Addiction encompasses everything from smoking cigarettes to methamphetamines, from taking opiates such as oxycodone and heroin to abusing sedatives, including Xanax™ and alcohol. Diagnostically termed a “substance use disorder”, addiction is not a choice or character flaw, but rather a chronic brain disease characterized by compulsive or difficult to control drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. There are no known identifiable factors that predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. However, current research suggests that the risk of substance use disorders is influenced by a combination of biological (genetic), environmental, and developmental factors. The higher the risk burden, the more likely an individual will suffer an addiction following drug misuse and/or abuse.
Over time, drug use changes the brain in a manner that impairs the afflicted person’s ability to make decisions, resulting in weakened self-control when faced with intense urges to use drugs. This explains why substance use disorders are also relapsing diseases. Relapse is defined as the return to substance misuse or abuse after an attempt to stop the addictive behavior. Relapse is indicative of the need for additional or new treatment modalities.
In 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicated that in the past year, 7.2% of all individuals in the United States aged 12 years and older, or roughly 19.7 million people, suffered from a substance abuse disorder. Comparatively, in that same year, 29.5 million people experienced drug use disorders worldwide. Furthermore, in 2017, 46% of Americans said that they had a close friend or family member who had been or was currently addicted to drugs.
A new and promising way to treat substance use disorders is to correct the pre-existing, underlying co-morbidities using novel targeted therapies. New treatments must also reach and educate the public regarding drug use, misuse, and abuse to highlight the circumstances associated with addiction.