What exactly is drug addiction?
Photo of a man in a tunnel by iStock/Evgeny Sergeev
Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterised by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug seeking and use despite negative consequences and long-term brain changes. These brain changes can result in the harmful behaviours seen in drug users. Addiction to drugs is also a relapsing disease. Relapse is the return to drug use following a period of abstinence.
The voluntary act of taking drugs is the first step on the road to drug addiction. However, a person's ability to choose not to do so deteriorates over time. Seeking and using the drug becomes a compulsive behaviour. This is primarily due to the long-term effects of drug exposure on brain function. Addiction affects brain regions involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and behavioural control.
Addiction is a disease that affects the brain as well as the behaviour.
Is it possible to recover from a drug addiction?
Yes, but it's not easy. Because addiction is a chronic disease, people cannot be cured by simply stopping using drugs for a few days. Most patients require long-term or repeated care to completely stop using and reclaim their lives.
Addiction treatment must assist the individual in doing the following:
halt your drug use
Maintain a drug-free lifestyle in order to be productive in the family, at work, and in society.
Effective Treatment Principles
The following key principles, based on scientific research since the mid-1970s, should serve as the foundation of any effective treatment programme:
Addiction is a complicated but treatable disease that affects both brain function and behaviour.
There is no single treatment that is appropriate for everyone.
People must have immediate access to treatment.
Effective treatment addresses the patient's entire set of needs, not just his or her drug use.
It is critical to stay in treatment for an extended period of time.
The most commonly used forms of treatment are counselling and other behavioural therapies.
Medications are frequently used as part of treatment, particularly when combined with behavioural therapies.
Treatment plans must be reviewed on a regular basis and modified to meet the changing needs of the patient.
Other possible mental disorders should be addressed during treatment.
The first stage of treatment is medically assisted detoxification.
Treatment does not have to be voluntary in order to be effective.
The use of drugs during treatment must be constantly monitored.
Patients should be tested for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases, and they should be educated on how to reduce their risk of these illnesses.