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Drug Addiction – Definition – Facts – Causes – Statistics

Drug addiction is an epidemic that is consuming this country. Once considered nothing more than a bad habit, doctors and scientists now understand it as a disease that affects both the mind and the body.

It is a chronic disease with solid genetic components. It requires active, lifelong participation by recovering addicts in some relapse prevention therapy. Once the disease develops in vulnerable individuals, it needs to be addressed and treated in the same way as any chronic disease.

  • In 2018, over 53 million Americans (19.4%) over 12 used illicit drugs in the past year.

Like diabetic or heart disease, patients suffer worsening symptoms if they do not take medication and adhere to healthy lifestyle choices. Addicts will also suffer the same consequences if they do not avoid people and situations that trigger cravings and relapse.

  • It is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and compulsive use, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.
  • All drugs alter brain chemistry.
  • It over-stimulates the reward circuit by flooding it with dopamine, creating the sensation of a high feeling. In the long term, this can permanently alter the way the brain works. The human brain requires specific chemicals within the body to function relatively normally.
  • Since 2001, prescription drug overdose deaths have increased from 10,000 per year to 30,000 per year.
  • Nearly 20,000 people died in 2014 from overdosing on prescription opioids (pain pills)
  • In 2001, 2000 people died from overdosing on heroin. In 2014, 12,000 heroin addicts died from overdosing on heroin.
  • Cocaine overdose deaths spiked in 2006 at almost 8000 and have since decreased slightly to 5500 in 2014
  • Drug overdoses the number of men dying from a drug overdose is consistently higher than women

Including medical costs, drug addiction incurs a cost of roughly $700 billion a year in the United States. Approximately $500 billion of that cost is due to alcohol and smoking addiction, while about $200 billion is due to illegal drugs.

In terms of treatment, alcohol treatment represents close to 25% of all admissions to rehabilitation facilities. Marijuana and heroin are a close second and third at 17% and 14%, respectively. Nearly 1/3rd of all entries are individuals in their 20s.

Finally, illicit drug use has stayed steady or is increasing in all segments of the population in the United States. As of 2013, roughly 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug in the last month. It was 9.4 percent of the population and represented an approximately 13% increase since 2002.

Substance addicts

  • They cannot abstain from using drugs or alcohol.
  • Addicts suffer severe impairment of behavioral and impulse control.
  • Most deny or are unable to recognize significant problems affecting their lives.
  • An addict presents dysfunction and distorted emotional responses.

Every single drug produces different effects in the user, which makes it challenging to generalize the impact across all drugs, though there are a few relatively common effects:

  • Most drug users will gain tolerance to the drug as they become physically dependent. As a result, drug users require more significant quantities to obtain the same results from small amounts early during use.
  • Most drugs alter the user’s psyche in some way that reduces inhibitions, increases willingness to take risks, decreases cognitive function, increases aggressiveness, or increases paranoia.
  • As a result, drug users are more likely to engage in criminal activity to obtain drugs after addiction than before.

Most drugs have dangerous physical and psychological side effects that can cause long-term damage or death when used frequently in high doses. Unfortunately, people addicted to the drug rarely show concern over these dangerous side effects.


Since 2006, heroin use among young adults has doubled, partly due to rampant prescription opioid addiction and heroin’s easy availability and cheapness. In addition, opium production in Mexico rose 50 percent in 2014 in response to America’s uncontrollable demand for heroin, and poppy cultivation globally reached its highest level in 80 years between 2012 and 2013.


One of the reasons for the heroin epidemic is the inability of millions of prescription drug addicts in the U.S. to access prescription painkillers after their doctors stopped writing prescriptions legally. So when Florida saw spikes in prescription drug abuse a few years ago, they decided to crack down on “pill mills” operating in Florida.

Although deaths from prescription drug abuse in Florida have declined since closing down hundreds of pill mills, deaths from heroin increased, primarily because heroin is incredibly cheap in Florida. In addition, Mexican drug lords are now flooding the country with heroin due to the crackdown on opioids.

  • According to the CDC, prescription drug abuse has been officially declared an epidemic in the U.S.


Marijuana is the most abused drug globally and remains popular because it is easy to grow, cheap to buy, and readily available. In addition, marijuana contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that gives users a sense of euphoria, heightened awareness, and well-being.

Because drug addicts often experiment with marijuana before using harder drugs, marijuana is called the “gateway drug.” A 2015 study involving over 6000 participants found that “a large proportion of individuals who use cannabis go on to use other illegal drugs.”


