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Understanding Drug Addiction

Drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is when you compulsively seek and use a drug even when it damages your health and well-being.

The first time you use a drug may be voluntary, but repeated drug use can cause changes in your brain. These changes result in strong urges to use a substance and interfere with your ability to resist them.

What is Drug Addiction?

What is Drug Addiction?

Although it is stigmatized, substance use disorder is a medical condition that needs professional help.

At Cirque Lodge, we know that drug addiction is not a moral failing. Everyone has the potential to recover – and we help you discover it.

Drug addiction can be treated and successfully managed. According to the National Institute of Drugs, individualized long-term treatment programs that treat the whole person offer the best chance of life-long recovery.

What Is the Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse?

What Is the Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse?

Alcohol or drug abuse is when you take a drug in a way that harms yourself or others.

This may involve taking illegal drugs or taking prescription medicine in higher doses or more frequently than your doctor prescribed. You can abuse a drug without being addicted to it. You may take marijuana for months without developing an addiction.

You can also be addicted to a drug without abusing it. Some prescription drugs, such as certain opioid painkillers, are so addictive that you can become addicted even when using it exactly as your doctor prescribed.

Often, however, drug abuse and addiction do come together. While abusing a drug may not lead to addiction, some substances cause addiction very quickly. You can become addicted to heroin after misusing it only a few times.

What Is the Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

What Is the Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

Physical dependence is when the body physically adapts to the presence of a substance.

When you repeatedly use a substance, your brain responds to the increase of certain chemicals. It begins to decrease its production of the same chemicals to return them to more normal levels.

The ‘high’ you experience when you take drugs results from abnormal levels of chemicals. As your brain decreases its production, you have to take a higher dose of the substance to experience the same high. The brain responds by reducing its production further.

As this process continues, you become dependent on the substance just to feel normal. If you suddenly stop taking it, your body cannot function properly, and you will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts.

Physical dependence is a condition characterized by symptoms of increased tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is the compulsive seeking of substance, characterized by certain thought patterns and behaviors.

What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?

What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?


The earlier you start using drugs, the more likely you are to develop an addiction. However, you are never too young to recover. Early intervention is one of the key predictors for successful recovery. At Cirque Lodge, we take clients over the age of 18 years.


If a close family member has had an addiction, you are more likely to develop one. Research by the National Institute of Drug Abuse suggests that genetics can be the most significant factor in developing an addiction.

Co-occurring Mental Disorders

Many people who have an addiction also have co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. While using drugs may seem like a good way to escape, they will make these conditions worse in the long term.


Trauma can come in many forms. Essentially, anything that puts the body and mind under considerable stress could be traumatic. This could range from physical illness to child abuse to witnessing death.

The effects of trauma can be long-lasting. Effectively, it can disturb our threat response and make us feel that we are in danger even when we are not. Trauma is also linked to increased rates of mental illness. Often, people use drugs to cover up these challenging feelings.

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Drugs are chemicals. When they reach the brain, they interfere with how your brain cells work.

Drugs affect the way that nerve cells send and receive messages. In recent decades, extensive scientific research has explored the nature of substance use disorder to gain a better understanding of addiction and how to treat it. We now know more about how drugs affect the brain and the biology of addiction.

The Brain’s Reward System

Most commonly abused drugs, including opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine, affect the brain’s reward system.

The reward system is a healthy part of how your brain works. When you do certain activities, such as exercising or socializing, your brain releases the chemical dopamine. Dopamine produces positive feelings and causes you to experience the activity as pleasurable. It also encourages you to do the activity again.

Drugs interfere with this process. When you take a drug, it floods your brain with dopamine, producing positive feelings or euphoria. The brain connects this with the drug and sends out signals for you to use it again.

Because drugs produce much more dopamine than the brain naturally releases, the brain’s response is also stronger. The urge to use the drug can be incredibly intense and difficult to resist.

Over time, the brain starts to release dopamine in response to cues in your environment that you associate with drugs. This may be a place you take drugs or friends you use with. These cues can trigger the urge to use a substance.

Is Drug Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Is Drug Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Mental disorders are conditions that affect your thinking, mood, and behavior.

They can affect your ability to live your daily life and sustain your relationships with others. Occasional mental disorders appear irregularly from time to time. Chronic disorders persist over a period of time.

Drug addiction is a chronic mental disorder. Repeated drug use changes the way our brains work. This affects our thinking, behavior, and mood, much like other disorders. The DSM-5 refers to addiction as ‘substance use disorder.’

Illicit Substances

Illicit Substances

You can develop an addiction to prescription drugs and illegal drugs.

Below is a list of commonly abused illicit drugs, their street names, and their classification.

Prescription and illegal drugs
Cocainecoke, blow, sugar, snowStimulant
Crack Cocainerock, crumbs, hail, gravelStimulant
Crystal Methice, glass, crystalsStimulant
HeroinH, junk, tar, smack, dopeDepressant
Marijuanaweed, grass, mary jane, budCannabinoid
Mephedronebath saltsStimulant
Methamphetaminecrank, chalk, meth, speedStimulant
Treating Drug Addiction

Treating Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a complex illness with many causes. However, it is treatable, and recovery is possible with the right help.

The most effective drug treatment programs cater to the needs of each individual and treat the whole person, focusing on any co-occurring disorders alongside the addiction. They often involve behavioral therapy to help you overcome addictive behaviors, as well as support groups and family counseling.

Understanding Drug Addiction CTA

Recovery Is Possible


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