Psychoactive drugs (chemical substances that change moods and perceptions) cause individuals to have an altered state of consciousness. Common drugs of abuse are typically categorized under Depressants (Alcohol, Barbiturates, and Opiates), Stimulants (Caffeine, Nicotine, Amphetamines, and Cocaine), and Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP) and Marijuana. Since caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol are also classified as drugs, most individuals have used some type of drug. Most people use drugs in moderation and do not suffer ill effects, but for many, substance use escalates into substance abuse – a pattern of drug use that diminishes a person’s ability to fulfill responsibilities, that results in repeated use of the drug in dangerous situations, or that leads to legal difficulties related to drug use (Oltmanns & Emery.)
The ongoing abuse of drugs, including alcohol, may lead to compulsive use of the substance, or substance dependence (also known as addiction). Although not everyone who abuses a substance develops dependence, dependence usually follows a period of abuse. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with substance dependence, there must be a pattern of compulsive drug taking resulting in tolerance, withdrawal symptom, or other specific symptoms for a certain length of time (Understanding Psychology 5th Edition).
There has been a lot of research on the use of drugs and treatments that can help people who are addicted to drugs stop using, avoid relapse, and successfully recover their lives. Effective treatment programs support the belief that addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior, and that recovery programs include attending to the multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse. Remaining in treatment is critical to positive outcomes, and counseling (individual and/or group) and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment. Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies, especially since many drug-addicted individuals also have other mental or behavioral disorders. Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse.
A continuum of care that includes a customized treatment regimen—addressing all aspects of an individual's life, including medical and mental health services—and follow–up options (e.g., community – or family-based recovery support systems) can be crucial to a person's success in achieving and maintaining a drug–free lifestyle.
Medications can be used to help reestablish normal brain function and to prevent relapse and diminish cravings. Currently, there are medications for opioids, tobacco, and alcohol addiction and other medications are being developed for treating stimulant (cocaine, methamphetamine) and cannabis (marijuana) addiction. Most people with severe addiction problems, however, are polydrug users (users of more than one drug) and will require treatment for all of the substances that they abuse.
Outpatient behavioral treatment encompasses a wide variety of programs for patients who visit a clinic at regular intervals. Most of the programs involve individual or group drug counseling. Some programs also offer other forms of behavioral treatment such as—
Cognitive–behavioral therapy, which seeks to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to abuse drugs.
Multidimensional family therapy, which was developed for adolescents with drug abuse problems—as well as their families—addresses a range of influences on their drug abuse patterns and is designed to improve overall family functioning.
Motivational interviewing, which capitalizes on the readiness of individuals to change their behavior and enter treatment.
Motivational incentives (contingency management), which uses positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence from drugs.
Residential treatment programs can also be very effective, especially for those with more severe problems. For example, therapeutic communities (TCs) are highly structured programs in which patients remain at a residence, typically for 6 to 12 months. TCs differ from other treatment approaches principally in their use of the community—treatment staff and those in recovery—as a key agent of change to influence patient attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors associated with drug use. Patients in TCs may include those with relatively long histories of drug addiction, involvement in serious criminal activities, and seriously impaired social functioning. TCs are now also being designed to accommodate the needs of women who are pregnant or have children. The focus of the TC is on the resocialization of the patient to a drug-free, crime–free lifestyle.