Chemical dependency treatment centers can help individuals who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol break the cycle of dependency and return to a drug-free and sober lifestyle. Chemical dependency includes any addiction to a chemical substance, such as illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. While the reality of chemical addiction can seem overwhelming at times, help for substance abusers is available.
The precise causes of chemical dependency are unknown. However, there are factors that can cause a person to have a higher risk of drug or alcohol addiction. Genetic factors play a role in addiction, and someone with a family member who has chemical-dependency issues may be at higher risk.
The environment also influences the risk of chemical dependency. Peer pressure, stress, and family functioning can all play a role in the development of addiction. Individuals with mental disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, may be more at risk than people without any of these disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, at least half of all people who become addicted have some form of mental disorder. However, even people who have no risk factors at all can become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Common Substances of Abuse
Many different substances can be abused, and people can develop an addiction to many of these drugs. Some of the most commonly used and abused chemical substances include:
- Stimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamines
- Hallucinogens, such as LSD, mescaline, PCP, and psilocybin
- Opiates, such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and opium
In some cases, chemical dependency develops after recreational drug use. In other cases, the individual first uses the drug as a prescribed medication and becomes addicted over time. The abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25% of young people begin drinking alcohol before the age of 13.
Stages of Dependency
Many people don’t become addicted to a substance the first time they try it, although it is possible with some substances. Most addictions develop through a series of stages that begin with experimental or social use of the drug. Not everyone goes through the same stages at the same pace, and young people tend to become addicted much more quickly than older individuals. According to the National Institutes of Health, the stages of dependency include:
- Experimentation: During this stage, the user feels in control of his or her drug use and only uses the drug occasionally, usually during social activities and with friends.
- Regular Use: The user becomes a frequent drug user, often developing habits as to when and where he or she uses the drug. Tolerance may begin to develop, so the user may need higher or more frequent doses to get the same reaction that he or she initially got from the drug.
- Daily Use and Preoccupation: The user develops a pattern of using the substance every day, often multiple times a day. He or she becomes so preoccupied with the drug that school, work, and family life all suffer.
- Chemical Dependency: The user completely loses control of his or her drug use. He or she experiences significant health damage, psychological damage, or damage to relationships but still cannot give up the drug despite the harm it causes.
Signs and Symptoms
People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may exhibit a wide range of symptoms and signs. Not everyone experiences dependency in the same way, so some people only show one or two of the signs of chemical dependency, while others exhibit multiple symptoms. Some of the common signs and symptoms of chemical dependency or abuse include:
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
- Preoccupation with the drug, including spending excessive amounts of time figuring out where to get the next dose and daydreaming about using the drug
- Getting high on a regular basis
- Deteriorating work or school performance
- Depressed or suicidal feelings
- Doing dangerous things while on the drug, such as engaging in risky sexual behavior or driving under the influence
- Spending large amounts of money to get more of the drug
- Feeling that a normal life is not possible without the drug
- Strong cravings for the drug when it is not available
- Pressuring other people to start using the drug
- Doing illegal things to obtain the drug, such as stealing it or forging prescriptions for it
- Experiencing damage to close relationships as a result of drug use
- Experiencing feelings of losing control of drug or alcohol use
Chemical dependency can lead to many problems. Someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may put himself or herself in dangerous situations. Many drugs can be fatal if you take too much of them. An overdose of stimulants can cause a heart attack or stroke. Depressants can cause your breathing to stop. Mixing multiple drugs increases the chance of an overdose and puts a user in more danger than just using one drug at a time.
Some drugs can cause damage to the brain that may take years to overcome. As an example, people who use cocaine may incur damage to the area of the brain that controls pleasure. This causes a condition called anhedonia. People with anhedonia cannot feel pleasure during normally pleasurable activities. This state may take years to overcome.
Drug use can also lead to financial or legal problems. These problems can take the form of job loss due to the effects of drug use. Legal and financial problems may also develop if the individual cannot cover his or her drug expenses and steals or borrows money that he or she cannot pay back.
If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, you may need to check into a chemical dependency treatment center in order to overcome your addiction. While treatment on an outpatient basis is an option for some people with a mild addiction, many drug users find that inpatient treatment is more effective for them.
At an inpatient rehab clinic, the recovering addict can learn to live without drugs or alcohol in a safe and supportive setting. Chemical dependency treatment centers also teach patients how to adapt to normal life when they return to society so that they will not have a relapse. Techniques used in an inpatient clinic may include psychotherapy, behavior modification, and group therapy. Some rehab centers take a holistic approach and include alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, and meditation.
During treatment, any preexisting condition must be treated as well. For example, if the individual has chronic pain and developed an addiction to the codeine that was prescribed to treat that pain, stopping the drug can cause the pain to return. Without effective pain treatment, the person is likely to start using drugs again to numb the pain. Additionally, individuals with mental disorders often use drugs or alcohol to mask the disorder, so any prior diagnosis must be considered when starting treatment.
Detoxification and Withdrawal
When there is a physical addiction involved, the individual will have to go through detoxification as the first step in any treatment program. During detoxification, the recovering user withdraws from the substance and lets the drugs or alcohol clear completely out of his or her system. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms occur during detoxification. These can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of drug and level of addiction.
One major advantage of pursuing care in a residential chemical dependency treatment center is that this type of facility provides monitoring during the withdrawal process. If the recovering user experiences severe withdrawal symptoms, someone on staff can help him or her get through them. In some cases, the detoxification process is medically managed. For example, a doctor may wean the user off the drug over time instead of requiring him or her to stop suddenly. At some rehab clinics, a doctor may prescribe medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction can be both physical and psychological, so both aspects must be treated simultaneously for treatment to be a success.
When someone is addicted to a narcotic, such as heroin or oxycodone, he or she may need to go on a medical maintenance program as a stage in his or her recovery from drug addiction. During medical maintenance, the patient starts taking a weaker narcotic, such as methadone or buprenorphine. These drugs function by stimulating the same brain receptors as stronger narcotics but delivering a weaker high and fewer side effects. For some people, medical maintenance lasts years, while others may wean off the maintenance drug after a few months of use. Because these drugs are also opiates, there exists the possibility of an addiction to methadone or buprenorphine. Someone who becomes addicted to one of these drugs can undergo detoxification and begin a drug treatment plan to break the addiction.
Recovery from chemical addiction can take much longer than the stay in a chemical dependency treatment program. Most people have to continue attending therapy sessions on an outpatient basis after they have checked out of the rehab center. Without this kind of follow-up treatment, the risk of relapse rises significantly.
Choosing a Facility or Doctor
Finding the right treatment facility or the right doctor to manage your care can make a big difference in how recovery progresses. You should look for a facility that has a care philosophy that makes sense to you. For some, this may mean a holistic or spiritually based program. For others, strict medical management by a physician who is active in every aspect of recovery may be desired. Some facilities cater to women, teens, or other specific groups.
A physician who treats drug addiction should be nonjudgmental, sensitive, and supportive. If you do not feel comfortable with a specific doctor or therapist, you might need to switch to another service provider. It can be counterproductive to hide things from your care provider, such as your last date of sobriety or the specific patterns of drug use you had before beginning treatment.
Someone with a chemical dependency needs the support of family and friends to achieve a successful recovery from addiction. Family counseling may be necessary to teach the family constructive ways to deal with the recovering addict and methods to help keep him or her from relapsing. Support groups can be useful for some recovering addicts. These groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, provide peer support so that the recovering addict does not feel alone in his or her journey to recovery.