Drug abuse and addiction can affect almost every part of your body, including your veins. The chemicals in these drugs can cause the walls of your veins to break down, making them more susceptible to rupture. 

In addition, the debris from these breakdowns can block blood flow and cause inflammation. As a result, your veins can become very painful and may even require surgery to repair. In some cases, you may need compression stockings to manage the side effects. 

How Does Drug Use Affect The Circulatory System?

Drugs can have a big impact on your circulatory system. This includes your heart, arteries, veins, and blood. Drugs can affect your heart health in several ways, including:

These effects can strain your heart and lead to different types of heart disease. Drugs can also damage the lining of your arteries, making them more likely to become blocked. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. In addition, drugs can thin your blood, making it more difficult for your circulatory system to do its job. 

Drugs That Can Hurt Your Circulatory System

illegal-drugs-cocaine-type-of-heart-disease-heart-health-veins

Cocaine

When you think of cocaine, you might picture the white powder snorted through a rolled-up bill. But what you might not realize is that this illegal drug is extremely dangerous and can cause severe damage to your veins and circulatory system. Here's how:

Cocaine use increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) by damaging the veins and causing them to constrict. This can lead to a build-up of blood in the veins, which increases the likelihood of a clot forming.

In addition, cocaine use leads to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, further damaging the vessels and leading to DVT. 

DVT is a type of heart disease that can occur when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. If the clot breaks loose, it can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. DVT can also cause post-thrombotic syndrome.

Cocaine can also cause dehydration and damage organs such as the liver and lungs. In fact, chronic cocaine use has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Ecstasy (MDMA)

MDMA is a popular party drug, especially among young people. Also known as ecstasy, the drug produces feelings of euphoria and increased energy. However, MDMA can also have serious consequences for your circulatory system. The active ingredient in ecstasy, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), interferes with the body's ability to regulate blood flow.

As a result, blood vessels constrict, and blood pressure rises. MDMA also speeds up heart rate and can cause irregular heart rhythm. In some cases, these effects can lead to overheating, dehydration, and even death. 

Heroin

heroin-use-drugs-destroy-your-veins-deep-vein-thrombosis-DVT-illegal-drugs-addiction-treatment

Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that can have devastating effects on the circulatory system. When heroin enters the bloodstream, it binds to receptors in the brain that are responsible for pain relief, heart rate, and respiration. This binding process slows down the body's natural processes. They can also cause dangerous side effects including slowed heart rate and breathing, constricted blood vessels, and increased blood pressure.

In some cases, these side effects can lead to collapsed veins, tissue damage, and even death. Heroin users are also at risk of developing serious infections, such as endocarditis (an infection of the heart's inner lining). 

Methamphetamines

Methamphetamine is a powerful and dangerous stimulant that can adversely affect the cardiovascular system. In particular, its use can lead to elevated blood pressure, acute vasospasm, and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. These conditions can cause serious and potentially fatal damage to the arteries and blood vessels.

Meth can also damage the lining of blood vessels, making them more susceptible to rupture. In extreme cases, this can lead to stroke or even death. In addition to its effects on the circulatory system, methamphetamine also increases the risk of cancer, psychosis, and memory loss.

Prescription Drugs

When you think of the dangers of prescription drugs, you might not consider the risks to your veins and circulatory system. However, certain medications can hurt these vital systems. 

For example, prescription drugs like antipsychotics and antidepressants can have serious side effects. One of the most potentially dangerous is venous thromboembolism, which occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins. This can lead to heart conditions, stroke, and even death.

In addition, these drugs can also damage the circulatory system. Antipsychotics can cause high blood pressure, while antidepressants can cause irregular heartbeat.

Some prescribed blood thinners can also cause small cuts and tears in the veins, leading to inflammation and pain.

Tobacco

Tobacco use affects the entire cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and vessels. The side effects of smoking can be severe.

Over time, they can increase the risk of heart disease, heart failure, or stroke. This is thanks to the chemicals in tobacco that damage the veins and destroy the elasticity of the arteries. This is a common cause of heart problems.

tobacco-use-blood-thinners-heart-rhythm-health-smoking-addiction-treatment-recovery

Smoking has other side effects, including shortness of breath, heart arrhythmias, and increased risk for congenital heart defects. Nicotine, a chemical present in smoke, is also known to cause high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

How Can You Protect Your Circulatory System From Drug Abuse And Damage?

There are many ways to protect your circulatory system from drug abuse and damage. 

1. One way is to avoid using drugs that can damage the circulatory system. These include tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

2. Another way to protect your circulatory system is to eat a healthy diet. Eating foods high in fiber can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

3. Exercise is also important for maintaining a healthy circulatory system. Regular physical activity helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy and helps lower blood pressure. 

4. Finally, it is important to manage stress healthily. Stress can contribute to cardiovascular disease, so it is important to find a healthy way to cope with stress.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, it's important to seek help as soon as possible. With treatment, you can prevent the damaging effects of drugs on your body. StrugglingWithAddiction.com can match you up with the right rehab that will help you regain control of your life. 

Drug addiction doesn’t only affect the drug user. Drug use also affects entire families, probably more than most people acknowledge.

In the United States alone, approximately 21 million people above 12 years suffer from substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse. Most young people start abusing drugs in high school or earlier. To prevent drug abuse among young people, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is tasked with developing programs, services, and policies on drug abuse and misuse.

Drug addiction takes a toll on an individual’s psychological, emotional, and physiological well being. This is one way alcohol and drug abuse has a negative impact on families.

This article will discuss the various effects of drug use on families.

Drug use and the family

When a loved one is struggling with addiction, family members have to find ways to cope with it. More often than not, family members have conflicting and intense emotions regarding the situation at hand. As a result, family relationships become strained.

Addicts’ families are made to understand that their loved ones don’t intentionally want to hurt them. Therefore, they try to empathize by supporting, encouraging, and loving them regardless of the situation.

Unfortunately, the emotional abuse, deceit, and manipulation that addicts subject them to can be overwhelming. Consequently, there is a high probability that family relationships will suffer.

Here are some of the ways drug use affects the family

Effects on children

The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare reported that in the United States, approximately 8.7 million children live in households where at least one parent has a substance use disorder. Most of these children experience abuse or parental neglect. 

effects-of-drug-use-on-families-children-addiction-problems-in-the-family-help-resources-treatment-options-mental-health

Children whose parents use drugs or that have an alcoholic parent suffer both physically and emotionally. Most times, the parents neglect the children. Parents who abuse drugs tend to stop focusing on their role as parents; thus, they become emotionally and physically unavailable for their children. Sometimes, the parents stop taking care of their children’s basic needs. They don’t provide meals or a clean environment, and neither do they go out of their way to be involved in their children’s health care, social life and education.

