What is Addiction

Addiction is a brain disorder of the nervous system, which results in ongoing drug use. This is done without any care at all for the harm that can come to the user. When someone abuses drugs, it can alter brain function that is associated with cravings; this can make someone not have the restraint to stop taking the drug. Once one has been on drugs, addiction is involuntary and is very difficult to stop. Providers have recognized this as the root cause and a chronic disease centered in the brain with both psychological and social components. A person’s environment and how they live and care for themselves play a role in addiction as well as genetics. Addiction is generally characterized by:

  • One’s inability to stop using the drugs
  • One’s compromised behavior and lack of self-control
  • One’s craving for the drugs
  • One’s inability to recognize behavioral or relationship issues
  • One’s troubled response to any type of stimuli

Addiction affects almost 21 million people, but only about 10% of these people seek treatment for their addiction. More than 90% of people who have an addiction started using drugs or drinking alcohol before the age of 18. In America, the people who are most likely to use drugs range in age from 18 to 25 years old. Due to the immaturity in this age range, it is common for these people to struggle with getting help for their addiction they may be in denial about.

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Factors That Increase Risk of Addiction

  • Home and Family. The home environment, especially during childhood, is a very important factor; parents or older family members who use drugs or misuse alcohol can increase children’s risk of future drug problems.
  • Peer and School. Friends and other peers can have a strong influence during the teen years. Teens who use drugs can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time.
  • Early Use. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely he or she is to develop serious problems, which may be due to the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain.
  • How the drug is taken. Smoking a drug or injecting it into a vein increases its addictive potential. Both smoked and injected drugs enter the brain within seconds, producing a powerful rush of pleasure, but the intense high can fade within a few minutes, creating a desire for more.

Why Do People Take Drugs?

In general, people take drugs for a few reasons, below are some of these reasons:

  • To feel good. Drugs can produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. For example, with stimulants such as cocaine, the high is followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. On the other hand, the euphoria caused by opioids such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
  • To feel better. Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress, and depression start using drugs to try to feel less anxious. Stress can play a major role in starting and continuing drug use as well as relapse in patients recovering from addiction.
  • To do better. Some people feel pressure to improve their focus in school or at work or their abilities in sports. This can play a role in trying or continuing to use drugs, such as prescription stimulants or cocaine.
  • Curiosity and social pressure. Teens are particularly at risk because peer pressure can be very strong. Teens are more likely than adults to act in risky or daring ways to impress their friends and show their independence from parents and social rules.

Drug Use and The Brain

Drugs are chemicals that produce happiness and disrupt a person’s normal brain communication by changing the way brain cells send, receive, and process signals. Different drugs bring about different responses by doing the following:

  • Drugs like heroin and marijuana copy the brain’s neurotransmitters and trick the brain’s receptors into starting nerve cells. Once the drug attaches to the neurons they are put into motion and transit wrong or exaggerated messages to the user’s nervous system.
  • Drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine cause an extremely fast release of dopamine which rewards the user with euphoria.
  • Drugs and chemicals can change the brain’s circuit that manages things like memory, learning, judgment, behavior and making decisions. Chemicals within the body can be affected as well as the internal complex structure of the nervous system.

Drugs interfere with our brain’s communication and cause it to receive mixed-up messages that affect its function. Unfortunately, this feeling of happiness is not real and the brain is essentially “tricked” into making someone believe they are happy.

Consequences of Drug Use and Addiction

People of all ages suffer the harmful consequences of drug use and addiction:

  • Teens who use drugs may act out and may do poorly in school or drop out. Using drugs when the brain is still developing may cause lasting brain changes and put the user at increased risk of dependence.
  • Adults who use drugs can have problems thinking clearly, remembering, and paying attention. They may develop poor social behaviors as a result of their drug use, and their work performance and personal relationships suffer.
  • Parents’ drug use can mean chaotic, stress-filled homes, as well as child abuse and neglect. Such conditions harm the well-being and development of children in the home and may set the stage for drug use in those children.
  • Babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy may be born premature and underweight. This exposure can slow the child’s ability to learn and affect behavior later in life. They may also become dependent on opioids or other drugs used by the mother during pregnancy, a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

The Crossover From Drug Use Into Addiction

A person’s body becomes physically dependent on the drug of choice when they are using them daily or almost every day. Once the drug leaves the individual’s body, the body’s dependence on this drug causes cravings which then leads to withdrawal. Once the withdrawal symptoms start, the person’s brain realizes it needs the drug again causing the person to seek out the drug, creating a pattern for addiction.