Drug addiction is a complex condition that is difficult for most people to effectively overcome without professional assistance and support. It is considered a brain disease in which people are unable to stop the use of drugs despite being fully aware of the negative impact that these substances have on their lives. People with a drug addiction experience actual changes to their brain’s structure and how it functions. Although different types of drugs may alter the brain differently, they generally affect how information is sent, received, and processed by nerve cells in the brain. In some instances, the brain’s reward system is overstimulated, while in other cases, the substance being used mimics natural chemical messages and sends false or abnormal messages instead that can confuse the brain.
When a person abuses a drug, it causes a rush of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. Under normal circumstances, the brain releases dopamine when a person experiences or does something that is pleasurable. When a person uses drugs, the dopamine is rapidly released in great quantities. The feeling that this surge of dopamine creates can make a person want to repeat the experience. Eventually, the feeling that comes from drug abuse causes one’s brain to crave more. With continued use, the brain begins to adapt and the intensity of the experience starts to lessen. As a result, a person with an addiction may begin using more of the substance simply to achieve the same high. Adolescent brains are more strongly impacted by drugs, as their prefrontal cortex is still growing. Youth who use drugs are likely to experience long-lasting changes to this area that may cause problems with their ability to make decisions and control their emotions.
Reasons Why People Take Drugs
People begin taking drugs for a host of different reasons that can vary based on the individual, their age, and their circumstances. Some may begin taking drugs for legitimate purposes such as the treatment of a medical condition. Others may start taking a drug out of curiosity or due to rebellion against parents or society in general. People in difficult situations may take drugs as a way to self-medicate or cope with unwanted feelings or circumstances. Younger individuals or people who feel out of place may start using drugs as a way of fitting in. In many cases, however, the primary incentive to take drugs is for the enjoyment that one gets from its use and the sensation or altered perception that it causes.
- Why Do People Take Drugs?
- Why Do Young People Use Drugs? (PDF)
- Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction
- Why Do People Take Drugs? (PDF)
- Illegal Drugs (PDF)
Biological Factors That Increase the Risk of Addiction
Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted to them. There are factors that make certain people more susceptible to addiction than others. Biological factors account for up to 60 percent of a person’s susceptibility to addiction. These factors may include one’s gender, ethnicity, age, and mental health. People who started taking drugs at an earlier age are at greater risk of addiction. In addition, one’s natural sensitivity to the effects of drugs can make them more prone to become addicted.
- Genetics (PDF)
- Family History and Genetics
- Addictive Behavior
- Why Do Some People Become Addicted While Others Do Not?
- Risk Factors
- Genetics and Addiction (PDF)
Environmental Factors That Increase the Risk of Addiction
One’s environment can also increase their risk of substance addiction. Environmental influences include a person’s home, education level, and socioeconomic standing as well as the presence of family members who are or were addicted to drugs. Other contributing circumstances can include sexual abuse, physical abuse, peer pressure, or a lack of parental care or involvement.
- Why Do Some People Become Addicted and Others Do Not?
- Environmental Risk Factors
- Risk Factors
- Drug Abuse Runs in Families
- Environment May Increase Drug Abuse
Harmful Effects of Drugs
People who use or are addicted to drugs face a wide range of harmful effects that vary depending on the specific substance that one is using. Frequently, drugs cause elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, and respiratory problems. Other potentially dangerous effects of using drugs may include heart failure, kidney disease, depression or worsening of current mental health issues, hepatitis, and HIV. With some drugs, individuals also put themselves at risk of an overdose and potential death.