With so much stigma attached to drug addiction, most people believe that it is an affliction rather than an illness. Even though addiction is a recognised illness of the brain, it is viewed by most in a bad light. Negative stereotyping has helped to forge opinions and many believe that those affected by addiction are ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ individuals. This is not the case. So, who is affected by drug addiction and what are the negative consequences of this illness?
Why Do Some Individuals Develop a Drug Addiction?
Not everyone who uses drugs will go on to suffer with addiction. In fact, there are many people who can use illegal drugs recreationally without ever developing a physical dependence. Then again, there are some who are hooked after just one use. So why does this happen?
There is no single cause of addiction, and scientists have so far been unable to pinpoint any reason why some people are affected by addiction while others are not. What they do know, however, is that there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of an individual being affected.
Having said that, even having every single risk factor does not make a person a certainty for addiction. There are some people who will never be affected by addiction despite having every factor that is deemed to increase their likelihood of becoming an addict. There are others with no risk factors but who will end up being destroyed by addiction. The reality is that anyone who uses mood-altering substances is at risk of addiction. They are all capable of allowing their use of these substances to spiral out of control to the point where addiction cripples them.
The Risk Factors of Addiction
Scientists have discovered that there are certain risk factors that make a person more likely to develop addiction. Some of these factors are:
- Early Exposure – The younger a person is when he or she tries drugs, the more likely this individual is to be affected by addiction when older. Most addicts began using drugs before they were eighteen.
- Family History – Having a family history of addiction increases the risk of a person being affected. You might think that children of addicts would be the ones who would avoid drugs themselves when older having seen the damage that can be done, but the reality is that having an addicted parent increases the likelihood of being affected in later life.
- Mental Health Problems – Mental health problems and addiction tend to go hand-in-hand. Those who suffer with illnesses such as anxiety disorder or chronic depression will often self-medicate with mood-altering substances such as illegal drugs. It must also be mentioned that many individuals who abuse these substances will then go on to suffer mental health problems including psychosis, schizophrenia, and dementia.
- Trauma – Traumatic experiences contribute to the development of addiction in many people. Trauma can leave them feeling vulnerable and anxious, leaving many to self-medicate with substances such as drugs and alcohol. Traumatic experiences include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, being bullied, the loss of a loved one, childhood neglect, having a mentally ill or incarcerated relative, or witnessing combat.
Who Does Addiction Affect?
Absolutely anyone can be affected by addiction. It is easy to assume that drug addicts are from deprived neighbourhoods with very little prospect in life, but this is not always the case. In fact, many drug addicts are just like everyone else; they have loving families, nice homes, good jobs, and financial stability. To the outside world, they might even appear to have it all.
Contrary to popular belief, addiction affects individuals of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds. It does not discriminate based on where a person lives or how much money he or she has. That does not stop others from forming an opinion of what an addict looks or acts like. Many people believe that all drug addicts:
- are known to the police and have a history of criminal activity
- steal money from their family and friends
- are unable to hold down a job
- spend most of their time injecting drugs down dark alleyways
- do not wash or take care of grooming
- have no prospects in life
- have left school early
- are homeless or are living in squats with other drug addicts.
The danger of stereotyping addicts is that many of these affected individuals will continue with their addictive behaviour as they do not see themselves as addicts. Some will never reach out for help for their addiction due to worrying what others will think of them if it is discovered that he or she has an addiction.
Stereotyping of addiction can lead to discrimination and hatred and can severely impact an individual’s chance for recovery. Many people believe that addicts are to blame for their situation and so they have no compassion for the addicted person’s plight. They fail to realise that addiction is an illness, just as diabetes or the flu are illnesses. Addiction is not a choice; if it were, why would anyone choose it? It destroys lives and those affected have no control over their ability to quit. Even when they want to stop taking drugs, they are compelled to keep using because of the changes to the structure of their brain.
The Impact of Addiction
Drug addiction has a massive negative impact on the life of the affected individual. It leads to poor health and is linked to many physical and mental health problems. Those who take illegal drugs always have the worry of overdose hanging over them.
