The word ‘drug’ encompasses numerous illicit substances as well as prescription medication. Illicit substances which are commonly used include cannabis (Marijuana) as well as synthetic cannabinoids (Kronic, Kalma), Amphetamines (Speed, Ice, Ecstasy), Heroin and Cocaine amongst others. Sleeping tablets and pain killers are examples of prescription medications which may become drugs of abuse.

Drug addiction is considered a disease of the brain which has a relapsing nature and is characterized by compulsive use of substances, despite the harm it causes the user and people around.

What causes drug addiction?

People often use drugs owing to peer pressure, thinking ‘it’s the done thing’ or due to the feeling that it will have a positive effect. Indeed some drugs like amphetamines can cause a ‘high’. Such drugs overstimulate the brain’s reward system causing a sense of euphoria. As a result there is ‘reinforcement’ of this behaviour, as the body seeks to find the same pleasure repeatedly, making people abuse drugs. The problem with abuse is that after some time the pleasurable activity becomes less and less pleasurable but the body still craves the drug to even feel normal.

People are more vulnerable to drug abuse when there is a genetic influence in addition to negative environmental factors. A person’s age, gender and ethnicity may play a part in addiction too. These risk factors mean that certain people are more at risk than others of becoming addicted to a drug.

How do we know that someone is addicted to drugs?

Diagnostic guidelines indicate certain signs which show that a person is in fact addicted. For example, if a person has a maladaptive use of drugs causing significant distress and impairment over 12 months this is a good indication that the person could be addicted or is certainly abusing the substance. The following signs are important:

  • Continued use of the drug, despite knowing it causes harm
  • Taking the substance in larger amounts than intended and for longer periods
  • persistent desire to take the drug and unsuccessful attempts to cut down on use
  • Tolerance to the drug where increased amounts need to be used
  • Withdrawal effects from the drug are experienced.

Does counselling and other interventions help?

Realising you have an issue with drug use is the first step in a journey of change. Having a professional trained in the area to guide you is important in order to understand the depth of the issue and what treatment options could be considered. Part of this will involve gaining understanding about what prompts you to use substances and actions which could help modify this behaviour. The use of medication is considered to help ease withdrawal symptoms when someone is going through detoxification from the drug. Again it is very important to obtain professional assistance as you can’t predict what your reaction to such a situation could be. Finally having overcome the pattern of addiction the next important step would be to maintain your wellbeing and again regular contact with a health professional is invaluable.


The important message is that help is available and can restore you or your loved one to good health and a good state of mind.