Last Updated on September 14, 2015 by Morris Green
Addicts choose to use drugs, therefore their addiction is the consequence of free will. Would you agree? Thousands of you would, but addiction encompasses much more than free will. In fact, some addicts don’t even choose to use a drug because the one they grow addicted to is deemed necessary by their doctor. Understanding drug abuse and addiction involves learning how drugs change the brain to nurture obsessive drug abuse.
Drug abuse is not a mere social problem of the morally weak. No matter how willing (or unwilling) a drug user is to change their behavior, most cannot simply stop.
The Complexity of Drug Addiction
According to WebMD, drug addiction is a disease. It impacts the brain, making the act of quitting more than a simple matter of willpower. Thanks to science, today we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever before. More importantly we know successful treatment is possible to help people stop abusing drugs, kick their addiction, and lead productive lives.
Addiction could be defined as a chronic brain disease. Like any disease, some people are more at risk of developing it than others. While it is true that most people choose to try a drug and this action leads to addiction, not everyone who chooses to do drugs develops a dependence. And some take months to develop an addiction. Why?
- Limited Use: If someone tries a drug once or twice, it is unlikely they will develop a dependency. Addition happens over time, but it doesn’t have to be a large amount of time. Habitually using a drug for as little as two to four weeks can begin to alter how the brain functions and result in abuse and addiction.
- How it’s Used: The manner and frequency of use can dramatically impact whether abuse or addiction occurs. For example, prescription painkillers become addictive when pain spirals out of control and the user experiences instant relief. The “high” can cause them to want more, and before they know it, proper use turns to abuse and then addiction.
- The Drug’s Potency: The strength of a drug impacts how rapidly a user grows addicted. For example, today’s marijuana is up to seven times more potent than the marijuana of ten to twenty years ago. As a result, users grow addicted faster.
- The Drug’s Makeup: Illegal and illicit drugs are not the only drugs addicts use. Prescription painkillers can be just as dangerous; it all depends on the drug’s makeup. A prescription painkiller dependency can be just as serious as addiction to marijuana or cocaine.
What Happens to Your Brain When Taking Drugs?
Drugs are chemicals. They are made to tap into the brain’s communication system. Their goal is to disrupt the way nerve cells send, receive, and process information. Some drugs confuse the senses to make pain manageable. Others change the way the brain perceives things like stress, anxiety, and depression. Drugs succeed in changing how the brain communicates in at least two ways:
- By copying the brain’s usual chemical messengers
- By overstimulating what scientists call the “reward circuit” of the brain
Overstimulation is a major factor in the development of drug abuse and addiction. Nearly all drugs, from natural to illicit to prescription, directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine.
Dopamine is a critical factor in addiction. This neurotransmitter is present in several regions of the brain, including those that control emotion, motivation, movement, and sensations of pleasure. Overstimulation changes the way the brain reacts, and as addiction builds, the brain demands more and more dopamine to trip the reward circuit. The reaction sets in motion a dangerous pattern that teaches the user to repeat the behavior of abusing drugs.
As abuse continues, the brain actively adapts (or builds a tolerance) to the dopamine surges by reducing dopamine receptors or decreasing natural dopamine production. In order for the user to feel “normal,” they must use more of the drug more often – this is addiction.
Long-term addiction negatively affects the brain. It can lead to chronic depression, blackouts, memory lapses and loss, and chronic diseases like Dementia. Damage to the brain can become irreversible.
The Science behind Who Gets Addicted
No one factor predicts who will become addicted to drugs. An individual’s risk varies based on their age, biology, and social development. The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to develop an addiction to drugs.
The most crucial fact to remember is that drug addiction is a preventable disease. It can be avoided. It can be treated. It is not a curse or an unbeatable sickness. While it can sneak up on anyone and lead to the need for proper medical treatment, research has shown that prevention and educational programs are vital to reducing drug abuse and addiction.
Successful prevention programs involve communities, families, school, and the media. How our youth and those within our community perceive drugs dramatically affects how drugs are handled. When seen as harmful and dangerous, people are far less likely to experiment with illicit drugs or misuse prescription medications.
Prevention Starts Today
America has turned a blind eye to addiction across the nation. Drug abuse and addiction are a growing problem. We see it every day as neighbors within our local community come to us for drug education and substance abuse assistance.
Did you know some 700,000 people over the age of 12 in North Carolina are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or both? Only one in five seek help. Some know they need help, but they are too afraid of judgment to seek it. And some feel as if addiction is incurable.
It is within our power – and yours – to change the way our community and those in it view drugs, drug abuse, and addiction. We can tear down the stigmas and stereotypes, and we can actively help those in our area receive the medical help they need to overcome addiction and lead a normal, productive life again.