Ninety-nine percent of us use drugs, which can be prescribed like penicillin and Prozac, over-the-counter medicine or recreational drugs, both legal and not—and all have some level of side effects and risk. So where does drug use go wrong?

Prescription Drug Abuse
A growing concern, prescription drug abuse is more common than you might think, with 20% of Americans estimated having used drugs for non-medical purposes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Modern medicine is rightly celebrated for its contribution to curing and treating countless diseases, from polio to cancer, but even properly prescribed medication is susceptible to abuse and addiction.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic, and part of the reason for this is the ease with which these drugs are able to be obtained. Shockingly, the amount of people prescribed painkillers has risen from 40 million to 180 million in just 16 years from 1991 to 2007. Drugs containing hydrocodone, such as Vicodin, and painkillers, such as oxycontin, and are more likely to cause addiction, and some people who get addicted to these prescription drugs will go to the same lengths to get them as people who are addicted to illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.

Many people feel embarrassed to bring up the topic of drug abuse with a doctor, but keep in mind that this problem is not so uncommon. So for your own sake don’t wait to address a problem with prescription drugs. Your doctor will likely ask you about the duration of your problem, the severity of the symptoms and any history of drug abuse. Depending on the various factors, your doctor make prescribe therapy, drugs (yes, drugs to help you with addictions to drugs) or support programs such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Drug Abuse
For most people, drug use starts with experimental use in social circles or casual settings, and for a minority it won’t escalate beyond that. However, for the majority, using drugs can turn into a habit, one in which you’ll want to use more drugs and more frequently to get the same high, regardless of the harm it may cause you. This is when addiction comes into play, and the sad truth is that most people can’t quit on their own. Drug addiction is defined by dependency, and one of the primary characteristics is withdrawal symptoms.

Regardless of what you may have heard, drug abuse and addiction does not have anything to do with willpower. They change the way your brain works, creating new neurological wiring that causes you to physically crave the drug and in many cases to build a tolerance that demands more drugs to reach the same high.

Symptoms of drug abuse vary widely from drug to drug, but can include excessive sleeping, periods of restlessness, heightened energy levels and sudden weight loss or gain.

Recovery
So how are you supposed to deal with drug addiction? Studies show that you’re most likely to be successful in recovery with support. Furthermore, it can be extremely dangerous to quit strong addictions to certain drugs, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, without medical supervision because the withdrawal symptoms are severe. Sometimes an especially strong addiction can necessitate residential treatment.

In many cases, substance abuse is a symptom of an underlying problem, in which we forget to remember our dreams and what we want to be, and recovery, counseling and support pave the road back to this clarity of vision. Ask yourself what your ideal life would look like, and if you really want the life you described, you are going to get it.

However, you can do certain things to help you with addiction. Keeping a journal logging the amount and frequency of your drug use, for instance, can help give you, and your doctor, a realistic evaluation of your level of drug abuse. Exercise, an activity we can all do on our own, also happens to be the best mood stabilizer and can help with drug cravings and withdrawal in many cases—go for a jog and see for yourself.

That being said, it’s important to reiterate that most people have trouble quitting drugs on their own, and if you are suffering from an addiction, seek counsel from a medical professional. The sooner you do, the better your chances are of recovering in the long term. You don’t have to hit rock bottom before undergoing professional treatment.

The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.

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