Drug use and addiction have taken tens of thousands of lives per year, but it’s the families that truly experience everything an addiction can do to a person, beyond an abstract loss of life.
The dangers of drug use end with death, but it begins almost harmlessly with little more than a first high. Regardless of why we begin to use drugs, there are many reasons why said drug use eventually leads to addiction. It’s important here to preface that not everyone who uses a drug gets addicted.
Few first-time drug users, in fact, ever get addicted to drugs. Understanding the factors that help addiction develop in a person’s life can shed more light on just how brutal addiction’s consequences can be – and why it’s absolutely wisest and safest to avoid addictive drugs, even when the risk of addiction and dependence is low.
Addiction is Biopsychosocial
Addiction begins in the brain, and the body. This much is undeniable. But what isn’t known is exactly when this happens, and at what point a habit becomes an addiction.
The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a “brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.” Predicated on behavioral inconsistencies and dissonance, addiction is a condition with biological, psychological, and social factors and consequences. While everyone who is clinically addicted at some point began using drugs, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what change triggers the disease.
As such, the best way to understand addiction is to picture it as a step-by-step gradual descent. Physically, addictive drugs release chemicals in the brain that are naturally occurring, yet at an overwhelming pace unlike any other substance or action. This floods the brain with happy emotions, a high so powerful that you can’t help but be bewildered. Psychologically, this is extremely alluring.
By manipulating pathways in the brain dedicated to reward and motivation, drugs become the ultimate escape from stress and struggle, and the answer to many problems. For those who have used drugs long enough, dependence and withdrawal ensure that any attempt to stop is met by extreme resistance through the body itself.
Finally, there is a critical social component. Poverty, drug availability, mental stability, trauma, and location all correlate with addiction. Where illegal drugs are more common and fewer resources exist to battle addiction, addiction grows. In people who live under dire circumstances, drug use becomes a more common escape. Once it starts, the habit is very hard to kick – and a person’s chances at getting sober depend on the support they have from those around them, and the availability of treatment. When an addiction begins, it’s hard to overcome. It gradually envelops every part of living.
It Can Take Your Job
One of the earliest signs of uncontrollable drug use is trouble at work, or at home. Because family tends to be more forgiving and supportive, it’s often the job that goes first.
While there might have been other signs before – from drug paraphernalia, to changed behavior, unwillingness to admit to drinking or use, and reliance on the drug or drink to overcome any and every situation – the first real step that signifies an addiction is the unwillingness to get treatment even after a severe consequence, such as job loss.
In most cases, you don’t actually lose your job specifically due to drug use. Unless your position is one that strictly forbids drug usage and calls for regular and mandatory drug testing, it’s much more likely that, depending on the state you live in, your employer may be required to help accommodate your wishes to go seek treatment and remain employed, whilst protecting your privacy on the matter and not making it public to other people in the company.
However, employers are within their rights to terminate an employee who has acted far out of line with appropriate conduct, regardless of whether such behavior was caused by drug use or not.
It Can Take Your Family
Even if your family supports your endeavors to seek help (or worked to initiate them to begin with, there’s nothing to suggest it’ll be an easy road, and it’s certainly rare to receive unanimous support. Drug addiction can drive a wedge into a household, and lead to arguments and emotional scars that don’t heal for years to come. While you may still have your family, they’ll never be the same.
It Can Take Your Relationship
Marriages and relationships are often broken on the rocky shores of addiction, for good reason. Relationships are entirely built upon trust, and any lack thereof makes for a very shaky foundation.
It’s hard to be trustworthy when your addiction pervades every thought and behavior, to the point where you cannot even make promises to yourself. While most partners will stick by their loved one, some simply decide they cannot stomach having their trust be betrayed yet another time, and don’t want to be with someone they cannot rely on.
In the best of cases, the strength of your bond with your partner is a big part of why you eventually overcome addiction. Yet in some cases, the pain of losing their trust forever can make it far more difficult to deal with addiction.
It Can Take Your Body
Different substances have different effects on the human body, ranging from an increased likelihood of heart disease or stroke, to paralysis due to non-fatal overdose, or long-term memory loss, decline in cognitive ability, and more.
Some drugs are far more dangerous to the human body than others, and the methods through which drugs are absorbed into the body can play a role in how dangerous they become.
Drugs that are primarily injected intravenously are often correlated with higher cases of HIV and hepatitis due to needle sharing. Some drugs are so dangerous that they cause necrosis on the site of injection. Drugs like nicotine are usually inhaled through burnt tobacco, and drastically raise the risk of cancer. Alcohol increases the risk of esophageal and mouth cancer.
It Can Take Your Life
As it takes its toll on the body, addiction can ultimately lead to death. Stimulants can cause the heart to give out after long-term use, or indirectly lead to death through an accident. Alcohol can lead to death by poisoning. Other depressants and opioids can lead to death through unconscious asphyxiation, and hypoxia.
It doesn’t have to come to that. While addiction can take everything from you one step at a time, and is hard to treat, it is still treatable. Even for people who struggle with chronic relapses and failures, the right approach and a sober environment can change everything.