What is Addiction

We are in the midst of a drug abuse epidemic, one that is mostly unnoticed, in which millions of people die every day and their mental health is harmed as a result of drug abuse.

Cannabis, heroin, and opium are the most commonly used drugs in India and the number of suicides due to alcohol and drug addiction have doubled over the past years. India too is caught in this vicious circle of drug abuse, and the number of drug addicts are increasing day by day.

Addiction, according to APA is “known as a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance about the way your body craves a substance especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequence”. Misuse of a substance at high doses or in improper contexts is different from addiction which is defined as an obsessive drug-seeking behaviour despite the adverse consequences and long-term changes in the brain.

Contrary to the popular belief, addiction is not a bad habit but rather a  “medical disorder that affects the brain and changes behaviour.” Though using drugs and alcohol is a choice, getting addicted is not and addicts live a miserable life and wouldn't choose to live that way if given an opportunity. It is a chronic illness, similar to diabetes and cancer, and it can happen to anyone.

Drug abuse can arise for a variety of reasons, both genetic and environmental factors characterise addiction.  Genes account for 60 percent of a person's ability to get addicted since some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction. The environment also plays a significant role in drug addiction, and young people are particularly vulnerable to addiction.  A stressful environment, trauma, and the company that surrounds us play a big role in addiction. If we often surround ourselves with people who regularly use alcohol or drugs and watch music videos, movies, TV shows that glamorise their use, we are more likely to believe it is acceptable and do the same.

Addiction arises from different pathology and varies in strength, severity, and manifestations. Motivation is a set of brain processes that energises and directs our actions and plays an important role in addiction. The repetition of a habit based on a stimuli is known as reinforcement, providing the greatest motivation for drug abuse. Positive reinforcement may include drinking alcohol in order to increase socialisation, unhabituated feelings, euphoria when taking prescription medications, and feeling calm and relaxed when taking sedatives. After a while, negative reinforcement comes into play where drug intake is reinforced by the avoidance of aversive consequences induced by drug withdrawal. Impulsive behaviour is also linked to drug use and abuse, trait impulsivity is an important determinant of drug use during development but conversely, acute and chronic effects of drug use may increase impulsive behaviours which may facilitate drug use.

Mood-altering drugs can have a negative impact on your mental health and may also contribute to the development of various mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.  It can also change a person's personality, leading to difficult relationships with others. People often use drugs and alcohol to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disease. Unfortunately using self medications to cope with difficult emotions may often lead to side effects in the long run, often worsening the symptoms and making them dependent on it. It may also increase the underlying risk for mental disorders and abusing alcohol and drugs may push you over the edge if you are at a risk for mental health issues. 

Since addiction is a lifelong chronic disease, it can be controlled, but not cured.  However, they do require lifelong treatment but treatment is only the first step towards wellness. Some of the treatments for addiction may include detoxification, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and a twelve-step facilitation therapy. Medication too plays an important role in recovery when combined with behavioural therapies.


Some of the signs of substance abuse may include behavioural systems such as aggression and irritability, lethargy, and physical symptoms such as sleeping too much and abrupt weight change.  There are a lot of high-functioning addicts as well, who would develop behaviours to hide their addiction because of embarrassment. It is important to notice the symptoms, encourage treatment and support them through this hard journey. 


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