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Drug abuse is the habitual taking of any substance that is monitored or controlled. Although drug abuse is commonly associated with the use of illicit or illegal drugs, there are many people who abuse drugs that have been prescribed by their doctors. Substance abuse can also entail the overuse of alcoholic beverages or the misuse of cleaning agents, solvents and other inhalants to achieve an altered state of mind.
While the terms drug abuse and drug addiction are often used interchangeably, they are actually quite different. When people abuse drugs, they are gradually altering their physiology and their neurological functioning. The way in which the brain responds to and processes drugs will start to change and this can ultimately lead to physical and psychological dependence to the substance. With drug abuse, people often tell themselves that they are fully in control of their habits, however, this sense of control tends to dissipate as the body gradually adapts to the chemical changes that the substance causes. This establishes what is known as a "new normal" in which everyday functioning becomes dependent upon continued use of the drug and greater and greater quantities of it. When this occurs, drug abuse has become drug addiction.
There are many factors that distinguish experimentation from drug abuse. People may try drugs or alcohol several times without becoming habitual users. Those who abuse drugs, however, will usually notice marked changes in their personal habits and a dramatic decline in their life qualities. Drugs have the power to lower inhibitions, change personalities and alter priorities. When drugs are abused, people often experience job loss, problems in their personal and professional relationships and noticeable changes in how they order their lives in general. People lose track of time while using drugs or drinking, engage in sexual activities that they wouldn't normally engage in, lie to obtain drugs, lie about their drug use, steal to secure more drugs or find it difficult to go a day or longer without using a substance are drug abusers. More importantly, these individuals are often on the precipice of drug addiction.
Addressing drug abuse head on is rarely ever easy, however, this is the surest way to preserve the health and safety of the individual. Drug use can create a considerable decline in health and often results in a range of legal, financial and personal issues that will likely spiral out of control if a person's habits are not curtailed. Seeking outside assistance is the best way to start this process. Family members can set up interventions, collect information on inpatient and outpatient drug treatment programs and take part in support groups for families of drug abusers. These groups show families how to quit enabling their loved ones, how to practice tough love and how to help addicts get the help they need. They also deal with issues pertaining to co-dependency which are common among relatives of drug users. Those who struggle with drug abuse can also make the proactive decision to seek out and receive help, which is often a choice that is made when an individual has hit "rock bottom" and is no longer able to function effectively or manage the problems that drug use has caused.
Studies have shown that habitual drug use can cause a dramatic shift in how the brain functions. People who do not use drugs or overindulge in other areas of life are often using what is known as the new brain. This is the portion of the brain that deals with rational thought and rational decision-making. While people often continue using the new brain even when experimenting with illicit substances, continued use of these substances will cause neurological processes to shift to the old brain. The old brain eschews rational thought and is driven entirely by the need for instant gratification. Thus, drug users are often only concerned about what feels good in the moment. This is especially problematic when it comes to fighting off cravings and temptations, which is why drug abuse and drug addiction are usually best addressed in a formal treatment environment.
Outpatient treatment for drug abuse can be ideal for people who are still in the formative stages of drug abuse and have sufficient, new brain activity for making rational decisions that are in their best interests. These programs often include counseling and support groups, assistance in identifying local resources and workshops and classes for building essential coping and life skills. Those who truly want help and who are committed to helping themselves can flourish with the advice and assistance that these programs provide.
Inpatient treatment is often necessary for those who are in the throes of drug addiction. This need is largely due to the transition from new brain to old brain thinking, however, it can also be medically necessary in instances in which chemical dependency upon a drug exists. The first stage in drug addiction treatment is the detoxification process. For those with a physical dependency on drugs, this process can include mild to severe side effects and is therefore best undertaken under the supervision of medical doctors. In an inpatient facility, people can gradually wean themselves off of drugs or alcohol and often with the use of pharmaceutical alternatives that are designed to limit withdrawal symptoms, provide adequate nutritional support and protect the patient's overall health and well-being.
Those who struggle with drug abuse can gain a number of benefits by opting to secure inpatient treatment, even if their usage has not been categorized as addiction. Inpatient treatments give recovering addicts time away from their normal environments and relationships, both of which may serve as triggers for their drug use. People can engage in intensive, individual therapy programs, therapy in a group environment and goal-setting among other things. Inpatient treatment centers also equip their patients with essential life-planning skills so that these individuals have the greatest opportunity to attain long-lasting success.