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The Definition of a Drug Addiction

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In 2009, 8.7 percent of people ages 12 and over in the United States used an illicit drug in the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People use drugs and alcohol for several reasons. Some use drugs because of the feeling of euphoria produced, while others may use them to self-medicate, “treating” depression, stress and social anxiety.

But while drugs can provide these desirable effects, users start needing more to get the same feeling as before. And when they do not have the drug, they experience cravings. Tolerance, withdrawal and taking more of the drug than intended — these are three signs of a drug addiction, or drug dependency.

Regular use of drugs alters the brain: the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that in brain scans of people addicted to drugs, they have altered areas of the brain involved in behavior control, judgment, learning and memory, and decision making. These physiological changes are apparent in the symptoms of a drug addiction.

For example, someone who is addicted to a drug may do risky activities while under the influence or steal in order to obtain the drug. Problems with memory and concentration can occur with several types of drug addictions, including marijuana, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and club drugs, according to the MayoClinic.com.

A drug addiction can result in serious complications. For example, the MayoClinic.com noted that people who have a drug dependency are more likely to get into accidents or commit suicide. High doses of certain drugs can result in a coma or sudden death.

Risky activities done under the influence of a substance or done to obtain it can lead to issues such as legal issues and getting a communicable disease. A drug addiction may also result in financial problems, decline in academic and work performance, and interpersonal issues.

Different treatments are available to help a person overcome her addiction. Therapy options include individual counseling, family counseling, inpatient treatment programs, residential treatment programs, outpatient treatment programs and self-help groups, such as the 12-step model.

Some people may undergo withdrawal therapy, or detoxification, in which the user either gradually reduces the amount of the drug she is using or uses another drug temporarily. For example, people addicted to opioids, such as heroin or morphine, may use methadone temporarily so that they do not have as severe side effects.

While some people can do withdrawal therapy in an outpatient setting, the MayoClinic.com noted that some people may need to be in a residential or hospital treatment program.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illegal Drug Use. Web. 7 December 2011

MayoClinic.com. Drug Addiction. Web. 7 December 2011

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug Abuse and Addiction. Web. 7 December 2011

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (Text Revision). Print. American Psychiatric Publications. 2000.

Reviewed December 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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