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Understanding Drug Addiction

Drug addiction affects millions of people in the U.S. and transcends the boundaries of age, ethnicity, and social class. The use of illegal and prescription drugs escalated over recent years and lead to what came to be known as the drug abuse epidemic. The abuse of illicit and prescription opioids also skyrocketed and caused the “opioid crisis.”

This suggests that addiction is a real problem, especially among people between the ages of 18 and 31. But overcoming addiction is no “walk in the park.” The reason for this is drug abuse triggers chemical changes in the brain that cause you to lose control of your behaviors and affect how you think, manage stress, and make decisions.

What is Addiction?

Many people who abuse and are dependent on drugs may not even know what addiction is. Addiction is a pervasive condition where a person compulsively seeks and uses illegal or prescription drugs mainly for the purpose of pleasure. They will continue to use and abuse these substances regardless of the negative impact on their physical, mental, and emotional health. Some will lie, cheat, or steal to acquire the substance regardless of the consequences.

People don’t typically plan to become addicted. Drug use may be motivated by curiosity, peer pressure, to relieve stress, feel euphoria, or improve performance. But frequent use or misuse of highly addictive substances can easily cause them to get “hooked.” An individual may be aware that the habit is self-destructive and impacts their personal life or career. They may want to get “clean.” However, getting over drug abuse often requires professional treatment to aid recovery and sustain sobriety.

Drugs Commonly Abused

There are different categories of illegal and prescription drugs that are abused every single day. A report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists the following drugs as commonly abused. These drugs are also highly addictive.

Illegal Drugs

  • Heroin
  • Marijuana (Cannabis)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine

Prescription Drugs

Stages of Addiction

Addiction can happen quickly or over time depending on the type of drug used and the frequency of use. It normally progresses through these 4 stages:

  • Experimentation: Use is motivated by curiosity
  • Social or regular: Use continues on a regular basis, risk of addiction increases
  • Risky use or abuse: Use continues compulsively and without regard for consequences
  • Addiction and dependency: Use becomes the “new normal” and is frequent (daily or a few time times a day)

How Drug Abuse Affects the Brain

Understanding what happens to the brain when a person uses drugs can help clear up some misunderstanding about addiction. Drug addiction is described by NIDA as a “complex disease” which takes more than a strong will or good intentions to get over. In fact, there is no cure for this “chronic disease’ also referred to as a “brain disorder.”

Regardless, substance abuse significantly impacts the brain making a person lose control and their sense of good judgment. It is for this reason that persons find it so difficult to resist the urge to use or quit on their own. Combined with co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, recovery may be possible only through systematic clinical treatment.

The “Dopamine Effect”

Drug abuse changes the way the brain functions. To begin with, drug use activates certain receptors in the brain that trigger dopamine, a neurotransmitter which transmits a sense of pleasure to the brain. So when drugs are used, they create that feeling of euphoria that makes you want more of the “high.” In essence, it becomes a perpetual chase after the “dopamine effect.”

Once you lapse into a cycle of drug abuse, enough is never enough. Taking larger or frequent doses builds tolerance instead of providing ultimate satisfaction. The brain keeps craving more and more. Being trapped in this cycle is the primary reason it’s so difficult to resist the urge to use drugs. Building tolerance while losing the ability to overcome strong cravings is a common cause of drug overdose.

Risk Factors of Drug Abuse and Dependency

Anyone can become addicted to drugs. For some people, all it took was a one-time recreational use and that was enough to have them “hooked.” However, some people are more predisposed to substance abuse due to certain risk factors. A person may have one or more of these risk factors. The more they possess the greater the chance of falling into a cycle of drug abuse:

  • Biological makeup
  • Family history (parent or sibling abused drugs)
  • Environment (addiction can be a learned behavior)
  • Drug use at an early age, e.g. before adulthood
  • Peer pressure (often seen in teens and young adults)
  • Mental health issues, e.g., anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD

Drug Addiction Treatment

Professional drug addiction treatment is often necessary to help an individual get over drug abuse and stay sober. It can be done at an inpatient or outpatient rehab. It is usually comprehensive and broadly categorized into physical and psychological treatment. Detoxification and therapy are the two core aspects of treatment. Together with supplemental programs, they provide a comprehensive approach to helping you successfully recover.


The first stage after diagnosis and intake is to help you get the drugs out of your body. This process is called detoxification. Depending on the type of drug abuse or the severity of the addiction, medically-supervised detox may be required. This involves the use of medication to help you manage cravings and severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, in a safe environment until you are stabilized. The withdrawal timeline varies from person to person and can last for about 7 days to several weeks.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be done one-on-one with a qualified therapist or in a group setting. It is necessary for treating co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety disorder associated with drug abuse. CBT is primarily used as a tool to help you adjust your thinking to guide positive behaviors. It seeks to help you develop a positive self-image to see yourself as capable of making responsible decisions and avoiding drug use as a means to cope. This rewiring of the brain is crucial in helping to reduce your risk of relapse.

Without cognitive behavioral therapy, a patient may leave rehab and go right back into drug abuse. Therapy also equips you with relapse prevention tools to help you to formulate a plan that includes a support network. Your support base may consist of family members, friends, community support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), counselor, and therapist. Their role is to help you manage substance use triggers and keep you committed to sobriety.

Getting Professional Treatment At The Detox Center of L.A.

If you or your loved one is troubled by addiction, you should know that recovery is possible. With a commitment to kicking the habit and staying sober, you can regain your life, relationships, and even your career. At The Detox Center of L.A., we know that treatment is most effective when done under an individualized plan.

We welcome each client with respect and compassion and do a complete medical assessment and evaluation (also called dual-diagnosis). This helps us to design a treatment plan that is ideal for you. The main goal of our professional team of therapists, counselors, and case managers is to help you beat addiction and return you to your home and community ready to take back control of your life.

We achieve this through our various programs which include family therapy, holistic therapy, and occupational skills training. Family therapy sessions are geared at getting loved ones to understand why addiction happened and their role in helping you stay sober after formal treatment ends. Give us a call today to find out more about our programs and admissions.

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Residential Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

The Detox Center of LA Residential facility in Los Angeles, California offers an in-house detox programs and rehabilitation programs for those who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Out patients reside at the facility full-time in a highly structured environment with knowledgeable, experienced staff that can relate to each resident. Individuals can expect personalized care and programming throughout each day of the week.
1741 Hauser Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90019