Drug Abuse and Dependence
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This topic is about drug abuse and dependence in adults. For information about drug abuse in teens or children, see the topic Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse. For information about alcohol abuse in adults, see the topic Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.
What are drug abuse and dependence?
Drug abuse is using drugs in a way that harms you or that leads you to harm others. You can abuse illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs.
When you abuse drugs, you are not always able to meet work, home, or school duties. You may be late to work. You may use drugs in dangerous situations, such as when driving or operating machines. Or drugs may cause problems in your relationships.
Drug abuse can lead to drug dependence, where you are addicted to a drug. The drug controls your life. Any of the following can happen:
Drug dependence is a disease. It's not a weakness or a lack of willpower. It's your choice to begin using a drug. But as you use it more, your brain begins to change. This change can lead to a craving to use the drug, and this can influence how you act.
Which drugs might be a problem?
Drugs that are abused include:
What are the signs of drug abuse and dependence?
Behaviors that may be signs of a drug problem include:
Having these signs doesn't always mean a person is using drugs. The behavior could be because of work or school stress, or it could be a sign of depression or another medical problem. But behavior changes like these are common in people who abuse drugs.
Physical signs of drug abuse and dependence include:
How are drug problems diagnosed?
Drug problems may be diagnosed at a routine doctor visit or when you see your doctor for a health or social problem linked to drug use, such as anxiety, depression, or family conflict. If a partner or friend thinks you have a drug problem, he or she may urge you to see your doctor.
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will do a physical exam and sometimes a mental health assessment.
How are drug problems treated?
Treatment includes medicine, therapy, and support groups.
After you stop using drugs, you focus on staying drug-free. Most people receive some type of therapy, such as group counseling. You also may need medicine to help you stay drug-free.
When you have stopped using drugs, you have taken the first step toward recovery. To gain full recovery, you need to take steps to improve other areas of your life, such as learning to deal with your work, family, and living situation in healthy ways. This makes it easier to stay drug-free.
What can you do if you or another person has a problem with drugs?
If you feel that you have a drug problem, get help. You can visit a doctor or go to a self-help group. The earlier you get help, the easier your recovery will be for you and your family.
Helping someone who has a drug problem is hard. If you are "covering" for the person, you need to stop. For example, don't make excuses for the person when he or she misses work.
You may be able to help by talking to the person about what his or her drug use does to you and others. Talk to the person in private, when he or she isn't using drugs or alcohol and when you are both calm. If the person agrees to get help, call for an appointment right away. Don't wait.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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