Crystal meth has lots of street names, including “crank,” “speed,” and “ice.” They all stem from their strong stimulant properties. Using meth one time may cause addiction because its effect on the brain is so immediate and intense. Injected or smoked, meth keeps the user high for several hours. Euphoria, talkativeness, aggression, and agitation are just a few of the dangerous side effects of taking meth.

Meth production and use are highest in rural areas of several Midwestern states. For example, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports seizing over 1400 meth labs in Indiana, nearly 1000 meth-making sites in Missouri, 936 meth labs in Ohio, and 960 meth labs in Tennessee between 2004 and 2014. However, these states offer hundreds of miles of sparsely populated, densely wooded areas to meth producers and addicts.


Many treatment options are available, from going cold turkey to enrolling in a medically assisted detoxification program. In general, when it comes to drug addiction treatment, the more support a patient gets, the better. For example, medically supported rehabilitation centers average at about a 30% success rate, counting success as completing the program without relapse for at least a year. Comparatively, 12-step programs only see about a 10% success rate, and going cold turkey only has about a 5% success rate.

The numbers are consistent across all types of drugs, both legal and illegal. Patients who want to recover and are given frequent support during detoxification are significantly more likely to succeed than those who don’t want to recover.


Knowing the signs of addiction could save someone’s life. However, to combat addiction, you must first identify that somebody has it, whether you, a family member, a close friend, a co-worker or someone else.

  • If you know someone in financial disarray, addiction may be the culprit.

Addiction is a compulsion that often overwhelms the logic centers of the brain. That is why many of the signs of addiction are a result of poor decision-making. However, not all poor decisions caused by physiological changes are a result of addiction.

Periodic behavioral changes are a common sign of mood swings caused by withdrawal symptoms. When the person drops below a certain threshold, they experience mental withdrawal symptoms that manifest as waspishness, depression, resentment, anger, and lack of focus. If this type of behavior seems apparent cyclically in a person, they probably have an addiction.

Doctor Shopping

When people want more painkillers, they often go through multiple doctors until one prescribes a higher dose or more potent painkiller.

Opioid Abuse

Many of the above signs apply to identifying painkiller addiction. Still, additional symptoms are specific to painkiller addiction that you should watch for if you have concerns.

  • Suppose that person still can’t get a good enough high. In that case, they often ignore doctor recommendations and take the prescribed painkiller at higher doses.

Not all addiction is to illegal substances like cocaine or meth. Often addiction is for something legal like alcohol. It is often easy to identify warning signs with these addictions simply by looking for excessive stashes of the substance in question or recognizing excessive drug use. For example, a glass of wine a day isn’t that big a deal. However, a glass of wine with every meal and another for dessert is probably a problem.

Alternate Sources

Since the doctor prescription isn’t going to last when overused, people addicted to painkillers often get painkillers from alternate sources like;

  • online stores
  • the streets
  • stealing from the medicine cabinet of relatives or friends
  • doctor shopping
Unusual Patterns of Physical Ailments

When the substance drops below a certain threshold, physical withdrawal symptoms may also manifest in addition to mental withdrawal symptoms. Common physical withdrawal symptoms are headaches, body temperature changes, shaking, and increased or decreased appetite. Just like with cognitive symptoms, if you recognize cyclical symptoms, addiction is likely.

Self-Harming Behavior

There are several ways that a person with an addiction may make self-harming decisions. The most common way is financial. An addict will usually spend more than they can afford to maintain an adequate supply. An addict is even likely to spend money that should be going towards essentials like rent or food.

Another dangerous joint decision made by addicts is to engage in criminal behavior to either get money or get the substance directly. If you know someone has suddenly started engaging in petty theft, addiction may be at fault.

Other self-harming decisions made by addicts are;

  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Sacrificing prized possessions or hobbies
  • Allowing bad influences to have more sway over their lives
Secrecy and Social Isolation

Many addicts are aware that they have a problem, at least to some degree. And due to societal pressure, many are even ashamed of it. Unfortunately, rather than confronting the problem, most addicts hide the activity due to the shame, which leads to withdrawing from social life. If a friend or family member suddenly becomes secretive or less accessible, be on the lookout for addiction.


That is why these signs are good indicators of addiction, especially when multiples are present. The first step to dealing with a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place. It is especially true for addiction. If you witness any of the following signs of addiction in a person, you are reasonable to suspect addiction. If you notice multiple signals, you can be almost certain of addiction and take immediate steps to provide assistance or relief.