Many street drugs are mixed with other substances by dealers who want to stretch their profits. This means that these substances range in purity and constituents. Those who are used to a drug of a certain purity, for example, could overdose on a batch of drugs that are stronger than those they are used to.
The family members of drug addicts will also have to live with the constant fear of someone knocking on their door to tell them their addicted loved one is dead. This can lead to massive amounts of stress and can result in various health problems. It is difficult to watch a loved one destroy their life knowing that there is absolutely nothing that can be done to help.
Family members often become obsessed with trying to help the affected individual, and their life will begin to revolve around the addicted family member. They are often described as being co-dependent; they also have an addiction, but it is to the addict and not a substance.
Other family members will become defensive and angry with the addict or may blame themselves for their loved one’s actions. Many constantly ask themselves if there was anything that could have been done differently to prevent the addiction from developing.
Children of addicts are particularly affected, with many going on to suffer with lasting emotional problems in later life. Young children may not understand what is happening with their parent and will be confused by the parent’s erratic behaviour. They may feel lonely, isolated, and neglected, and some will become withdrawn or even manipulative in their efforts to get what they need to survive. These traits can extend into adulthood and can affect their ability to form healthy relationships with their peers.
The effect of drug addiction on the individual and his or her family is massive, but the damage does not stop there. Addiction often negatively affects close friends and colleagues as well; the wider community is affected too. Drug addiction is a major contributing factor in many violent crimes, with many prisoners in the UK affected by addiction. It is true that in over half of all violent crimes the victim believed that the perpetrator was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Drug addiction drains public services such as the National Health Service and police resources. Drug-related illnesses and injuries are placing a massive strain on the NHS, and drug-related crimes are taking up valuable police resources. As well as the time that is devoted to substance-related issues, there is also a huge cost to the economy. Substance abuse and addiction costs the UK economy billions of pounds every single year.
Overcoming a Drug Addiction
The good news is that help is available for those who want to put their days of substance abuse to bed once and for all. Provided an individual is motivated to succeed and willing to make necessary changes to his or her life, he or she can look forward to a new and healthy way of living.
It is true that services such as drug detox and rehab are vital, but they are severely underfunded. Those who manage to overcome their addictions often go on to become valuable members of society. If they stay sober, they can live productive lives with their families and some even go on to become pillars of their communities.
Failure to get help for addiction can mean that some addicts will succumb to their illness. They will never reach their potential and will spiral further into the depths of addiction.
With a drug detox, the addict will be separated from the substance to which he or she is addicted. During this process, it is likely that various withdrawal symptoms will occur. For most people, these symptoms will be mild to moderate in intensity, but the potential for severe symptoms will always be present. These symptoms can include seizures and convulsions, so for the comfort and safety of the addict, it is best to detox in a supervised facility.
Detox programmes typically last between seven and ten days, during which time the withdrawal symptoms will reach a peak before subsiding. After the patient has completed the detox, he or she will be ready to get started on tackling the psychological side of the illness; this takes place with rehabilitation.
Rehab programmes for drug addiction are either inpatient or outpatient based. Most outpatient programmes are provided by charities, local support groups, and the NHS, although there are a number of private counsellors in any given area who also offer outpatient programmes to those in need of help.
Inpatient programmes tend to be the remit of the private clinic and are considered by many as the best way to get started on the road to recovery. This is because these facilities offer an intensive and time-consuming approach to getting well. The programmes typically last between six and eight weeks during which time patients will leave their everyday lives and move into the clinic for the duration of their treatment. They will live with other recovering addicts in a distraction-free environment where they have no access to temptations or triggers and little choice but to concentrate on recovery.
To find out more on the question of who is affected by drug addiction, as well as learning about treatment for drug addiction for yourself or a loved one, please call us here at Liberty House Clinic today. We offer excellent treatment programmes for all types of addiction and have a team of fully trained staff who work tirelessly to ensure that all patients achieve their potential for successful recovery. Call now to see how we can help you beat addiction once and for all.