Growing up in an environment where neglect is the norm affects children’s mental health. Additionally, it affects their ability to have healthy relationships with other people. 

Children in such family settings are also more likely to experience emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The abuse may be from their parents or other people, including relatives and family friends.

Parents’ drug addiction can have long-term psychological effects on children. There is a high probability that the children of alcoholics and drug users will have behavioral problems like anxiety, detachment, angry outbursts, and depression. They can also develop mental health problems as they get older.

Research has also shown that children who suffer from neglect and abuse are more likely to abuse drugs in the future. 

Effects on finances

Drug addiction tends to take a toll on family finances. Drug users often lose their jobs since they can no longer perform or show up as expected. Consequently, they start using family savings to finance their drug addiction.

drug-use-effects-on-finances-job-loss-addiction-recovery-fixing-families

Since illegal drugs are expensive, the family may run into financial problems quickly. Paying for basic needs like food, utilities, clothing, and rent may become a problem. There is also a need to pay for addiction treatment which can be expensive.

Other than that, drug users may get into trouble with the law. When this happens, it is up to the family to raise money to ensure their loved one doesn’t end up in jail.

Drug users may also feel entitled to family members’ money. Since they cannot finance their lifestyle, they rely on money from other family members, or eventually they could become homeless.

Stress

When a loved one is an addict, most, if not all, of their responsibilities become their partner’s responsibilities.

The partner has to juggle between paying bills, raising the children, cleaning up after the addict, and making important decisions regarding the family, among others. Consequently, they may become stressed. Stress is a risk factor for other conditions like depression and high blood pressure.

Loss of trust

Most addicts make promises they can’t keep. They also don’t live up to their agreements with family members, further straining their family relationships.

Family members become frustrated when the addict doesn’t live up to their promises and obligations. 

Children are also affected by this. When an addict promises his children something and does not follow through, the children have trust issues. They will find it hard to trust other people since their parents have already set a bad precedent.

Emotional and physical abuse

Drug use can lead to emotional and physical abuse. Since drug users are irrational and most family members are on edge due to their behavior, simple disagreements can lead to big fights, sometimes physical.

Substance abuse and mental health issues go hand in hand. Drug users tend to be emotionally abusive and manipulative. Their behavior negatively affects family members and other people they are close to.

Sometimes, children whose parents are drug addicts become abusers. In an attempt to mask their struggles, they misbehave and act out, hurting other people in the process. Eventually, some become drug users too. 

drug-use-alcoholism-effects-on-families-abuse-neglect-mental-health-children-addiction

Fear

Most drug addicts are unpredictable. As discussed above, drug abuse and mental health issues go hand in hand.

It is almost impossible to predict how a drug user will react to situations. Consequently, most family members resort to being extra careful with their words and actions to avoid confrontation.

Children that grow up in settings where one or both parents are addicts tend to be highly reserved. They are conditioned not to say or do anything that would rub their parents the wrong way from a young age. This tends to reflect in their day-to-day lives.

Generally, drug use breeds fear in the family.

Dealing with drug use in the family

When you realize your loved one is struggling with an addiction, you should encourage them to seek professional help. Try to make the addict see how their drug use affects them and other family members. Remember to be compassionate while doing this.

If they don’t seem to care, you can stage an intervention with the help of other family members. You can also involve an intervention specialist to increase its chances of success.

The entire family should also consider getting therapy or counselling. Therapy goes a long way in helping everyone deal with the effects of a loved one’s addiction. 

If the family member agrees to seek treatment and join support groups, the healing process will be much easier. The chances of successfully rebuilding strained family relationships are also much better.

People who abuse drugs use a range of items to make, abuse, or conceal drugs. Most of these items are either hard to access or pretty expensive to buy. So users may opt for everyday household essentials. For example, they will use plastic storage containers to store the drugs or create a pipe out of a pen.

For a loved one, knowing how to recognize these items can help you act quickly. When it comes to drug use, the sooner someone can get substance abuse treatment, the faster they can recover. Becoming drug free is one of the main goal of our health care system.

This is particularly true for highly addictive substances such as heroin and cocaine. Others like fentanyl are very potent and could lead to overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But recognizing drug items can be harder than it sounds. Generally, these items refer to any material or equipment that drug users use to make, administer, or transport drugs. The items are not always obvious as the methods of drug use or concealing drugs have become quite clever.

A 2018 survey by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that about 20.3 million people in the United States aged 12+ had a substance use disorder related to alcohol or drugs in the past year. So, if you suspect that your loved one is abusing drugs, it’s best to get to the bottom of it before the situation worsens.

This article will highlight the common household items that people use to abuse, transport, or conceal drugs to give you an idea of what to watch out for. We’ll also recommend steps that you can take once you confirm that a loved one is indeed abusing illegal drugs.

Toothpicks

Toothpicks are perhaps the last household items that you'd expect to find on this list. However, they are common paraphernalia, especially among people who smoke illegal drugs like opioids, marijuana, cocaine, and meth. These drugs are smoked in a glass pipe or bong, and from time to time, the bong gets clogged up and stops functioning as it should.

When it does, drug users will need a series of supplies to clean it up, including toothpicks (or paper clips). People also use toothpicks for drugs like meth - where they soak the toothpicks in liquid meth and chew on them throughout the day.

Finger Nail clippers

Cocaine users tend to have coke nails. Coke nails refer to the long fingernails; usually, the pinkie nails used to scoop and snort powder cocaine. This act is referred to as doing a bump. The nail acts as the vessel instead of needing an item, like a dollar bill, ATM card, or straw, to snort coke.

But sometimes, one may choose to use finger nail clippers in the place of their nails. Clippers facilitate a quick and easy snorting of a small amount of coke by dipping it into the small containers used to hold drugs.

Nail polish remover

Teens and young adults who are not old enough to buy alcoholic beverages go for alternatives like nail polish remover that contain alcohol. And since there are no age restrictions surrounding nail polish removers, they buy and drink it for the intoxicating effects.

Some intentionally inhale its vapors (huffing) or apply it directly to their skin for the effects. Young adults use nail polish remover because it’s a cheap and common household item. No one will suspect anything if they see a nail polish remover in their bags or belongings.

Spoons

Spoons are often used as cocaine or heroin paraphernalia. But drug spoons aren’t the same size as the regular spoon - they are often smaller and might be discolored depending on how the person uses them.

Laundry detergents

This may come as a surprise, but some people snort, huff, or sniff washing powder as an alternative to crystal meth. Laundry detergents have alcohol and ethanol as ingredients. But they are also packed with chemicals that can harm the body, making them very dangerous.

