Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use, despite harmful consequences. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using certain substance(s) such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.
They keep using drug or alcohol even when they know that it will cause problems. These substances produce such an intense activation of the reward system (surge of chemical messenger dopamine) producing feelings of immense pleasure, often referred to as a ”high.” Continued use of drugs or alcohol changes the brain’s wiring and causes addicts to have intense cravings for the substance.
Over time, people with addiction build a tolerance- meaning they need larger amounts of drugs or alcohol to feel the effect. This increasing use of these substances causes harmful changes in how the brain functions. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain related to judgment, decision making, learning, and memory and behavior control. These changes lead to impaired control where the individual craves so much for the substance that all his/her activities revolve around getting and using the addictive substance(s). Social impairment is the next step where individual gives up his/her normal routine (school, work, social activities) and withdraws from family and friends
According to NIMHANS survey conducted in 20153, 22% of Indian population suffers from substance/ medication-induced mental health issues which need active intervention. The most obvious effects of drug/ substance abuse–which are found in the individuals who abuse drugs–include ill health (physical and mental), sickness and ultimately death. Particularly devastating to an abuser’s health is the contraction of needle borne illnesses including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS through injection form of drug use.
Addiction impacts not only individuals, but also their families and their communities. The impact on family members is far more significant and distressing, especially on the spouse and children. With impairment of a normal functional family (job loss, school/ college dropout state), leading to likely financial loss, stressed relationships between the family & neighbors, divorce/ separation of spouses, negative impact on the mental well being of spouses, children and other family members.
The good news is that several different types of addiction treatment programs exist to help people struggling with addiction. Treatment can be beneficial at any point in an addiction and can be tailored to a person’s needs.
Chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease are not curable but are manageable. Similarly drug addiction is also not curable but is treatable and manageable. Drug addiction treatment should be focused on helping patients stop using drugs, stay drug free and work towards becoming productive member of family and community.
Medically assisted detoxification, counseling and behavior therapy are best used strategies to overcome drug addiction.