What Is Addiction
How do you define addiction? What does it mean to be addicted to something that is causing so many problems? Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to alcohol or gambling. They may mistakenly think that those who use excessive substances lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to.
In reality, a substance dependence is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will.
Substances change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who really want to stop. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from substance dependence addiction and lead productive lives.
National Institute On Drug Abuse (USA)
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by substance seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take substances is voluntary for most people, but repeated use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take substances. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why substance dependance addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from substance dependance dissorders are at increased risk for returning to using even after years of not taking the substance.
Signs of Addiction
Determining if you or someone you love has an addiction can be unnerving at first, but when you learn more about the symptoms of addiction, it can become much brighter. Specific signs of addiction will vary according to the substance used and or type of behaviours involved, but there are signs common to all dependencies, including:
Experiencing strong urges or cravings to use substances or participate in the preferred activity.
Continuing to use substances or engage in the activity, even after negative consequences have been experienced.
Having difficulty fulfilling duties at work, school, or home due to the addiction.
Continuing to use substances or participate in the activity even when situations can become physically dangerous, such as while driving.
Continuing to use substances or engage in the activity after facing repeated or persistent issues with social relationships that are due to or made worse by drug use.
Using the substance or participating in the activity for longer than initially planned
Being unable to control one’s use of a substance or participation in the activity, or having a strong desire to cut back on use or participate less.
Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the substance, or spending a significant portion of the day involved in the preferred activity.
Cutting back on or stopping essential actions due to substance use or activity participation, such as occupational, social, or recreational activities.
What happens to the brain when a person takes illicit substances?
Most illicit substances affect the brain’s “reward circuit” by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. This reward system controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivates a person behaviours behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. This overstimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable “high” that can lead people to take the illicit substance again and again.
As a person continues to use illicit substances, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by making less of it and/or reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the illicit substance and is commonly known as tolerance. They might take more of the illicit substance, trying to achieve the same dopamine high. It can also cause them to get less pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food or social activities.
Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:
Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use illicit substances continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction.
People drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax. Alcohol often has a strong effect on people—and throughout history, people have struggled to understand and manage alcohol’s power. Why does alcohol cause people to act and feel differently? How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted while others do not?
Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- Your age
- Your health status
- Your family history
While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem—drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.
Alcohol is the most commonly treated addiction. Detoxing from alcohol unsupervised can be potentially extremely dangerous.
What at first seems to be a minor miss calculation or a casual supplement to other chemicals including alcohol, legal packages drugs have become the leading cause of overdose in Australia.
Harmful drug use continues to be a serious public health issue in Australia with 1,808 drug-induced deaths registered in 2016. Changes in drug deaths have been significant over this period. In 2016, an individual dying from a drug-induced death in Australia was most likely to be a middle-aged male, living outside of a capital city who is misusing prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines or oxycodone in a polypharmacy (the use of multiple drugs) setting. The death was most likely to be an accident. ABS
The effects of a gambling addiction can be devastating, if not more so than your average substance abuse problem.
WARNING SIGNS OR RISK OF A GAMBLING ADDICTION
It can be hard to know if your gambling is getting out of control. A typical reaction is to minimise, hide or deny gambling problems and the harm it could be causing. Some people will lie to themselves and others about how much money or time is being spent on gambling.
If you suspect you may be developing a gambling addiction, or if you recognise risk in someone you love, get help immediately.
SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE A PROBLEM
Do you do any of the following:
• Spend more money and time than you intend to gambling
• Feel guilty and ashamed about your gambling
• Try to win back your losses
• Miss essential things in life such as family time, work, leisure activities, appointments, because of gambling
• Think about gambling every day
• Have arguments with friends or family about your gambling
• Lie or steal to get money for gambling
• Get into debt or struggle financially due to gambling
Meth/amphetamines (Amphetamines) are a group of stimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system by speeding up the activity of certain chemicals in the brain, producing a feeling of increased alertness and reduced fatigue.
Some examples of amphetamines include:
Dexamphetamine, commonly known as Dexies, is used for medical purposes to treat conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Amphetamine sulphate, commonly know as speed, whizz and goey, comes as a powder or waxy paste.
Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, ice, crystal, shards; is a more potent form of amphetamine which can come with a crystal-like appearance, as a powder or waxy paste.
How are amphetamines used?
Amphetamines can be swallowed, injected, smoked or inhaled (snorted). The effects of amphetamines can last from four to eight hours. Sometimes a person may experience a hangover effect that can last up to three days.
When marijuana is smoked, THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which rapidly carries them throughout the body to the brain. The person begins to experience effects almost immediately. Pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity. These unpleasant but temporary reactions are distinct from longer-lasting psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, that may be associated with the use of marijuana in vulnerable individuals. THC can sit within fat cells for up to six month after last usage.
Cocaine’s effects appear almost immediately after a single dose and disappear within a few minutes to an hour. Small amounts of cocaine usually make the user feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, mentally alert, and hypersensitive to sight, sound, and touch. The drug can also temporarily decrease the need for food and sleep. Some users find that cocaine helps them perform simple physical and intellectual tasks more quickly, although others experience the opposite effect.
The duration of cocaine’s euphoric effects depends upon the route of administration. The faster the drug is absorbed, the more intense the resulting high, but also the shorter its duration. Snorting cocaine produces a relatively slow onset of the high, but it may last from 15 to 30 minutes. In contrast, the high from smoking is more immediate but may last only 5 to 10 minutes.
Short-term physiological effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Large amounts of cocaine may intensify the user’s high but can also lead to bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior. Some cocaine users report feelings of restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic, and paranoia. Users may also experience tremors, vertigo, and muscle twitches.
Severe medical complications can occur with cocaine use. Some of the most frequent are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; neurological effects, including headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma; and gastrointestinal complications, including abdominal pain and nausea.
White powder doesn’t always equate with pure, however, as heroin can be mixed with other white substances such as sugars, powdered milk, starches, and quinine–the latter a bitter compound that has fever-reducing and pain-relieving properties. These adulterated powdered products will appear more yellowish or brownish, on average. Another commonly distributed version – known as black tar heroin – appears as a black, sticky substance.
Heroin may be smoked, snorted, or injected. Regardless of the type of use, heroin acts quickly in the body to elicit its dramatic results.
In short, heroin is very harmful. The speed and acute effects of the substance are leading contributors to its hazardous nature. They are also factors that influence the addictive quality of heroin. Continued use of heroin can bring devastation to both physical and mental health, and is likely to culminate in some social and legal ramifications for the user.
OxyContin, the brand name for oxycodone, is a potent synthetic opiate. Similar to heroin, OxyContin produces a euphoric high that is caused by stimulation of the brain’s reward center. OxyContin elevates levels of dopamine, the pleasure chemical of the brain.
People intent on abuse discovered that crushing OxyContin tablets allowed them to inject or snort the drug, producing an intense high similar to that of heroin. Crushing the drug also eliminated the time-release mechanism of the tablets, greatly increasing the risk of addiction. And a recent study found that OxyContin is a gateway drug for heroin, which addicts may prefer as a less-expensive alternative to OxyContin.
MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that affects three neurotransmitter systems in the brain: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Though there aren’t a large number of studies focused on MDMA dependency, those that have been conducted illustrate the addictive nature of the drug.
Lab rats have demonstrated that MDMA damages serotonin-containing neurons, and sometimes the damage is long-lasting. MDMA addicts experience a rapidly increasing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, depression and an inability to concentrate.
GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a CNS depressant. It was approved by the FDA in 2002 for the singular use of treating narcolepsy. Though it initially causes feelings of relaxation and euphoria, high doses of GHB can induce sleep, coma or death. Repeated use leads to GHB addiction and, ultimately, withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, tremors and sweating.
We also treat Dual Diagnosis conditions, with the primary issues being substance dependency or gambling addiction. We do not address fundamental nonsubstance dependency issues or other behavioural or process addictions as a central issue. Gambling and substance dependency is the primary focus for Oceans treatment programs. However, this is done on a case by case basis and will be addressed during the assessment process and the necessary referrals made to other agencies.