In addition to using detergents as drugs, some steal the detergents and trade them for drugs. According to one post in the New York Magazine, a 150-ounce bottle of Tide detergent is $5 or $10 worth of crack cocaine or weed. Other similar products abused by teens include deodorants, bath salts, cleaning products, and aerosol sprays.

Paper towel

Foil and toilet paper are often used to smoke heroin. Teens and young adults who abuse drugs may have toilet paper or paper towels sitting around in their rooms. Usually, these serve as some sort of huffing device. You may also notice air canisters, Freon, glue, and other household items.

Homemade items

Teens and young adults use household essentials like compact mirrors, razor blades, straws, tin foil, and hollowed-out writing instruments for drug preparation and use. They also use masks to store or hide drugs.

Signs your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol

Finding your loved one with one of these items shouldn’t sound an alarm. After all, they are household items. However, it’s important to pay attention to warning signs that might indicate drug use, such as:

●       Changes in behavior and mood

●       Paraphernalia in their bags

●       Withdrawal symptoms when not using

●       Poor hygiene

●       Sudden shift in weight

●       Missed appointments and other responsibilities

●       Changes in sleep patterns

●       New friends or acquaintances

●       Obvious intoxication

●       Hacking cough

●       Bloody or runny noses

●       Dental decay or scabs on the body

●       Talkativeness

●       Needle or track marks

You might also want to watch out for risk factors like mental health problems. Stress, anxiety, depression, etc., often tend to co-occur with substance abuse. The risks of drug use are higher in people with mental disorders.

Short- and long-term effects of drug misuse

Drug use can have a range of direct and indirect effects on the body. Usually, the effects depend on the type of drug, the person’s health, how much is taken, and how they’re taken. According to NIDA, short-term effects include changes in blood pressure, wakefulness, heart rate, appetite, mood, and stroke, heart attack, overdose, stroke, or death. Long-term effects include cancer, lung disease, heart disease, mental illness, hepatitis, HIV/AIDs, and addiction.

 

What to do if your loved one has any of these items

If you suspect your loved one is abusing drugs, it’s best to approach the topic with a well-meaning plan. The aim is not to make the person feel attacked. Find constructive ways to talk to your loved ones, and consider getting them into a treatment program. The best facilities offer individual and family programs to help families and their loved ones.

People abuse drugs for various reasons. Some do so to fit in, to seem more mature, or to experiment. Others use drugs to escape, to relieve boredom, or rebel. They see drugs as a solution or a way to cope with a situation. But since most of these drugs are highly addictive, they often end up being the problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drug use can lead to dependence, addiction, and in worst cases, the drugs can kill you.

You’ve probably heard that drugs are dangerous one too many times; it’s getting hard to believe. But all drugs, including prescription pain relievers, have real potential for harm. Prescription drugs can kill you - irrespective of whether you use them alone, or you mix them with other drugs. Vital statistics show that the death toll from abuse and misuse of such drugs is steadily rising. And if you don’t stop using, you could be part of these statistics soon.

How do drugs kill?

Most drug fatalities result from a combination of factors, not just the drug itself. For example:

Death from ecstasy happens due to:

 

mdma-ecstasy-drugs-can-kill-you-addiction-recovery-resources-overdose-death

How cocaine kills

Stimulants like cocaine flood the brain with norepinephrine and dopamine, creating euphoric effects while boosting focus and confidence. They also stimulate the cardiovascular system – and that’s where the danger comes in. Cocaine causes rapid or irregular heart rate, blood vessel constriction, and increased blood pressure.

The constriction of blood vessels means less oxygen supply to the heart muscle and can cause a heart attack. Cocaine users are 23 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who don’t use. No wonder cocaine is referred to as the perfect heart attack drug.

 

cocaine-blood-pressure-heart-attack-drugs-can-kill-you-in-2021

How opioids kill

When opioids and other depressants, get to the brain, they bind to mu-opioid receptors and activate them. This produces euphoric effects but also triggers a series of physical and psychological actions. Opioids produce respiratory-depressing effects. As a result, fatal overdose victims often die from respiratory depression (choking to death) because they cannot get enough oxygen to feed the demand of their body’s organs.

What is overdose, and how does it happen?

A drug overdose happens when a person takes too much of a substance or a mix of substances. This is so even if it was an accidental overdose. People can overdose on alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and other substances. In many cases, overdoses are fatal.

But those who get immediate medical attention can be saved. As mentioned earlier, drugs can overwhelm the body in different ways. But the most common cause of death during an overdose is respiratory failure.

Signs of drug overdose

The signs of an overdose depends on the type of drug involved. Overdose deaths involve sleepiness, confusion, and coma. Other factors can include:

 

Drug overdose deaths, in numbers

Accidental overdose is the leading cause of death in the US for people under 50 years. Drug overdose deaths now surpass deaths from homicides, car accidents, firearms, or HIV/AIDS. In 2017 alone, more Americans died due to drug overdose than they did in the entire Vietnam War. Of these deaths, nearly 66% involved illicit drugs or prescription opioids.

In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. And the drug overdose trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. According to recent provisional data from the CDC, the number of overdose deaths shot to 81,000 deaths in 2020. This increase is attributable to the pandemic and its negative impacts on lives, especially of those struggling with substance use disorders.

The addiction epidemic was already a significant problem across the US. But the pandemic has only made the problem worse. Its spread has sent people into panic. And with long term travel restrictions, social isolation, economic shock, disrupted access to addiction support, and increased mental health distress, people turn to drug use and misuse trying to cope.

warning-signs-drug-overdose-deaths-United-States-CDC-data

Cocaine and psychostimulants overdose deaths

In 2018, there were 14,666 overdose deaths involving cocaine in the US, according to a CDC report. This represents about a 2.5% rate increase in cocaine-involved deaths in 2018 than in 2014. The report says that the overdose death rates attributed to cocaine that has been cut with synthetic opioids, like fentanyl increased faster in recent years than did deaths from pure cocaine. Among 70,237 drug overdose deaths in 2017, about 23,139 or 32% involved cocaine, psychostimulants, or both.

Opioid overdose deaths

50,000 of the 2019 drug deaths were from an opioid overdose. The abuse of and addiction to opioids, including heroin, prescription drugs, and fentanyl, is a severe crisis that affects public health and economic and social welfare. CDC estimates the annual economic burden of prescription opioid abuse alone in the US to be $78.5b. This includes the cost of addiction treatment, health care, lost productivity, and criminal justice involvement.

 

Fentanyl overdose deaths

States across the US are reporting a sharp increase in fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. Fentanyl overdoses can happen within seconds to minutes of use. The sad part is many users don’t seem to be looking for fentanyl and have no idea that the drug they’re using contains fentanyl.

Meth, cocaine, and powder heroin may be cut with fentanyl. There have also been cases of illicit Oxycodone and Xanax tablets containing fentanyl.

Meth overdose death rates

Meth-related deaths are also rising across the US, according to NIDA. Overall data shows overdose rates rose from less than 0.8 to 4.5 per 100,000 women and 2 to 10 per 100,000 men, a more than fivefold rise from 2011 to 2018.

Getting help for drug overdose

Call 911 if you suspect a drug overdose. Emergency help can save a life. General treatment strategies involve:

 

Preventing an overdose from occurring

how-to-quit-using-drugs-can-kill-you-in-2021-overdose-prevention-harm-reduction

Overdose deaths remain a critical problem across our nation. If you have prescription medicines, ensure that you use them according to the doctor’s recommendations. Overdose occurring from prescription drugs often happens when they are used in ways not advised by your doctor.

Quitting drug use is also a great way to prevent overdose. If you are having a hard time quitting, you should seek professional help. Addiction treatment centers in Texas and across the US have therapists and physicians who can help address mental and physical health issues.

A person who misuses prescription medicine will do anything to get doctors to prescribe more drugs. They will lie about the severity of their symptoms, forge prescriptions, beg or even shop doctors to try to access the medications. These are a few types of drug-seeking behaviors.

The sad news is that most drug seekers won’t admit to the drug problem. Some will justify their actions by claiming that prescription drugs help them manage their chronic pain or mental health issues. Their denial makes it hard to get them into addiction treatment. Unfortunately, this drives them deeper into using, opening them up to potential substance abuse and ensuing substance abuse disorders.

Understanding prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse involves the use of pain medication for their pleasurable side effects instead of prescribed pain relief reasons. As defined by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), prescription drug misuse is any use contrary to the doctor’s direction, and includes:

drug-seeking-behaviors-addiction-pills-doctors-prescription-painkillers-opioids-Oxycontin-oxycodone

According to the 2015 NSDUH report, about 91.8 million adults in the United States, 18 years and older, used pain relievers in the past year. Of this number, 11.5 million misused pain medication at least once over the same time. Another report on the National Institute on Drug Addiction website shows that 18 million people had misused prescription drugs at least once a year leading up to 2017. Many cited physical pain as the reason behind the abuse. NSDUH’s research on prescription drugs was specific to controlled substances.

Controlled substances are drugs that have been declared illegal for use or sale in the open market but can be dispensed under a doctor’s prescription. This aims to reduce the risk of drug abuse, addiction, mental and physical harm, or death. It also protects the public from potential dangers arising from the actions of those under the influence of these drugs.

Who are the drug seekers?

A drug seeker is anyone who manipulates a healthcare provider to try to obtain medications. They are primarily patients who abuse alcohol and drugs or are in chronic pain. But drug seekers can also be people who want to barter or sell most or all of the prescription drugs they get.

How to recognize a drug seeker

It is not easy to tell a legitimate patient apart from a drug-seeker. The latter could be someone unfamiliar to you. They may claim to be from another town and have forgotten or lost a prescription of drugs. They could also be someone familiar to you, like a co-worker, another practitioner, relative, or friend. Drug seekers often have the same traits and behaviors. Knowing these behaviors and tricks is the first step to detecting those trying to manipulate you into obtaining desired drugs.

Examples of obvious drug-seeking behaviors

how-to-identify-drug-seeking-behaviors-prescription-drug-abuse-painkillers-opioids-addiction-rehabilitation

Typical requests and complaints

Someone with drug-seeking behavior may walk into a medical office and request specific drugs by name. They may tell you about the drug, dose, and quantity they want. In many cases, this patient may not want to listen to anything you says. Additionally, they may aggressively complain about a need for the drug. They will ask for brand names, request dose increases, and even claim to have multiple allergies to alternative medicines. Efforts to diagnose their issues may result in irritation or anger on their part. Typical requests and complaints are obvious drug-seeking behaviors that can give the drug seeker away.

Forging prescription

This is a pretty obvious drug-seeking behavior that some patients use. Drug seekers know that they cannot access controlled substances without a doctor’s prescription. So, they go ahead and forge one to get the drugs. In case a patient does this, it’s essential to notify law enforcement because forging prescriptions is illegal in the United States.

Not keeping follow-up appointments

Since drug-seeking patients are only interested in obtaining prescription drugs, they hardly keep follow-up appointments. Once they get their drugs of choice, they will disappear into thin air until they need more, then they resurface.

Inappropriate self-medicating

Another common trait of people with drug-seeking behavior is self-medicating. These patients will go ahead and use pain drugs for other reasons. They may use it for stress, anxiety, or even sleep. Regular self-medication can lead to addiction and the worsening of these mental health disorders. The problem may only worsen as they may use more drugs to address withdrawal symptoms or the dependence issue.

Excessive flattery

Once a drug-seeking patient with a substance use disorder gets their prescription for pain drugs, they will be excessive in their flattery. Some might shower you with praises, suggesting you are the best in the field. They will even hug you to show their appreciation. However, this will only go on as long as they get what they want. When you calmly and clearly state the effective treatment plan and explain that their condition doesn’t warrant the prescription of opioids, the entreating suddenly ceases. Usually, these patients can sense when the doctor is indecisive or decisive.  

Patient traveling from far places

Patients with drug-seeking problems or alcohol addiction see many physicians in a short period. When their effort to obtain a drug fails, they will move to the next physician or pharmacy with the hopes of getting the drugs. Some will even travel from different towns or cities in an attempt to get prescription drugs. But it’s particularly alarming when the patient fails to mention their previous physician visits. Some states provide systems to help doctors check whether their patient sees other doctors who are prescribing a similar drug.

doctor-prescribing-opioids-drug-abuse-warning-signs-addiction-recovery

Patient is unwilling to consider other treatments

Someone who is genuinely in pain wants it to end. They’re willing to try out any treatment or therapy that would make that happen. But that’s not the case for a drug seeker.  

A patient reports symptoms that could indicate drug withdrawal

Patients may come to you with new complications that mimic withdrawal symptoms. They may say that they are experiencing anxiety, nausea, shaky hands, depression, insomnia, diarrhea, etc. Some might even open up about their using habit. For example, a patient may say they occasionally use drugs or alcohol and are under some prescribed medications. If this is the case, it could be a clear sign that they are abusing prescription drugs and are at high risk for drug misuse.

How to help a patient with drug-seeking behaviors

Never dispense drugs when you have your suspicions about a patient. Instead, perform rigorous tests and document all results. You may also want to request a picture ID and Social Security number and call the previous doctor to confirm the patient’s story. Basically, you want to make sure that all the details check before prescribing the medicines.

If you have reasons to believe that the patient has addiction problems, you might want to help them get addiction treatment. Treatment programs exist to help patients get off of prescription drugs. Different support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can also offer additional support to recovering patients one on one or in group therapy.

