Last Updated on November 13, 2021 by Morris Green
Did you know that anyone can develop a drug addiction without illegal drug use?
Let that sink in.
It is entirely possible to become addicted to drugs without ever using illegal drugs. Without ever choosing to abuse an illicit drug. Without fitting the stereotype of a drug addict.
Stigma surrounds many mental health issues. It exists mostly due to how little we knew about the brain as recently as 10 years ago. As medical science continues to research the brain and conditions linked to it, our understanding grows. But our growth in knowledge comes with a price. Previously held to truths that are now proven to be less than accurate must change. And change is rarely ever easy.
If you’re among those who firmly believe drug addiction is a conscious choice, and every consequence that follows is deserved, this blog is for you.
Now, let’s get something straight; we’re not here to tell you that you’re wrong.
We’re here to introduce you to a face of addiction that is widely overlooked and very dangerous. In this blog, we’ll present a snippet of what medical science has discovered about the brain and addiction. We’ll introduce you to the dark face that is partially behind the addiction epidemic gripping our nation; the face many ignore because of previously held to truths.
Table of contents
Who Are We?
But why should you believe us?
Good question. After all, the Internet is teeming with opinion-based writing created to serve the furtherment of particular opinions. It can be said that there is evidence to support any opinion if you look hard enough.
Absolute Advocacy is a substance abuse counseling agency based in Concord, North Carolina. We have a second office in University City. Our offices serve the greater Charlotte and surrounding area.
We are a preferred provider of DWI and substance abuse services in North Carolina. Absolute Advocacy recognized and licensed by the state. We have been a strong local voice and expert in the addiction field for over six years.
Our team work with addicts every day. We coordinate with medical professionals and stay current with the latest research and findings concerning addictive substances and addiction. We know substance abuse and addiction. We’re on the front lines.
So, how does addiction form?
The Formation of Addiction
How does addiction start?
Think about that question and come up with your own answer.
Then, consider the following statements:
- It can be said that regularly drinking too much alcohol leads to alcoholism. But not all people who do so become alcoholics.
- It can also be said that smoking marijuana leads to drug addiction. But not everyone who smokes weed becomes an addict.
- It can even be said that taking a prescription painkiller leads to drug abuse. But that’s not the case for every person who takes a prescription.
- There is no simple answer to how addiction starts.
Addiction primarily impacts the brain. It manifests in behaviors and thoughts that produce actions. Did you know there is a difference between addiction and dependency?
- Addiction is the fact or condition of being addicted to something.
- Dependency is a dependent or subordinate thing.
When a person is addicted to something, they think they need it. They prioritize it above everything else, no matter how detrimental that prioritization may be to their life. A person can be addicted to something without being dependent on it.
When a person is dependent on something, they need it to physically function or think they need it to function. If they don’t have it, they suffer physical symptoms of withdrawal. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, addiction and dependency usually go together.
Addiction to a substance generally starts with a seemingly harmless habit.
According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. Consumer Reports addressed America’s “love affair” with prescription drugs in an August 2017 article. According to their research, “Americans take more pills today than any other time in recent history” and “far more than people in any other country.”
Pill popping has become an American habit.
Ever heard the catchphrase, “There an app for that?” We could easily swap “app” for “pill.”
The Good (and Bad) of Prescriptions
Prescription-grade drugs have positive benefits. After all, where would we be without pharmaceuticals that help manage chronic, sometimes life-threatening, illnesses?
Medical science has helped us create lifesaving medications, but it has also opened the door to what Consumer Reports calls “inappropriate prescription medication.” As a result, millions of Americans suffer from side effects and adverse reactions to prescription drugs – some of which they don’t necessarily need to take. But there’s another side to prescription-grade medications.
“Americans account for 99[%] of the world’s [Vicodin] consumption, 80[%] of the world’s [Percocet and Oxycontin] consumption and 65[%] of the world’s [Dilaudid] consumptions,” says the New York Times.
Why are these drugs so dangerous?
- Vicodin is a narcotic. It masks pain like morphine and creates a high like heroin. It’s highly addictive.
- Percocet and Oxycontin are opioid narcotic painkillers. They can help patients with chronic pain, but they are very addictive.
- Dilaudid is an injectable opioid narcotic drug generally prescribed for pain management. And again, it can create a high that turns addictive.
Although these drugs are carefully controlled and prescribed, they belong to the opioid narcotic family – just like street drugs (heroin, cocaine, etc.). These prescription drugs present a much higher risk of substance abuse and addiction versus non-opioid narcotics.
Risky addictive drugs are not limited to prescription painkillers. Stimulants can be used to help people suffering from specific disorders. They can produce positive results, but their nature can increase the risk of substance abuse or drug addiction.
Conscious Choices and Substance Addiction
Many people have little sympathy for addicts. They believe addicts make a choice to do drugs, and the resulting addiction is their fault. They think addiction to drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other street drugs is a choice.
Meanwhile, every year, thousands of Americans take potentially addictive prescription drugs for medical reasons ranging from physical pain to mental illness. These drugs are just as dangerous and addictive as illicit street drugs.
Taking a prescription is as conscious a choice as deciding to smoke weed or try heroin. The difference is we feel safer with prescriptions. We take what our doctor recommends because we trust their judgment. So, who is to blame if we develop an addiction to a prescription drug? If you blame addiction to illicit drugs on the addict, you would likely blame addiction to prescription drugs on…the doctor? It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
And there’s more in play here than a blame game.
Addiction and the Brain
The brain may be one of the most mysterious organs in the body – still! It’s one of the most difficult to study, and it’s also one of the most unique from person to person. Despite how much we’ve learned, there is so much we still don’t know.
In the field of substance abuse and addiction, science has confirmed the following about addiction and the brain:
- Just Say No: It doesn’t work! Despite the popular opinion that addiction is the result of a moral misstep and lack of willpower, science proves addiction is a brain disease.
- It Develops: Addiction isn’t the product of using a substance once. It’s the result of habitual use. This is what makes some prescription drugs so dangerous. They revolve around habit. Over time, the use of potentially addictive prescriptions can impact the brain and cause addiction to develop. It’s no different than any other disease; it takes time to advance.
- It Isn’t Always Obvious: Physical (and psychological) addiction to a prescription drug may not manifest until a person stops taking it. Even when following a medical professional’s direction, an addiction may not be noticeable until medication is stopped or changed.
The latter is sometimes the catalyst that leads people to use street drugs. For thousands of Americans, street drugs become the answer when they lose access to prescriptions. Loss of access can occur for many reasons, including:
- Loss of employment
- A change in health insurance coverage
- Loss of health insurance
- Loss of financial resources
- A change in financial resources
For people coping with chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and other conditions, street drugs can provide a Band-Aid. They can replace the RX they no longer have access to and start an even more dangerous problem.
But why wouldn’t someone who realizes they have a problem get help?
There are two major reasons why.
#1: The Impact of Addiction on the Brain
People who are addicted to a substance are usually the blindest to it.
According to Psychology Today, addiction is a brain disease that disrupts pathways and processes in the brain. It impacts the perception of habits and behaviors. Addiction disrupts emotional regulation and cognition. It changes brain chemistry in hundreds of ways, and it “remolds [the brain] to value drugs.”
For someone with an addiction, doing whatever is necessary to get what they’re addicted to is normal. It becomes an instinct as natural as survival. Most addicts won’t start to see a problem until it’s pointed out to them or they hit rock bottom. An addict has to see their addiction and accept it before they’ll be able to truly get help.
#2: The Fear of Addiction
Some people see their addiction quickly. They recognize that they crave or depend on a drug. They may even realize that they are misusing or abusing it. But they still don’t get help. For many, the reason why is fear.
We live in a world steeped in stigma. Addicts are blamed for their problems. They are categorized as weak, morally incorrect, and a problem. Fear of what addiction is, how to treat it, and how others will react often stop people from getting help. The idea that they should fix their own problem because they caused it can make them forego professional help for fear of what could happen if they even brought up their struggle.
How to Counter Addiction
Early last year, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy addressed addiction head on. In an official statement from the U.S. Surgeon General, he stated that “for far too long people have thought about addiction as a character flaw or a moral failing.” You can read about the statement via our coverage. It can be added that for far too long people have failed to realize the connection between prescription drugs and addiction.
It is entirely possible to be addicted to a drug without ever using an illicit or illegal one. In addition, the number of people who develop a prescription drug addiction and turn to street drugs is growing. Why is this happening? How is it being addressed? What can you do about it? We’ll cover questions like this in coming blogs, so be sure to follow us to keep up with the latest.
In the meantime, you can take steps to reduce your risk of an unwanted addiction to a prescription drug. Start by reading 5 Ways to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse.
It is vital to always be aware of the risks attached to any prescription you take. The most dangerous prescriptions in terms of addiction risk include opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers. If you or anyone in your family have or are currently struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction, tell your doctor before trying a new prescription.
When it comes to countering addiction, these two words are the most important: Don’t judge.
You would never belittle someone with diabetes for developing the disease. And you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just “get over it” so they can get better. You would encourage them to get the right help from a qualified professional. Addiction is no different. Shaming an addict doesn’t miraculously fix their problem. So-called “tough love” doesn’t “set them straight” so they get better.
Substance abuse counselors are addiction professionals. We help people overcome addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling, contact us today. We promise you’ll find a judgment-free zone focused on helping you get better. It’s our goal to help you understand addiction, overcome it, and – most importantly – thrive.
Your future IS bright.