Published April 26, 2012
Shaking a drug dependency requires both mental and physical determination. For many individuals, drug addiction can develop without warning, so the problem may have reached an advanced stage by the time it is treated, making the process all the more difficult. If you or a family member is suffering from a dependence on any form of drug, you should seek medical advice immediately. Here's how to tackle the problem.
What is a drug addiction?
While it may seem like a simple question, the exact definition of a drug addiction can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint.
"Addiction implies a loss of control of substance use," says Dr. James Walsh, addiction medicine specialist and medical director of Swedish Medical Center's Addiction Recovery Services program. "If someone is using more of a substance than they think they should, or more than they intend to, they can be considered addicted."
However, recognizing the point when an addiction has formed can prove difficult. Many individuals may have a hard time accepting, or even contemplating that they have developed a substance dependency, Walsh explains. "For most people if they are struggling with the idea that they may have an addiction, they probably do qualify. If someone has tried multiple ways to cut back on their use and has not been successful, they have demonstrated this loss of control."
Recognizing that you or a loved one has a problem can be tough, as the symptoms of a drug dependency often exhibit themselves in different manners. Sometimes people may notice that they are doing things they wouldn't normally do, like obtaining pills from friends or buying them illicitly, says Walsh. Other times their substance abuse may begin to impact their work or personal lives, or lead them to feel more isolated and disconnected from their normal lives.
Addiction is a complex but treatable disease, however, no single treatment is appropriate for every sufferer.
The first and most important step toward treating a drug dependency is to talk about the issue with someone, explains Walsh. "As long as the substance use is kept a secret, the person struggling with addiction has no way to get better."
Drug addicts often face numerous obstacles on the road to recovery. Many patients will experience withdrawals symptoms which can range from mild to severe, depending on the drug and level of addiction. Once these symptoms have been managed, most treatments will involve helping the patient to understand and overcome their addiction.
"Treatment is to help the patient understand addiction, to notice the ways their thinking can lead them back to using and to build a life without substance use. Most treatment is provided in group settings, either outpatient or inpatient," Walsh explains.
Prescription medications can help treat severe drug addictions in a variety of ways, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Certain medications can help to suppress withdrawal symptoms experienced during the detoxification period, while others can help to restore normal brain functioning and diminish cravings. For example, methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone can help treat opiate addiction, though they should only be administered under medical supervision.