Drug addiction is like any other addiction: it is a progressive disease with specific symptoms that, if untreated, may lead to death. Although there is no cure for drug addiction, (once a drug addict, always a drug addict), it is a disease that responds successfully to treatment. Drug addiction can be put into full remission if treatment is followed honestly and wholeheartedly.

People can be addicted to illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana and heroin, and also to legal prescription drugs such as pain killers (for example, Tylenol® with codeine) and mood stabilizers (for example, Ativan®). There are many patterns of drug use and many combinations of drugs used.

No single pattern of use determines whether someone is a drug addict or not. Some drug addicts live on the streets, prostituting themselves for drugs and money; some might be frazzled moms with young kids. The little old lady who comes to church every Sunday may even be a drug addict.

Like any addiction, the substance used or activity is not the real issue. The real issue is the underlying emotional and physical reasons why someone uses drugs. People who turn to drugs as a way of coping with stress and to numb emotional pain are susceptible to developing this illness. A family history of drug use also makes someone vulnerable to addiction.

Addictions have three important things in common: denial, tolerance and progression. Denial means that despite negative consequences directly related to drug use, the addict denies he has a problem with drugs. In fact, addicts believe they are actually in control of their drug use and can stop at any time, they just don’t.

Tolerance spurs an escalating demand for an addictive drug: the drug addict needs larger and larger amounts of a drug in order to get the same effect. While one joint used to be enough to take the emotional edge off, now the addict must smoke three joints to get the same result.

Progression is related to tolerance in that, if untreated, the negative effects of the disease will continue to grow and the addict will become less and less healthy as the illness takes over mentally, emotionally and physically.

Drug addiction destroys lives. Those who use drugs do so to avoid their problems, and for a while it works. But eventually their drug use begins to cause trouble at home and at work. They may start lying about their drug use. Eventually their personality starts to change, and they become moody, irritable, and angry. They may start missing work, lose jobs, stay out all night, drive under the influence of drugs, miss special family occasions or show up high. Their drug use takes on a new purpose because now they use drugs to avoid the problems caused by their drug use. It is a vicious downward spiral.

Michele Langmead was a registered counsellor with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication. .

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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