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Drug addiction is classified as a mental illness, as addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways by disturbing a person’s typical hierarchy of needs and desires. Addiction can create new habits in the brain, which consist of procuring and using drugs. This change overrides a person’s ability to control impulses despite consequences, like other mental illnesses. In 2017 about 38% of adults battled an illicit drug use disorder. The Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) includes criteria for drug use disorders and distinguishes between two types. Drug abuse is when a person uses a prescribed medication in any way other than directed by a doctor or using any illicit substance. Drug dependence is a physical condition where the body adapts to substance use and occurs mainly with opioids and benzodiazepines. 

Signs and Symptoms

While not every instance of drug use will lead to dependency, it significantly increases the likelihood of a person taking the drug more regularly. Continually taking drugs to perform a function, such as to sleep, increases the risk of becoming dependent. Using prescription drugs more frequently or in higher quantities also increases the risk of dependency. There are different signs of drug abuse than there are for reliance. Signs of drug abuse include using drugs more frequently, prioritizing drugs over activities previously enjoyed, taking substances until passing out, being surrounded by others with people who use the drugs, and looking forward to the times a person will be using. Signs of drug dependency include changes in behavior, needing higher levels of the drug for the same effect, weight fluctuations, withdrawal from social events, anxiety when running out of pills, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Drug abuse may lead to drug dependency and can be a slippery slope. 

Chemical Response

Many who abuse drugs fall into a false sense of security where they believe they are mentally strong enough to stay out of trouble. A substance use disorder is a chemical response in the brain because of the neurotransmitters, meaning even the strongest will cannot stop how the imbalances cause a person to feel. Denial is also a common theme of drug addiction. People who are abusing drugs tend to lie to themselves about whether they can stop.

Professional Help

Having a loved one suffering from drug addiction can be painful, but there are ways to help them receive the help they need. Offering service can be complex as the person’s self-control is affected due to what is occurring in their brains. Showing support can aid those fighting to stay motivated to obtain help and get off drugs. Encouraging them to find professional help for addiction and offering care is essential. This can help a person find the proper help they need. While people cannot force those fighting addiction to find support and cannot control them, voicing concerns and offering to go to a treatment assessment with them can be encouragement to move forward with obtaining help. 

Note Taking

When talking to a loved one fighting drug abuse, there are some critical notes to remember. It is essential to express concerns and state facts, not opinions. It is also vital to stay patient and offer help, which may include information on treatment, how it works, and how it can help. Finally, offering to go with them to the doctor or appointment may help them feel less alone and more secure in the decision. When discussing this, it is important not to judge, criticize, yell, act angrily, or enable the person. These can drive away the one fighting, and they may never work towards help. 


Drug addiction is a serious condition that many people suffer from. Many people who suffer deny they have a problem. Others want help but struggle to control themselves and their addiction. It has been shown that this is a chemical issue inside the brain and a mental health disorder. There is help out there for those fighting and those who love someone fighting. Finding the motivation to stop is the first step. Helping a loved one find that motivation can be a big help in leading them to a better and healthier life.