It’s no secret that those addicted to drugs bear the stigma of weakness, and the term “addict” itself can be meant in a derogatory way. But the reality is that those suffering from addiction suffer from a chronic disease, one which manifests as the compulsive need to seek the euphoria offered by the addictive substance. In order to identify addiction and how it manifests, it’s important to expel the preconceived notions and stereotypes, and instead focus on how addictive substances, from the illicit to the perfectly legal, can trigger physical and mental changes.
The first time someone takes illicit drugs, for example, their brains receive an immense surge of dopamine, which is a chemical messenger that triggers pleasure. Dopamine is also involved in the brain reinforcement-reward system. This means the brain will keep looking for the stimulus that leads to the initial pleasurable response. Dopamine is triggered by both things like exercise and eating as well as, and at extreme levels, by drugs like cocaine, heroin, and the like.
Unfortunately, the brain becomes accustomed to this amplified dopamine secretion, experiencing a reduced feeling of euphoria over the course of extended use. As the tolerance builds, the addict requires a greater amount of the drug to produce the same amount of pleasure. As such, a drug addict is in a perpetual search for that first high, even if they’re not conscious of it.
New Sleep Patterns
Drug addiction disrupts a person’s usual sleep pattern because drugs short-circuit the release of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that contribute to not only sleep quality, but also the ability to fall asleep. Drug abuse, therefore, commonly causes insomnia and shorter sleep cycles.
In juxtaposition, cocaine and amphetamines can reduce REM stages of sleep, so the addicts experience more times of wakefulness. When they try to reduce the drug intake, they can become more easily fatigued and perpetually sleepier than they normally would be.
On the other hand, heroin addiction triggers hypersomnia, but the quality of sleep decreases. Consequently, heroin addicts deal with night terrors and hallucinations.
Changes in Appearance
Drugs cause various hormonal changes, disrupting appetite. With changes in sleep patterns along with more time and money invested into garnering more drugs, addicts might lose weight, eat less, and other daily neglects that can lead to health problems.
A lack of sleep or reduction of sleep quality changes appearance as well. The eyes look blood-shot, and you might notice dark circles under the eyes. Lack of sleep and proper hydration leads to facial puffiness. Depending on how the drugs are administered, sniffling and itching can also be common. Injection marks are one of the more obvious signs of addiction as well.
Mood swings are very common with the affected levels of neurotransmitters that the brain secretes, but they are also caused by a poorer sleep quality. Euphoria and erratic excitability are common soon after a drug dose, while depression can be expected in the periods between doses.
Neglecting Daily Obligations
Neglecting responsibilities occurs because addicts can end up channelling all their resources into satisfying their compulsion. More often than not, the need to reach the euphoric state of being high cannot be contained to something people do in their spare time.
Drug addiction can also affect memory, destroying neurons. That, coupled with sleeping poorly, can turn into worsened performance at school or work.
Identifying the primary causes of addiction is the first step to a rapid intervention. Understanding what addiction looks like is intrinsically linked to what causes it, and therefore, addicts can find the necessary tools to deal with their compulsion, starting with asking for help from a trusted source.