Drug Addiction: Causes, Treatment and Prevention
Common Health Issues

Drug Addiction: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Addiction is the state of feeling compelled to take certain substances. Some drinks, such as alcohol, and some drugs and medicines, such as heroin and codeine, are addictive. The body becomes accustomed to them and may eventually become dependent on them. 


Drug addiction creates a compelling need to take a drug, often in increasing amounts. The person is dependent on the physical and emotional effects that the drug produces. An addict experiences an intense craving for a particular drug and when deprived of it, becomes physically ill and distressed.


Addiction sometimes occurs in persons who are given a drug for a medical reason, such as the relief of pain, and then become so dependent upon the drug that they continue to take it after the reason has disappeared. Most cases of drug addiction are the result of a desire to escape from reality and enjoy the “high,” or special type of stimulation, afforded by various kinds of drugs.


Other drugs, such as marijuana, may be non-addictive in the sense that the body does not develop a need for them, but the user can become dependent on them for the feeling of psychological comfort or escape they produce. Such non-addictive drugs are thought by many medical authorities to be potentially dangerous because the persistent user may seek “bigger and better” relief by recourse to “hard,” or habit-forming drugs.


Drugs that people become addicted to are classified into these categories:


A medical term for any substance that produces stupor and sleep or relieves pain. Some examples are opium and substances derived from opium, or opiates, such as Morphine and Codeine. Demerol and Methadone are synthetically produced narcotics. Many narcotics induce drug addiction if used repeatedly, because of the temporary feeling of well-being that they produce. Narcotic medicines are, therefore, under strict government control and can be obtained legally only with a doctor’s prescription.



A substance that alters ordinary mental and emotional processes, producing hallucination, bizarre states of consciousness, and unusual reactions to ordinary stimuli. Hallucinogenic drugs are sometimes called psychedelic or mind-expanding drugs.



Some examples of hallucinogenic drugs or hallucinogens, include Mescaline, Marijuana (hashish), Psilocybin, and LSD. A few of them are now made synthetically, but were all originally obtained from certain plants and fungi.


It is not fully understood how these drugs act on the nervous system, or whether they all act essentially the same way or in different ways. The effect produced by any particular drug depends on the individual who takes it, as well as on the dosage. The emotional effects may range from feelings of intense pleasure to extreme terror. Most of these drugs produce mild physical reactions, such as slight increase in heartbeat and blood pressure, an increase in knee jerk and other reflexes, and sometimes dilation of the pupils of the eyes. Some, such as LSD, may produce severe and long-lasting mental derangement.



A medicine that is used as a sedative, to overcome insomnia, or for general anesthesia. Phenobarbital is probably the most familiar kind, but there are many others, including Seconal and Amytal. A barbiturate is often prescribed in connection with psychotherapy or to relieve tension.


Barbiturates can be purchased only with a doctor’s description, and the exact dosage that she indicates should not be exceeded. An overdose can be fatal. There are many barbiturate preparations. One kind, for example, may be prescribed for the person who has trouble falling asleep, and another kind for the person who keeps waking up during the night.


However, do not suppose that you need sleeping pills if you occasionally suffer from Insomnia. Recent research has shown that barbiturates alter the normal pattern of sleep. You can often do yourself as much good—or more—by going for a long walk or taking a warm bath before going to bed. Relaxed reading in bed also helps.


Do not use barbiturates longer than your doctor advises. Barbiturates can be habit-forming. Alcoholics sometimes take them in place of liquor and become just as dependent on them. Symptoms of barbiturates dependence are sleepiness, slurred speech, confusion, slow reflexes, and other types of behavior that are associated with drunkenness. There is also a tendency to become involved in accidents.


When the person stops taking barbiturates, he suffers typical withdrawal symptoms: convulsions, tremors, nervousness and insomnia. Treatment is by reducing the dosage gradually and administering psychotherapy.




Experimentation with drugs and alcohol seems a rite of passage for adolescents, but this first taste can have long-lasting results for some. For most drug abusers and alcoholics, the beginnings of addiction can be traced to their teen years, though few of those who so experiment end up as drug abusers or alcoholics.

For example, by the time students leave secondary school, over 90% have tried alcohol, yet only 14% eventually become alcoholics. What makes the difference?


