Understanding Addiction

addictionMany do not understand how some become addicted to drugs.[1] Oftentimes, is it mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower, and are able to stop using drugs by simply changing their behavior.1 However, in reality, drug addiction is a complex disease.1 Quitting takes more than just good intentions and strong will.1 Drugs actually change the brain, fostering compulsive drug abuse and making quitting very difficult.1 Today, with all of the scientific advancements made, more is known about how drugs work in the brain and that addiction is a chronic disease.1

As stated above, addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug-seeking use and behavior, despite harmful consequences to the individual and those around him/her.1 The initial decision to use drugs is a voluntary decision; however, as they are used more and more, the brain changes and challenges an addict’s self-control and hinder his/her ability to resist the intense impulses to keep using.1

In fact, addiction is similar to other chronic, relapsing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.1 It is a medical issue that needs treatment to manage.1

Drugs contain chemicals that enter the brain’s communication system and disrupt how nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information.1 Either the drugs imitate the brain’s natural chemical messengers or overstimulate the “reward circuit” of the brain.1

Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar chemical structure to the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain.1 This similarity allows the drugs to trick the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages.1 Other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals that shuts off the signaling between neurons.1 This results in an overabundance of dopamine—a neurotransmitter that controls movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure.1 The overstimulation of this reward system produces euphoric effects that sets into motion a reinforcing pattern that teaches people to repeat the rewarding behavior of drug use.1

Therefore, as a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain adapts to the surges of dopamine by producing less of it naturally.1 The effect of dopamine on the reward circuit lessens and reduces the addict’s ability to enjoy drugs and other events in life that usually bring pleasure.1 This leads the addict to use more of the drug in an attempt to feel euphoric again—this is called forming a tolerance.1

Long-term abuse causes changes in other brain chemical systems, as well.1 It affects the person’s ability to learn as the brain’s optimal concentration of glutamate is altered, leading to impaired cognitive function.1 Brain images of drug-addicted individuals show that areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control are altered.1 This leads the addict to compulsively seek and use drugs despite the devastating consequences.1

Drug addiction is not something that users look to gain—instead they usually self-medicate a deeper problem with drug use.1 Addiction is not just something that can be cured through a simple decision.1 While the decision to get clean is the first step to treating this chronic brain disease, treatment is a process that takes much to complete.1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We are the only facility in Florida owned and operated by an addiction psychiatrist involved in all treatment decisions. Learn more
Hello. Add your message here.