Addiction is more than a physical dependence on substances. Even after detox, when the body is no longer hooked, one is still at high risk of relapse. Factors like stress, environmental cues, and social networks can create a strong ongoing urge to use again. That's why therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) come in handy. CBT helps one escape cravings and learn to manage what life throws at them without alcohol and drugs.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy. It bases on the belief that addictions arise and are worsened by a series of negative thought patterns. CBT helps people identify and explore thought patterns that tend to undermine their ability to make healthy choices. It then arms them with the right tools to reframe their thoughts and go back to a healthy and addiction-free life.

CBT is a problem-specific and purposeful approach that needs one's active participation to succeed. It uses different strategies to identify thought patterns that lend towards an addiction. These strategies include mental distractions, relaxation techniques, role-playing, and journaling. Unlike other therapies that dwell on the past, CBT focuses on present-day thoughts, challenges, and behaviors.

what-is-CBT-how-does-it-help-treat-drug-related-addiction

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Different approaches and techniques can help address behaviors, emotions and thoughts. Here are some common therapeutic approaches that involve CBT:

Cognitive therapy: It finds and changes negative thinking behaviors, patterns and emotional responses.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT): REBT finds and changes irrational beliefs. It also helps one to learn to identify and change these thought patterns.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT):  DBT focuses on behaviors and thoughts. It also integrates mindfulness and emotional regulation approaches.

Multimodal therapy: It looks into psychological issues by addressing the seven modalities. These include imagery, cognition, sensation, affect, behavior, interpersonal traits and biological/drug considerations.

Disorders that have shown success when treated with CBT

CBT can be used as a short-term treatment geared to help people with:

This article will focus on CBT and its help in treating drug-related addiction.

mental-health-drug-related-addiction-CBT-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-drug-abuse

How CBT works as an addiction treatment

Cognitive-behavioral therapy's primary goals in treating drug and alcohol addiction are:

In the therapy session, the patient will learn different attributes that will help uphold their sobriety. They will learn coping skills, resilience, assertiveness, stress management skills and relaxation skills. CBT has two main components in its use to treat drug-related addiction. These are skills training and functional analysis.

Functional analysis (FA)

FA is an essential step in CBT. In FA, the therapist and patient break down behavior chain into its respective parts. They seek to identify the feelings, thoughts, and situations that caused the substance abuse in the first place. Once they determine how and why a behavior was formed, the therapist and patient can then change parts of the behavior chain to get a different result.

Skills training

People turn to drugs or alcohol to manage stress, anxiety, depression and so on. If a person gets to a point where they're receiving treatment for substance abuse, it’s likely they’re abusing drugs as a way to cope with some set of problems. Skills training tries to help these people unlearn bad habits and learn better coping skills. This way, they’ll know how to apply them in situations that trigger their substance use. Skill training changes the way people think about their addiction. It also teaches them better ways to tolerate their inner feelings of distress.

skills-training-personal-development-functional-analysis-mental-health-care-alcohol-drug-addiction-treatment

Effectiveness

CBT was initially designed to prevent relapse when treating alcohol issues. This is according to a research-based guide by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Later on, the therapy was adapted in the treatment of drug-related addictions. These drugs include cocaine, nicotine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. It was also applied in the treatment of addiction to prescription drugs. The National Institute on Drugs Addiction post cited one interesting study. This study showed that 6 in 10 patients in CBT had a clean toxicology screening at their 12-month follow up.

Another evidence from several large-scale trials and quantitative reviews point to the effectiveness of CBT for addiction. An NIH group did a meta-analytic review of CBT for drug use and addiction, including 34 randomized controlled trials. CBT treated a total of 2,340 patients. The results revealed that marijuana patients got the best outcomes. Opioids and cocaine patients also got incredible results. But individuals with polydrug dependence had the smallest effects. That's to say, those struggling with multiple-drug use issues would benefit more from other treatments.

CBT for drug addiction includes a range of interventions, either combined or used in isolation. The interventions can also be provided in individual, or group therapy. Group formats involve therapy with groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcohol Anonymous. Individual formats include detox, pharmaceutical, or residential treatments

Benefits of CBT for addiction

Cognitive Behavioral therapy banks on the idea that feelings and actions are caused by one's thoughts as opposed to outside stimuli like situations, people, or events. While a person cannot change their situation, they can change the way they think about them. CBT has been shown to help an individual in recovery to:

When untreated, a person can turn to drugs and alcohol to try to avoid the discomfort or pain that these situations cause.

mental-health-addiction-treatment-CBT-group-therapy-sobriety-addiction-recovery-stories

The cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment program

CBT is an intense short-term treatment program. Under normal circumstances, a patient gets a weekly session for about 5-20 weeks. However, the frequency of sessions and length of treatment tend to differ based on a range of aspects. For instance, individuals with strong support from family and friends may have shorter treatment duration. The same applies to those with mild cases of addiction.

Other factors that might influence duration and treatment plan include patient needs, personal experiences and the duration of substance use. The type of disorder and level of withdrawal symptoms may also weigh in.

Sharing needles and syringes for any use is a risk for various sexually transmitted infections. A person can get STIs like HIV or Hepatitis by injecting into the vein, fat, or directly into a muscle. Reusing containers to dissolve drugs, sharing water to clean drug equipment, and reusing filters are also risk factors. The STI exposure risk from needle use is very common among drug addicts, so let's look at the statistics.

Studies reveal that those who inject drugs are most vulnerable to STIs. According to UNAIDS special analysis, 2018, the risk of HIV among those who inject drugs was 22 times higher than the general population. Other vulnerable groups included gay men, female sex workers and transgender women whose risks to HIV were 28, 13, and 13 times higher than the rest, respectively.

In another UNAIDS report, men account for the biggest share of higher risk of HIV infection, comprising 80% of the 11.8 million people globally who inject drugs. The report further revealed that approximately 13.1% of those who inject drugs worldwide were living with HIV. Despite the prevalence of drug injection and STIs, most people do not seek treatment for their addiction, due to fear of judgment, among other reasons.   

The history of disease spread by needle use

STI-exposure-risk-from-needle-use-addiction-drug-abuse-heroin-methamphetamine-HIV-AIDS

In the last 20 years, the United States has seen a rapid increase in overdose deaths and STIs due to injection and misuse of prescription and illicit drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Injection drug use (IDU) and its vast health impacts are a public health crisis, with approximately a million people reporting IDU in the past year.

The increases in IDU have caused outbreaks of HIV and higher rates of diseases like Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV). This is because viruses spread through body fluids – either through:

Drug use and addiction are often connected to HIV/AIDS since AIDS was first determined as a disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 1 in 10 HIV diagnoses happen among those who inject drugs. In 2016, IDU accounted for over 150,000 (or 20%) and 50,000 (21%) of recorded HIV cases among men and women, respectively. Besides, pregnant and lactating mothers who are HIV infected can pass down the virus to their baby irrespective of their drug use.   

Why drugs users share needles and syringes

Different studies show a close link between injecting drugs and sexually transmitted diseases. This should serve as a wake-up call to those who inject drugs. But surprisingly, the people who inject drugs continue with their needle exchanges and sharing habits despite the glaring danger.

IV-drug-use-sexually-transmitted-infections-disease-addiction-recovery-reasons-to-quit-using

Here are some common reasons they don’t stop.

Easy access: some communities do a good job distributing syringes and needles and disposing of used ones. But not everyone has access to such facilities. Some addicts have to go to the pharmacy stores, which have their own sets of rules around selling such supplies. So, an addict prefers to use what’s available. Besides, most addicts don’t have time to clean or look after themselves, let alone find new drug equipment.

Avoiding expenses: the drug equipment isn’t cheap either. A box might range between $10 and $50, which might be too expensive for someone whose primary focus is on getting money to buy more drugs.

Assumption: most drug users are cautious about sharing equipment with strangers. But they let their guards down when it’s someone close – like a friend or family - because they assume they know them better. So they don’t mind sharing needles and syringes.

Lack of education: some addicts have no idea that sharing drug equipment exposes them to STIs. Others are aware, but only to some extent. A good example is when they avoid sharing needles but end up sharing water used to clean the equipment.

Health risk of IV drug abuse

As we’ve discussed above, injecting drugs increases risks for developing a range of infectious diseases, including HIV, which causes AIDS. Studies estimate that about 36% of cumulative AIDS cases in the US resulted from injected drug use.

STI-exposure-risk-from-needle-use-HIV-AIDS-disease-spreading-drug-addiction

HIV is transmitted through the exchange of blood and other bodily fluids. According to the CDC, HIV can live in a used drug supply for up to 42 days, depending on temperature and other factors. This explains why sharing needles, cookers, water, and cotton is potentially risky.

Sharing paraphernalia can also cause the transfer and spread of other infections like HBV and HSV, each of which affects the liver and may result in liver cancer, liver failure, liver cirrhosis, and permanent scarring. According to a study by the UCSF, drug injections may account for 60% of HCV cases in the US alone.

IV drug abuse also impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions, making it easy for one to indulge in risky sexual behaviors. It is pretty common for those who are high on drugs to have unprotected sex, which exposes them to HIV, HBV, and HCV. But these aren’t the only infections that can be transmitted sexually. Others include genital herpes and Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

How to reduce the risk 

Drug users can reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting STIs by:

Not using drugs: the best way to lower the chances of contracting STIs through IV drug use is to stop using drugs. Seeking help from a reputable treatment center can be a great way to achieve sobriety.

Not sharing drug supplies: viruses are only transmitted through IV drug use and sexual contact. So, one should avoid ever sharing drug equipment. Many communities have syringe services programs that issue free sterile syringes and needles and safely dispose of used ones.

Getting tested and treated: those who administer drugs intravenously should test for HIV, HBV, and HCV. If the tests turn out positive, treatments exist to help keep everything in check. Drug users who are negative for HBV can take advantage of the vaccination to prevent transmission.

Take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): PrEP is a daily dose of HIV medications that prevent one from getting HIV. It is effective in lowering the chances of getting HIV infection for those who inject drugs. Those who have been exposed to the virus can take PEP to prevent becoming infected. But this should be done within 72 hours after recent possible exposure to HIV.  

The skin is the largest organ in your body. It is also the most visible one and is often referred to as the window into a person’s overall well-being. The skin carries a clue about the health of other organs. Changes in the skin color or texture may sometimes indicate severe health conditions, according to dermatologists.

Drug and alcohol use can have severe consequences on the body organs. Drugs like cocaine, and heroin can significantly stress the heart and damage kidneys. Alcohol, on the other hand, puts tremendous strain on the liver. But since it is impossible to see what’s happening in the body with bare eyes, the damage may go unnoticed for years.

Luckily, you can identify drug or alcohol-related issues by looking at the skin. When drug users abuse substances for a long time, they may experience sores, inflammation, infections, lesions, and even skin rotting. This happens for a range of reasons, including:

Here are some common skin problems tied to regular drug use:

skin-conditions-associated-with-drug-use-addiction-meth-cocaine-heroin-opiates-opioids

Regular skin problems can be a sign of drug abuse.

Dry, flaky skin

Substance abuse can cause dehydration through the effects of the drugs themselves. Illegal drugs are known to increase sweating, speed of breathing, urination, and diarrhea, and vomiting. In some cases, the drugs make a person over-active, interfering with the body’s awareness and attention to ignore the need for fluid. Dehydration is characterized by dry eyes, chapped lips, dry mouth, and feeling thirsty. Prolonged use may also cause dry, flaky skin. Dry skin is more prone to wounds, blemishes, and poor healing.

Skin rashes

Rashes are common in heavy meth users. They manifest as festering and painful-looking sores. Meth (and cocaine) users develop sores for various reasons, but the most common is that they pick and scratch their skin. They do so because it feels as though bugs are burrowing underneath the skin. Some say they feel a sensation of drug coming out of their skin. So they pick at it to the extent that they tear their flesh open. Meth mites – the feeling that insects or bugs are crawling under or on the skin – is a common side effect of excessive methamphetamine use. It’s also the biggest giveaway of meth addiction.

Heroin use may also lead to intense itching because it triggers the production of histamine. It may cause immense, blistering rash or dark patch on the skin (with velvety feel). Heroin use may also cause red patches to form all over the body.

healthy-face-drug-abuse-struggling-with-addiction-meth-cocaine-heroin-alcohol-marijuana

Healthy skin can deteriorate at a rapid pace when illicit drugs are being used.

Red blotches and sores

Another reason meth users develop sores is that the drug isn’t clean. It’s made with battery acid, which causes abscesses. And the byproducts used during its production can irritate the skin and cause itchy red sores that look like burning skin rash. Besides, crystal meth suppresses the immune system, making it hard for the body to fight off infections and bacteria. Couple that with poor hygiene, and you create a perfect storm for meth rash. This can occur in the face, arm, shoulder, back, and between the legs.

Necrotizing fasciitis

Some drug dealers add other substances to cocaine to stretch their product and increase profit margins. One such substance is levamisole, which is linked to necrotizing fasciitis, a skin-eating disease. It manifests in an extreme blackening of the outer ear and reddening of the cheeks. The same effects may happen on the back, chest, buttocks, legs, and abdomen.

Skin disorders

Not everyone who uses drugs will experience skin disorders. It’s all up to a person’s genetic markup. Stimulants can cause hypersensitivity, hives, cold sores, and the swelling of the epidermis. In extreme cases, these drugs can cause severe conditions like Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN) and Stevens - Johnson syndrome (SJS).

SJS is a rare yet severe skin and mucous membranes. It is characterized by a painful rash that blisters and spreads. The outer layer of the rash dies, peels off and starts to heal after several days. A more severe form of SJS is called TEN. TEN is a rare and potentially life-threatening condition that affects over 30% of the skin and causes immense damage to the mucous membranes. In TEN, the peeling progresses fast, leading to large raw areas that may weep or ooze.

drug-use-sores-lesions-scarring-skin-disease-addiction

Unexplained sores, rashes and scabs are common with certain types of drugs.

Atopic dermatitis

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common skin condition that affects more than 1 in 10 Americans. However, the condition, which makes the skin red and itchy, is common among those struggling with drug addiction. AD is a chronic pruritic inflammatory skin condition that mostly affects the neck, arms, cheeks, and legs.

Wrinkles and lines

These usually arise because of smoke, weight loss, or other toxins. But drug use can also cause premature aging, lines, wrinkles, and so on. Smoking drugs like heroin, crack, cocaine, meth, or marijuana harms the skin, creating a wrinkled, leather-like texture that makes one look older. Smoking also speeds up and facilitates skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and even skin cancer.

Hyperpigmentation

When a drug-dependent person is dehydrated, exhausted and malnourished, they may experience drug-induced hyperpigmentation. This is where they experience color changes in the skin, folds, and spots in different parts of the body. Drugs like heroin, prescription meds, crack cocaine, and cocaine can cause a nutritional problem. Advanced stages of addiction can make one neglect regular foods and meals, leading to exhaustion and malnutrition.

Skin and soft tissue infection

Since the drugs lower the body’s immunity, any infection that shows up in the skin may take a long time to heal. Sometimes, it might worsen. Many cocaine and heroin users who inject drugs develop infections at the injection point, which becomes severe with repeated use.

treatment-for-epidermis-dermatitis-infection-soft-tissue-health

The sooner you address a problem with drugs or alcohol, the easier it will be to treat. Get help now, before it's too late!

Treatment for skin problems arising from drug use

Treatment programs exist to help those struggling with drug addiction to overcome their using problem, and resulting skin problems. Addiction treatment allows patients to heal their mind, body, and spirit. Most of these centers have experts who can offer medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. In extreme cases, these experts may refer the patient to a specialist.

The medical marijuana craze has ignited a multi-billion dollar industry. From oils to tinctures to lotions to lattes to e-cigarettes in all shapes and sizes, for pain, anxiety, depression, seizures, autism, soft skin, hangover, etc., marijuana is everywhere. In fact, those who invested in top marijuana companies in 2016 are potentially up more than 1000%. Yet another danger lurks under the guise of "synthetic marijuana", "K2", or "spice".

It is not a surprise that marijuana is gaining popularity globally, including on Wall Street. After all, cannabinoid (CBD) –the second most prevalent ingredient in marijuana – has been touted for different health issues. It’s also backed scientifically for its effectiveness in treating the worst childhood epilepsy syndromes like Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome which fail to respond to antiseizure drugs. Studies have also shown its effectiveness in addressing anxiety and chronic pain too.

But the main concern with CBD products is that they are mainly sold as a supplement as opposed to medication. At the moment, the FDA has only approved Epidiolex for a prescription, and does not control the purity and safety of dietary supplements. So it is hard to tell whether a product has active ingredients at the dose as indicated or other unknown elements.

One study tested 84 CBD products from 31 companies and revealed that 69% were mislabeled. Some had too much CBD; some had no CBD at all. Some contained too much THC – the active ingredient in marijuana that’s associated with the “high”. Other surveys indicated that a fraction of the products contained harmful synthetics that are health hazards.

cbd-thc-synthetic-cannabis-marijuana-pot-k2-spice

Both the legal and illegal marijuana business is booming across the United States. Pot farms, like this one are creating a variety of products, with little oversight.

Medical marijuana can be safe and beneficial to human health. The only reason marijuana is still federally illegal is because of THC, which affects one’s ability to concentrate, focus and even keep track of time. But with the rising popularity and demand of the legal natural marijuana, numerous companies have sought to simultaneously minimize production time and boost profits by creating synthetic cannabinoids.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic CBDs are a large family of chemically unrelated compounds that act on the same brain cell receptors as THC. Synthetic marijuana products are human-made, but mimic THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. They are misleadingly marketed as legal and safe alternatives to real marijuana. However, synthetic cannabis affects the brain more than natural marijuana, and their effect can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Unsuspecting users (mostly teens and young adults) assume that the fake weed is harmless – but that’s a grave mistake.

Synthetic marijuana is either sold as a liquid to be vaporized and inhaled or sprayed onto plant material to be smoked. It goes by several other names:

About synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are not one drug. Manufacturers produce and sell hundreds of different synthetic chemicals. Each year, new products with unknown health risks make entry into the market. As mentioned earlier, fake weeds are prevalent because consumers believe they are legal and relatively safe. This can be linked to the misconception that many users have, that marijuana is a naturally occurring weed and is, therefore, safe to use (but that’s not all there is to it). Depending on what’s available or personal preference, synthetic cannabinoids is either:

In 2010, over 11,000 individuals were admitted to the emergency room due to synthetic marijuana use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And in 2016, 2,695 calls were made to poison control centers about people who were harmed by using synthetic CBD. What’s disturbing is that 75% of these people were between 12 and 29 years old.

smoking-synthetic-marijuana-k2-spice-teenagers-young-adults-United-States

Many teenagers and young adults are turning to synthetic marijuana to pass drug tests, or because they think it is a natural, safe alternative to cannabis. It can be quite dangerous, however.

K2 Users beware

Most K2/Spices are illicit. So, manufacturers try to get around the laws by producing new drugs with different ingredients or by marking them as “not fit for human consumption.” They are labeled not for human to mask the intended purpose and avoid the FDA’s control of the manufacturing process.

Synthetic cannabis products are not safe. And since there are no standards for producing, packaging or distributing the chemicals, it might be hard to tell the contents of products and the potential reaction. Again, synthetic CBD can have varying levels of chemicals between batches, or even within the same batch. The products may also be contaminated with toxic chemicals or drugs.

Side Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana can have adverse effects on the brain and overall health. Common side effects of synthetic cannabinoids include:

Note that these effects may vary based on factors like the type of synthetic marijuana, the dose and duration of use. K2 can be addictive, meaning a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit cold turkey.

dangers-of-smoking-synthetic-marijuana-weed-California-Chicago-New-York

While it may look nearly identical to weed, synthetic cannabis can actually be very dangerous to the user.