To be sure, those living in high-crime and high-poverty neighborhoods, where drug is easily accessible and the drug dealer is the most prominent local model of economic success, are most at risk for substance abuse. Some may end up addicted through becoming small-time dealers themselves, others simply because of the easy access or a peer culture that glamorizes drugs—a factor that heightens the risk of drug use in any neighborhood, even (and perhaps especially) among the rich.


But still the question remains, of the pool of those exposed to these lures and pressure, and who go on to experiment, which ones are most likely to end up with a lasting drug habit?


One theory is that those who stay with the habit, become increasingly dependent on alcohol or drugs, are using these substances as a medication of sorts, a way to soothe feelings of anxiety, anger or depression. Through their early experimentation, they hit upon a chemical fix, a way to calm the feelings of anxiety or melancholy that have tormented them. 

For example, in a study of several hundred teenagers tracked for two years, it was those who reported high levels of emotional distress who subsequently went on to have the highest rates of substance abuse.


This may explain why so many young people are able to experiment with drugs and drinking without becoming addicted, while others become addicted from the start: those most vulnerable to addiction seem to find in the drug or alcohol an instant way to soothe emotions that have troubled them for years.


This, therefore, is the devil’s bargain of drug addiction: a short-term good feeling in exchange for the steady meltdown of one’s life.



Many people don’t recognize the symptoms or signs of drug use. To identify a person with drug addiction, you can look out for these signs: sudden drop off in academic or school performance, the person becomes hideously sloppy, he or she has inexplicable loss of weight, the person becomes unusually tired or hyper-energetic, complexion changes, or the person’s eyes become red and swollen. 

Addictive drugs are those on which the body becomes physically dependent. If the drug is withdrawn, there is a bodily reaction, often quite violent when the addiction is severe. A whole series of symptoms, known as withdrawal syndrome, commonly appears.


Some common withdrawal syndrome symptoms are: vomiting, nausea, cramps and convulsion

Drugs alters a person’s cognition, perception and how they walk.


As a result of needing to satisfy their drug use, drug addicts become adept at emotional blackmail and will go to any length, using every dishonest means imaginable, in other to get a drug fix or two.



Treatment for drug addiction may be obtained in hospitals, non-religious and religious centers.


Gradual withdrawal is favored by many doctors. The dosage of the drug is cautiously reduced gradually and psychotherapy is combined to uncover the reasons why the person took to drugs and to re-educate him. 


The help of former addicts is frequently beneficial. Methods of psychotherapy range from brief counseling to extensive individual psychoanalysis. Group sessions under the leadership of a psychiatrist or psychologist have been effective.

For the taker of non-addictive drugs, the corrective program is usually simpler. The person abstains from the drug, and psychotherapy is administered if there are indications that it will be helpful.



This may be summed up in one word: avoidance. Do not be tempted to try any drug, addictive or non-addictive. Do not take any Amphetamine, Sedative or Sleeping Pill without first discussing the matter with your doctor. If your doctor prescribes such pills, do not seek to have the prescription renewed without her recommendation.


Though the predisposition to substance abuse may, in many cases, be brain-based, the feelings that drive people to ‘self-medicate’ themselves through drinks or drugs can be handled without recourse to medication as many recovery programs have demonstrated for decades.


Acquiring the ability to handle those feelings—soothing anxiety, lifting depression, calming anger—removes the impetus to use drugs or alcohol in the first place.  These basic emotional skills are taught remedially in drug addiction treatment programs.


It would be far better, of course, if they were learned early in life, well before the habits become established.


Sources and References

Initiation of Substance Abuse in Early Adolescence by Jeanne Tschann

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia

Peer Pressure and Substance Use in Emerging Adulthood: A Latent Profile Analysis by Angela Keyzers, Sun-Kyung Lee and Jodi Dworkin 

African American Adolescent Substance Use: The Roles of Racial Discrimination and Peer Pressure by Elizabeth Jelsma and Fatima Varner

Psychedelics by David E Nichols

Severe Chronic Abuse of Zolpidem in Refractory Insomnia by Giacomo Chiaro, Anna Castelnovo et al

Group Therapy for Women with Substance Use Disorders: In-session Affiliation Predicts Women's Substance Use Treatment Outcomes By Linda Valeri, Meghan Reilly et al

Cortical Thickness Abnormalities in Cocaine Addiction—A Reflection of Both Drug Use and A Pre-Existing Disposition to Drug Abuse? By Nikos Makris, Gregory Gasic et al


Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner