January 10, 2018
Most of us know someone who suffers with chemical dependency. Whether it be an acquaintance, friend, or family member, it is always hard to hear about the suffering caused by this issue. So how does addiction happen? What can drive someone from an otherwise normal life to a serious addiction problem?
By understanding the science of addiction, we can perhaps better avoid addiction ourselves, support others facing dependency, and contribute to community discussion around solving a growing national crisis.
A Dramatic Spike in Substance Use
Over the past decade, a number of factors—including the widespread availability of potentially addictive prescription drugs—have led to a drastic increase in the rate of substance abuse and a dramatic spike in the number of deaths due to overdose and related conditions.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016 more than 64,000 people died from drug overdose. Of those 64,000, almost 38,000 overdoses were due to manufactured opioids–more than double the number of heroin deaths. Clearly, medications used to treat severe pain can create dependency.
Who Becomes Addicted?
Any drug poses a certain risk for addiction. Drugs like nicotine, have a very high addictive potential. That’s why so many people who try tobacco have a hard time stopping. Drugs with a high addictive potential also tend to require very little time to create dependency. Other, such as LSD, have a very low potential of dependency. Regardless, every person has the potential to become addicted to at least a few different drugs.
Using vs. Addiction
A person addicted to a substance will continue to use it regardless of the consequences, and may no longer reap any benefit other than feeling normal. This may reflect a susceptibility; not a personal failure. Furthermore, a person with an addiction may continue to feel the need to use a substance to feel normal for years after they stop using the substance.
De-Stigmatizing Addiction and Treatment
One of the greatest challenges facing people who wish to be treated for a substance use disorder is the stigma and misconceptions that unfortunately, still surround addiction; and mental illness in general. It is important to remember that addiction is not a “street problem.” It affects people of all ages and socioeconomic groups, and if given the choice, no one would wish to suffer from an addiction. Those seeking help must be treated without reservation or judgment.