Drug Abuse & Dependence

What is Drug Abuse/Dependence?

Drug dependence, also known as addiction, is a chronic disease. It is progressive, and occurs when the body becomes physically dependant upon a drug.  Drug addiction in any form – from cocaine to methamphetamine to prescription pain relievers and stimulants -changes the brain. Individuals who are dependent upon drugs may not be able to control how much they use and continue to use drugs despite serious consequences. 

Drug abuse occurs when a person is not physically dependent upon a drug, but does exhibit problems with a particular drug. Someone who abuses drugs may use too frequently and experience problems due to drug use.

It is possible to recover from drug dependence and there are many resources available for help.

Symptoms of Drug Abuse/Dependence

Symptoms of drug dependence and abuse may differ, as each drug has different effects. Below are general symptoms associated with drug use:

  • Bloodshot eyes or pupils that are larger or smaller than usual.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Deterioration of physical appearance and personal grooming habits.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.
  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities).
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness.
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.

Treatment of Drug Abuse/Dependence

Drug dependence and abuse are treatable. A healthcare professional will develop a tailored treatment approach – one that takes into account the individual’s drug abuse patterns and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric and social problems.  A treatment strategy may also include participation in support groups, which are often helpful in the recovery process.

How Drug Abuse/Dependence Affects Lawyers

Some studies suggest that lawyers abuse substances at a higher rate than the general population.  While it’s uncertain why drug abuse and dependence is prevalent in the legal profession, it is clear that drug abuse and dependence can have a devastating affect on a lawyer’s career and personal life.

Lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) are here to support lawyers, judges, students and other legal professionals who suffer from drug dependence and abuse. Contact your state or local LAP.

How to Help a Colleague

If you believe a colleague may have a problem with drugs, encourage him or her to seek help. Contact a LAP for additional support and resources.

Updated: 06/21/2011

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