What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is an often misunderstood disease. Many people think that those who take drugs are morally weak individuals, or are lacking in willpower, and could stop using drugs if they really wanted to. The reality is that drug addiction is a complicated illness and stopping takes much more that willpower or good intentions.
Drugs change the way the brain functions in such a way that it is increasingly difficult for an individual to stop, even if they want to. Research has shown more and more about how the brain is affected by drugs, and has helped to find treatments that can help those effected to recover from their addiction.
For most individuals, the choice to take drugs is voluntary at first, but as use is repeated, changes in the brain make it increasingly more difficult for an addict’s self-control to resist the intense obsession to get high that develops.
These changes that develop are usually long lasting, and for this reason, drug addiction is often referred to as a “relapsing disease”. Those who are affected by it, even in recovery, are at a higher risk for going back to drug use even after long periods of abstinence.
Drugs work on the “reward circuit” of the brain by pumping it with the neurotransmitter dopamine. The reward system is in charge of monitoring the way that the body feels pleasure, which motivates behaviors that are needed for a person to thrive. Things like eating, sex, and sleep. The overstimulation of dopamine on the reward circuit leads to an intense high which is why addicts keep coming back to the drug.
When someone keeps on taking drugs, the brain changes the amount of dopamine that it makes and reduces the ability of the reward circuit to respond to the dopamine. This makes the high that the addict once got less than when they first started taking the drug. In an effort to get the same effect as before, an addict will typically increase their consumption. It also results in them getting less pleasure in daily life and the things that before made them happy, such as food, work, and hobbies.
Some of the effects of long term drug use are:
- Learning difficulty.
- Memory loss.
- Poor decision-making.
- Increased stress.
- Poor judgment skills.
- Erratic behavior.
In spite of these negative effects, most individuals who are taking drugs will continue to do so, even as they see these consequences play out in their lives. This is the nature of drug addiction.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, help is available. The best course of action is to first go to a medical detox facility to get off the substances, and them find some sort of aftercare program, like sober living, to transition back into daily life and learn how to live free of drugs and alcohol.
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