Incidences Involving Synthetic Marijuana

The CDC issued a warning after receiving reports of multiple cases from the Department of Public Health, including deaths among those who used fake K2. Other states have also reported the same cases. The warning urged everyone who’s bought a product that goes by names (spice, K2 or synthetic marijuana) to throw it out. It also encouraged those who had already used to call for help or go to the closest healthcare facility in case they experience severe, unexplained bruising or bleeding.

In another report, synthetic marijuana –which is 85 times more potent than THC – led to a “Zombie Outbreak” in New York City in 2016. For several hours, users were staring blankly, moving slowly and occasionally groaning. 18 out of the 33 people who displayed signs were transported to the hospital. The incidence happened after using K2 that Reddit users describe as “out-of-this-world potent.”

In 2018, 71 people overdosed from synthetic CDB in Connecticut. A significant percentage of the cases occurred on the New Haven Green. And although no deaths were reported, six or more victims had near-death experiences. In the same year, the drug was linked to 22+ cases of severe bleeding from gums, nose and in urine in the Chicago area.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), the number of adults worldwide with a gambling disorder (including pathological gambling) is nearly 5.3% of the total population - nearly 390 million individuals. [1]

In the United States, roughly 15% of Americans gamble at least once per week, with 10% of them being teenagers. [2] As gambling rates have increased in recent years, so have deaths from a drug overdose. Since 1990 drug overdoses in the United States have tripled, with addiction costing the U.S. economy more than $600 billion each year. [3]

As phone games continue to adopt the now-universal “loot box,” individuals are being exposed to gambling mechanics at a younger and younger age. Understanding how the mind and body react to gambling, and its similarities to drug addiction are critical if we are to combat the ever-growing epidemic of addiction.

How Does Drug Addiction Affect the Brain?

gambling-addiction-drug-dependence-similarities-casino-losing-money

The 'rush' of gambling can be very much like the brain chemistry when someone is addicted to drugs.

Before understanding how drugs affect the brain, it’s important to get some key terms out of the way. Contrary to the now popular belief, dopamine has less to do with pleasure, and more to do with rewards. According to drugabuse.org, “Just as drugs produce intense euphoria, they also produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug and the resulting pleasure.” [4]

This change in reward systems can negatively affect the brain and cause the individual to no longer feel motivated to do things that previously brought meaning to them. It can also lead to tolerance, leading the individual to need higher quantities of the drug in order to achieve the same high as before. This creates a negative feedback loop and for many, an endless cycle unless the victim receives outside help.

How Does Gambling Become an Addiction?

Many people can understand how drugs can be addictive because the body builds up a tolerance and, eventually, a need for specific chemicals. More difficult, however, is seeing how gambling can become addictive. The psychological effects of gambling can be just as strong as the most potent drug. In 2013 gambling disorders were moved to the “Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders category, which includes alcohol and drug addictions.”[5]

Just as with drugs, individuals can build up a tolerance to gambling, needing higher and higher stakes in order to meet the cravings that once satisfied them. Jon Grant from the University of Chicago states, “When people try to stop, they go through withdrawal, with insomnia, agitation, irritability, and a feeling of being ill at ease, similar to what we see in some substance abuse disorders.” [6] Despite not having injected any foreign chemicals into the body, the mind becomes powerful enough to manifest real physical symptoms until the victim returns to the high-stakes of gambling.

The Rise of Online Gambling

online-gambling-addiction-children-drugs-alcohol

Online gambling provides the same excitement of a Las Vegas casino from virtually anywhere in the world. The reduction in barriers to entry allows an individual access at any time of the day. Previously restricted to vacations and one-timers, these new casinos have become large businesses preying, especially on teenagers and young adults.

In 2010 online gambling casinos grossed 29.3 billion dollars, an increase largely attributed to college students, with 23% of students reporting they have gambled online before. [7] In a study done by Mary Wilber and Marc Potenza entitled “Adolescent Gambling,” it was reported that early initiation and family influence were the two biggest factors to whether someone would develop a gambling addiction. [8]

Despite the lack of a biological link towards gambling, family history plays just as strong a role in determining whether a child will grow up with a gambling addiction as exposure. The similarities between the likelihood of an individual developing gambling or drug addiction are striking.

The Denial of Addicts

One of the most difficult parts of confronting a drug addiction is for the user to admit that they have a problem and receive treatment. Despite over 21 million Americans having an addiction, only 10% receive treatment. [9] If it’s difficult to convince a drug addict that they have a problem, it is even more so for an individual with a gambling addiction.

Because gambling addictions are less visible to outsiders than drug addictions, many friends or family members can have no idea the victim has a problem. Couple this with the increased availability in gambling through online casinos and an individual could have a serious gambling problem without appearing to have any problem at all.

Gambling addictions also get swept under the rug because 76% of problem gamblers have a major depressive disorder, according to the NCPG (National Council on Problem Gambling). [10] Loved ones may attempt to fix what they perceive to be depression, and all the while being oblivious to the individual’s gambling problem. In order to receive help, they must first admit they have a problem. It’s important for loved ones to get involved by realizing the danger of compulsive gamblers and understand that many of the tell-tale signs are the same as with drug addictions.

gambling-addiction-casino-online-games-alcohol-drugs

The Takeaway

Gambling and Drug Addiction share many similarities; they both tap into the brain’s reward center and create negative feedback loops that perpetuate the user to continue to use at higher amounts until tolerance is established.

Once tolerance is established, the user must risk more and more in order to get the same rewarding feelings that they once had. Withdrawals accompany both behaviors that make it incredibly difficult to quit, as well as a similar form of denial between the users of both drugs and gamblers. Both gambling and drug addictions have side effects such as depression and a lack of motivation that make them difficult to classify.

It is important for loved ones to get involved as early as possible in order to prevent users from getting out of control. As rates of drug and gambling abuse continue to rise, it’s important that we pay attention to our appetites so that a one-time thing doesn’t become a habit.

 

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3361844/

https://addiction.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Gambling_Addiction_Statistics

https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/#:~:targetText=Addictions%20destroy%20marriages%2C%20friendships%2C%20and,more%20than%20tripled%20since%201990.

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain

https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/addiction/2015/gambling-addiction-and-the-brain

https://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-and-disorders/addiction/2015/gambling-addiction-and-the-brain

https://addiction.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Gambling_Addiction_Statistics

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2945873/

http://www.ncpgambling.org/files/public/Military/Veterans%20and%20Problem%20Gambling%20Lit%20Review%202010.pdf

https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-statistics/#:~:targetText=Addictions%20destroy%20marriages%2C%20friendships%2C%20and,more%20than%20tripled%20since%201990.

Struggling With Addiction 2020 © All Rights Reserved
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram