Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

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It’s very common for someone not to understand how or why other individuals get addicted to drugs. They could incorrectly believe that those struggling with drug addiction have no moral principles or desire to quit by simply stopping consumption. In actuality, drug addiction is a serious and incredibly complex disease, and quitting drug use often requires more than a wish to stop. Drugs alter the physiology of the brain that makes stopping consumption extremely difficult, even to people who truly want to. However, with today’s research, we have a greater idea about how drugs influence the brain and have discovered treatment methods can aid those recovering from drug addiction to lead a more healthier and productive life.

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex disease that is primarily characterized by the intense compulsion to use a drug, inability to control dosage, and continuous use even after psychological, physical or social damage has occurred. Typically, the first time someone uses a drug, they make a voluntary decision, but continuous drug misuse and/or abuse can result in physiological brain alterations that cripple the addicted individual’s self-control and weakens their ability to resist intense cravings to consume a drug. Drug addiction is considered a relapsing disease due to the persistence of these brain alterations. Those in recovery from substance use disorders are at a greater risk for returning to drug use, despite years of sobriety than the general population.

It’s not uncommon for recovering users to relapse, but relapse does not mean that their treatment isn’t effective or that they can never be cured. Just like other chronic health disorders, treatments need to be continuous and altered based on the response from the patient. Treatment plans need to be evaluated frequently and adjusted pertinent to the patient.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

Practically all behavioral addictions function in the same pathways in the brain; by infiltrating the brain’s “reward circuit” and releasing an overwhelming amount of the chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine. The brain’s reward center is responsible for monitoring the body’s ability to experience pleasure and motivates a person to repeat behaviors that release a lot of dopamine such as eating, sex, and relationships. Drugs release an extreme amount of dopamine in the reward circuit which creates an intensely pleasurable experience known as a “high” which leads people to consume the drug again to create that feeling again.  

As a person continues to take drugs, the brain adjusts to the increased dopamine release by producing less and/or lowering the response from the cells in the reward circuit. This lowers the high at a dose that a person took previously and felt an intense high, creating an effect called tolerance. This forces the person to increase the dose of the drug if they want to experience the intense high again. Constantly over stimulating the reward circuit practically fries your brain with dopamine. As a result, tasks that people used to enjoy such as social interaction, hobbies, and passions, and everyday activities become obsolete because they simply do not produce enough dopamine for the brain to consider them worth completing.

Long-term use also causes alterations in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:

  • learning
  • judgment
  • decision-making
  • stress
  • memory
  • behavior

Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is a key characterization used to determine addiction. If you are wanting to end your addiction to drugs and are not sure where to start, contact a drug abuse center in your area. Here are few rehab centers in various cities: