addicted to drugs may inflict harm to obtain drugs or while affected by them.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment partly depends on the drug that is used and the personality of the affected person. Treatment is complex. Often it must address the addiction as well as the person's mental and physical health and any work or social problems that occur. Effective treatment may include behavioral therapy, medicines, or some combination of these.
Behavioral therapy helps people:
  • cope with craving
  • avoid contact with drugs
  • prevent or cope with relapse
The best drug abuse programs will provide a combination of therapies and services. Successful treatment recognizes or responds to certain important issues.
  • No single treatment will work for all people.
  • Treatment must be readily available for a long enough period of time.
  • Effective treatment meets the multiple needs of the person, not just the drug abuse problem.
  • A plan must repeatedly be assessed and changed to meet changing needs.
  • Counseling and behavioral therapies should be included in the treatment plan.
  • Medicines may be needed along with counseling.
  • Mental illness and drug abuse must be treated at the same time.
  • Medical detoxification will only work as the first stage of a long-term treatment plan.
  • Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Possible ongoing substance abuse must be monitored.
  • Treatment programs need to detect and treat any infectious diseases and teach people to avoid spreading disease.
  • Recovery can take a long time, and treatment may be needed several times.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Drug abuse is a chronic problem. There may need to be several kinds and numbers of therapies. If medications are used, they may have side effects of their own, or in some cases, the result may be that the person simply switches from one addiction to another.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Monitoring and therapy are needed at least until a person can function fully and long-term abstinence, or avoidance of drug use, has been achieved. Self-help programs are often useful in keeping a person sober or "clean."


How is the condition monitored?

Monitoring may include the use of drug tests. These can be urine, saliva, or blood tests. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.


National Institute of Drug Abuse [NIDA], National Institutes of Health [NIH], US Department of Human Services

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration [SAMHSA], Office of Applied Studies, Measurement of Substance Use, Dependence, and Need for Treatment

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition [DSM-IV]. American Psychiatric Association, 1996

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