Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterised by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and changes in the brain, which can be long lasting. These changes in the brain can lead to the harmful behaviours seen in people who use drugs. Drug addiction is also a relapsing disease. Relapse is the return to drug use after an attempt to stop.
The path to drug addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs. But over time, a person's ability to choose not to do so becomes compromised. Seeking and taking the drug becomes compulsive. This is mostly due to the effects of long-term drug exposure on brain function. Addiction affects parts of the brain involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and control over behaviour.
Addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behaviour. Some of the drugs and substances which commonly are treated for are;
Heavy cannabis consumption can lead to addiction. Amongst the side-effects are changes in sleeping patterns, lethargy, irritable behaviour, paranoia and distortions in the brain’s emotional centre. In addition, studies have linked cannabis to increase the susceptibility to psychotic behaviour and depression.
Cocaine is a powerful and addictive stimulant that is obtained by from coca leaves from the Andean mountains of South America. Although it has medical uses as an anaesthetic, cocaine is mostly used illegally for the extreme form of euphoria that it induces.
Cocaine abuse can severely damage the blood vessels, kidneys and increases the risk of a heart attack or brain seizure. It can cause severe stomach pains and a loss of appetite. Psychologically, it can lead to anxiety, paranoia, irritability and insomnia.
Heroin is a drug synthesised from morphine and is one of the most addictive illicit substances available.
While in some countries heroin is prescribed as an analgesic, it is generally sold illegally and often mixed with, or “cut”, with sugar, powdered milk or even poisons such as strychnine. Because heroin users do not know the actual strength of the drug, or its true contents, they constantly run the risk of an overdose. Heroin can also diminish the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition known as Hypoxia. An overdose can lead to heavy breathing, muscle spasms, convulsions and even death.
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