In medical terminology, the term “addiction” is used to refer to the state in which the body becomes physiologically dependent on a substance and the mind becomes psychologically dependent on a substance, such drug substances. Removal of these drug substances usually causes withdrawal symptoms in people who are dependent on them. Addiction on drug substances can be both physiological and psychological, and despite the distinction between these two forms of addiction, they tend to overlap.
Physiological dependence on a drug substance refers to the state in which someone becomes so dependent on the substance that characteristic withdrawal symptoms begin to appear if the substance is abruptly discontinued. Physical dependence is typically induced by drug substances such as amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, nicotine, opiates, etc. Physiological dependence is instigated because of the ability of these substances to induce pleasure and it is partly because of the physiological dependence that addicts continue the addiction. Physiological dependence forces them to use these substances compulsively so as to relieve the withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological dependence on a drug substance refers to the state in which the mind becomes dependent on the drug substance and the abrupt discontinuation of the substance leads to psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, depression, insomnia, irritability, etc. Theoretically, people can get addicted to any rewarding behavior because addiction is apparently closely associated with the dopaminergic system, the reward system of the brain. On a clinical level, people with emotional, psychological, or social dysfunctions make a habit of using drug substances to avoid undesired activity. Addiction can be treated more easily when the addict is only physiologically dependent on the substance by slowly reducing the dose. However, physiological dependence with psychological dependence seriously increases the risk of relapsing into abuse.
In physiological terms, addiction is not necessarily associated with merely substance abuse since even prescribed drugs can cause addiction. Prescription drug abuse that leads to addiction can be intentional or unintentional. Prescription drug abuse begins by not using prescription medication in a way they are intended to be used, such as to induce pleasurable feelings. Those who abuse prescription drugs may take them orally, or grind them and inject or snort them to get high. Prescription drug abuse can quickly become compulsive and ongoing, thus leading to addiction. Of course, just like addiction to other drug substances, addiction to prescription drugs may involve both physiological and psychological dependence. People usually abuse prescription drugs such as anti-anxiety medications, painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants.
Based on similarities between drugs and medications that can be abused and lead to addiction, the effects produced by them in the brain and human body, and withdrawal symptoms caused by their discontinuation, are group together into certain categories, such as:
Central Nervous System Depressants: Alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Librium, Valium, and Xanax, belong to the depressant category, which are highly addictive drug substances. Alcoholic beverages are liquids, while barbiturates and benzodiazepines are available in pill form. Depressants are consumed orally. In the short term, depressants may affect a person’s balance, coordination skills, balance, and judgment. Using them may also make them feel dizzy, drowsy, relaxed, and self confident, or even depressed, hostile and withdrawn. Abusing depressants can cause the heart and lungs to stop, leading to death, and it is also possible to overdose on them. Persistent use of depressants may cause brain damage, cancer, heart disease, liver damage, nervous system damage, stomach ulcers, etc in the long run. Abruptly discontinuing depressants can cause possible withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, convulsions/seizures, craving, delirium tremens, hallucinations, headache, increased blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat, which can prove to be fatal.
Central Nervous System Stimulants: Caffeine, cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine belong to the stimulant category. Commercial amphetamines are medicinal drugs, such as Ritalin, and are available in liquid and pill form, while cocaine and illegal methamphetamine come in a ‘crystal’ or white powder form. In the short term, stimulants may cause a sense of alertness, dizziness, increased blood pressure and heartbeat, restlessness, etc. In the long term, higher doses of stimulants may also cause blurred vision, coma fever, headache, heart attack, violent behavior, etc. If the use of stimulants is discontinued abruptly it can lead to a pattern of withdrawal symptoms, such as anorexia, anhedonia, cravings, depression, guilt feelings, insomnia, irritability, skin-picking, etc.
Hallucinogens: LSD, MDMA, Mescaline, and Psilocybin belong to the category of the hallucinogen category of drug substances. In the short term, lower doses of hallucinogens have cause effects, such as anxiety, blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, euphoria, hallucinations, increased body blood pressure, breathing and heart rate, irregular heartbeat, loss of coordination, paranoia, nausea, vomiting, etc. Higher doses of hallucinogens can lead to an overdose and prove to be fatal. Abrupt discontinuation of hallucinogens can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, cravings, depression, fatigue, irritability, etc.
People do not get addicted to drug substances overnight, rather it takes time for addiction to become a full blown problem. Initially, using these drug substances may seem enjoyable and pleasurable; however, once people become addicted to and dependent on these drugs, discontinuing them can become extremely difficult.
Erickson, C. K. (2008). The science of addiction, from neurobiology to treatment. (1st ed. ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Illegal drugs a complete guide to their history, chemistry, use, and abuse. (1 ed.). London, England: Plume, a member of Penguin Group.
Landry, M. J. (1994). Understanding drugs of abuse: The processes of addiction, treatment, and recovery. (1st ed.). Arlington, TX: American Psychiatric Publishing.