People from all walks of life can experience problems with their drug use, regardless of age, race, background, or the reason they started using drugs in the first place. Some people experiment with recreational drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or to ease problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression.
However, it’s not just illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, that can lead to abuse and addiction. Prescription medications such as painkillers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers can cause similar problems. In fact, next to marijuana, prescription painkillers are the most abused drugs in India and more people die from overdosing powerful opioid painkillers each day than from traffic accidents and gun deaths combined. Addiction to opioid painkillers can be so powerful it has become the major risk factor for heroin abuse.
When drug use becomes drug abuse or addiction
Of course, drug use—either illegal or prescription—doesn’t automatically lead to abuse. Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without experiencing negative effects, while others find that substance use takes a serious toll on their health and well-being. Similarly, there is no specific point at which drug use moves from casual to problematic.
Drug abuse and addiction is less about the type or amount of the substance consumed or the frequency of your drug use, and more about the consequences of that drug use. If your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem.
If you’re worried about your own or a loved one’s drug use, learning how drug abuse and addiction develops—and why it can have such a powerful hold—will give you a better understanding of how to best deal with the problem and regain control of your life. Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery, one that takes tremendous courage and strength. Facing your problem without minimizing the issue or making excuses can feel frightening and overwhelming, but recovery is within reach. If you’re ready to seek help, you can overcome your addiction and build a satisfying, drug-free life for yourself.
How drug abuse and addiction develops
There’s a fine line between regular drug use and drug abuse and addiction. Very few drug abusers or addicts are able to recognize when they’ve crossed that line. While frequency or the amount of drugs consumed do not necessarily constitute drug abuse or addiction, they can often be indicators of drug-related problems.
If the drug fulfills a valuable need, you may find yourself increasingly relying on it. You may take illegal drugs to calm or energize yourself or make you more confident. You may start abusing prescription drugs to relieve pain, cope with panic attacks, or improve concentration at school or work. If you are using drugs to fill a void in your life, you’re more at risk of crossing the line from casual drug use to drug abuse and addiction. To maintain a healthy balance in your life, you need to have positive experiences and feel good about your life without any drug use.
Drug abuse may start as a way to socially connect. People often try drugs for the first time in social situations with friends and acquaintances. A strong desire to fit in to the group can make it feel like doing the drugs with them is the only option.
Problems can sometimes sneak up on you, as your drug use gradually increases over time. Smoking a joint with friends over the weekend, or taking ecstasy at a rave, or painkillers when your back aches, for example, can change from using drugs a couple of days a week to using them every day. Gradually, getting and using the drug becomes more and more important to you.
As drug abuse takes hold, you may miss or frequently be late for work or school, your job performance may progressively deteriorate, and you may start to neglect social or family responsibilities. Your ability to stop using is eventually compromised. What began as a voluntary choice has turned into a physical and psychological need.
Eventually drug abuse can consume your life, stopping social and intellectual development. This only reinforces feelings of isolation.
Signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction
Although different drugs have different physical effects, the symptoms of addiction are similar. If you recognize yourself in the following signs and symptoms, talk to someone about your drug use.
Common symptoms of drug abuse :
1. Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children).
2. Using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
3. Experiencing legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.
4. Problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of friends.
5. Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
6. Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
7. Sudden weight loss or weight gain
8. Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
9. Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
10. Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
11. Warning signs of teen drug abuse
As with adults, teenage drug abuse isn’t limited to illegal drugs. In fact, teens are more likely to abuse prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers. In many cases, these drugs are much easier for teens to procure, yet they can have dangerous, even lethal, side effects.
While experimenting with any kind of drug doesn’t automatically lead to drug abuse, early use is a risk factor for developing more serious drug abuse and addiction down the road. Risk of drug abuse also increases greatly during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or divorce. The challenge for parents is to distinguish between the normal, often volatile, ups and downs of the teen years and the red flags of substance abuse. These include:
1. Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs
2. Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school
3. Missing medications, prescriptions, money or valuables
4. Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed
5. Sudden mood changes or repeated health complaints, constant fatigue
6.Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group
7. Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities
8. Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around
7 steps parents can take to curb teen drug use
1. Talk openly about the dangers of both illegal and prescription drug use with your kids. Providing a safe and open environment to talk about these issues can make a real difference in the likelihood that they’ll use or abuse drugs.
2 Lay down rules and consequences. Your teen should understand that using drugs comes with specific consequences. But don’t make hollow threats or set rules that you cannot enforce—and make sure your spouse agrees and is prepared to enforce the rules. Remind your teen that taking someone else’s prescription or sharing theirs with others is illegal.
3. Monitor your teen’s activity. Know where your teen goes and who they hang out with. It’s also important to routinely check potential hiding places for drugs—in backpacks, between books on a shelf, in DVD cases or make-up cases. Monitor your teen’s online activity to check for illegal purchases.
4. Keep prescription medicines in a safe place, avoid stockpiling them, and dispose of any unused prescription medicines. Monitor your prescription refills carefully.
5. Encourage other interests and social activities. Expose your teen to healthy hobbies and activities, such as team sports and after-school clubs.
6. Talk to your child about underlying issues. Drug use can be the result of other problems. Is your teen having trouble fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce causing stress?
7. Get help. Teenagers often rebel against their parents but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, family doctor, therapist, or drug counselor.
Addiction is a complex problem that affects every aspect of your life. Overcoming addiction requires reaching out for support and making changes to the way you live, deal with problems, and relate to others. Recovery is within your reach but don’t try to go it alone; it’s very easy to get discouraged and rationalize “just one more.”
Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential.
Top 5 Books recommended to curb addiction and substance abuse
1. Unwifeable: a memoir by mandy
Provocative, fearless, and dizzyingly uncensored, Mandy spills every secret she knows about dating, networking, comedy, celebrity, media, psychology, relationships, addiction, and the quest to find one’s true nature. She takes readers behind the scenes (and name names) as she relays her utterly addictive journey.
Starting in 2005, Mandy picks up everything to move across the country to Manhattan, looking for a fresh start. She is newly divorced, thirty-years-old, with a dream job at the New York Post. She is ready to conquer the city, the industry, the world. But underneath the glitz and glamour, there is a darker side threatening to surface. The drug-fueled, never-ending party starts off as thrilling…but grows ever-terrifying. Too many blackout nights and scary decisions begin to add up. As she searches for the truth behind the façade, Mandy realizes that falling in love won’t fix her—until she learns to accept herself first.
This is a true New York fairy tale brought to life—Sex and the City on acid. Perfect for when “you feel stuck in some way and wish to become unstuck” (Caroline Kepnes), you’all soon see why Unwifeable is one of the best reviewed, most beloved memoirs of the year.
2. Party girl by Anna David
Celebrity journalist Amelia Stone is the quintessential L.A. party girl. She goes to Hollywood’s most exclusive, star-studded events, where she rubs shoulders (and occasionally more) with celebrities, stays out until all hours of the night, and indulges in the ultimate sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll existence. In short, she’s got everything a party girl needs: the looks, the job, the lifestyle. And oh, yes, the out-of-control coke habit.
But it’s hard to keep topping your own outrageous exploits, and after losing her job, her friends, and much of her mind (not to mention waking up in the hospital after combining five Ambien, four lines of Special K, and an inestimable amount of cocaine), Amelia makes the drastic decision to end her drug abuse. Sobriety, she finds, has its rewards: she starts seeing the man who could be her Mr. Right and gets hired by a big-name magazine to write a column detailing her wild adventures with the celebrity party crowd. And who could write it better? After all, she has plenty of experience to draw on.
There’s just one little problem. Overnight, Amelia Stone has become the new face of Hollywood nightlife, and her editors—who don’t know she’s come clean—want her to play the part. As her popularity skyrockets and the film and TV agents start calling, the lure of her former fast-and-furious lifestyle begins to pull at her. Faced with the most exciting opportunity of her career, she must now decide to either save herself—or salvage her reputation as the ultimate party girl.
Acidly hilarious and achingly honest, Party Girl is a harrowing ride through the world of Hollywood excess with a heroine who’s deliciously flawed. Whether snorting coke or crying in rehab, hooking up or breaking down, Amelia Stone makes her way across the treacherous grounds of addiction, self-destruction, and recovery without ever losing her sharp wit, unapologetic candor, or odds-defying optimism.
3. A girl walks out of a bar: a memoir by Lisa F. Smith
Lisa Smith was a bright young lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NYC when alcoholism and drug addiction took over her life. What was once a way she escaped her insecurity and negativity as a teenager became a means of coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload.
Girl Walks Out of a Bar explores Smith’s formative years, her decade of alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, and her road to recovery. In this darkly comic and wrenchingly honest story, Smith describes how her circumstances conspire with her predisposition to depression and self-medication in an environment ripe for addiction to flourish. When her close-knit group of high-achieving friends celebrate the end of their grueling workdays with alcohol-fueled nights at the city’s clubs and summer weekends partying at the beach the feel-good times can spiral wildly out of control.
Girl Walks Out of a Bar is a candid portrait of alcoholism through the lens of gritty New York realism. Beneath the façade of success lies the reality of addiction
4. Drinking: a live story by Caroline knapp
The roots of alcoholism in the life of a brilliant daughter of an upper-class family are explored in this stylistic, literary memoir of drinking by a Massachusetts journalist.
Caroline Knapp describes how the distorted world of her well-to-do parents pushed her toward anorexia and alcoholism. Fittingly, it was literature that saved her: she found inspiration in Pete Hamill’s ‘A Drinking Life’ and sobered up. Her tale is spiced up with the characters she has known along the way.
A journalist describes her twenty years as a functioning alcoholic, explaining how she used alcohol to escape personal relationships and the realities of life until a series of personal crises forced her to confront her problem
5. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
Alcohol was “the gasoline of all adventure” for Sarah Hepola. She spent her evenings at cocktail parties and dark bars where she proudly stayed till last call. Drinking felt like freedom, part of her birthright as a strong, enlightened twenty-first-century woman.
But there was a price. She often blacked out, waking up with a blank space where four hours should have been. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologized for things she couldn’t remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Publicly, she covered her shame with self-deprecating jokes, and her career flourished, but as the blackouts accumulated, she could no longer avoid a sinking truth. The fuel she thought she needed was draining her spirit instead.
A memoir of unblinking honesty and poignant, laugh-out-loud humor, Blackout is the story of a woman stumbling into a new kind of adventure—the sober life she never wanted. Shining a light into her blackouts, she discovers the person she buried, as well as the confidence, intimacy, and creativity she once believed came only from a bottle. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It’s about giving up the thing you cherish most—but getting yourself back in return.