Drug Addiction has become so widespread throughout the world; fortunately we have come a long way with how we view this disease. Many people today still don’t understand how anyone could possibly become addicted to drugs, addicted to alcohol or addicted to food etc. There is scientific proof that this disease has a powerful impact on the brain, due to this, it’s not just a matter of willpower when it comes to stopping drug addiction.
In the 1930’s when the study of addictive behavior became a primary focus for scientist’s to look into, it was common thought that people who were addicted to drugs, were morally flawed and lacking willpower. Back then, views like that were responsible for treating drug addiction as a moral failure instead of a health problem. This put the emphasis on punishment rather than therapeutic efforts. Thankfully today, how we view and respond to drug addiction has drastically changed.
The more scientists’ learn about the brain, views and responses to drug addiction changes. As a result of scientific research we now know that addiction is a disease, and that it affects both the brain and behavior. The knowledge we have today, has helped to develop a better understanding when it comes to drug prevention and drug treatment for the person and families in need. Prevention and treatment isn’t black and white. There are so many factors to take into consideration. In this ever-changing world, as soon as progress is made in one area, another drug addiction or genetic challenge shows up.
Because we’re not scientists, most people today don’t understand this and still question how a person can become a compulsive addicted drug user. I realize that most people initially make the choice to try drugs, and most of them do this voluntarily. There are many reasons an individual chooses to make that choice. Drug abuse and Drug addiction are two different things though. Drug abuse refers to the use of a substance in a manner that deviates from what is acceptable culturally. Drug addiction describes a disorder where the drug dominates an individual’s behavior. What so many people ask though is why doesn’t the abuser just stop?
Over time because of changes in the brain that take place due to abuse, their ability to make good choices and self-control are extremely affected. At the same time, changes and disturbances in the brain begin to send very intense impulses throughout the body wanting and needing more of the drug.
Chemicals (drugs) tap into the communication system in our brain and changes the way our nerve cells send, receive and process information. There are a couple of ways that this takes place. Over stimulating our ‘reward circuit’ in the brain and copying our brains natural chemical messengers. Almost all drugs target our brains reward system because it floods the brains circuits with dopamine.
Dopamine (neurotransmitter) controls our movement, emotions, motivation and feeling of pleasure. The drug that is being abused over stimulates the dopamine and causes the euphoric effects that the abuser is looking for in the first place. In a short period of time, a pattern is set in the brain for uncontrollable urges to repeat the behavior.
You see, the brain adapts to these overwhelming surges of dopamine that the drugs are producing and so it stops producing as much dopamine on it own. When the drugs effect begins to wear off, and because the natural dopamine our brain had been producing on its own before drug abuse had started is now decreased. Our brain and bodies are crying out for more. Remember that dopamine controls emotions, movement, and pleasure. Unless the drug is repeated, we can’t function.
Glutamate is also a neurotransmitter in the brain that influences decision-making, judgment, memory, learning and behavior control. With long term drug abuse, glutamate is altered in the brain. Imaging studies of the brain have been done with drug-addicted individuals and clear changes in the addicted brain are evident. This explains why they continue to abuse the drug in spite of the consequences.
When an abuser stops taking the drugs willingly or with professional help, the changes in the brain don’t just disappear. Changes in brain function persist long after the individual stops using drugs. That’s why so many relapse over and over again. Scientific research helps to develop programs not only for treating addiction but in preventing drug abuse as well.
There are many people who feel the government spends too much money on drug abuse research. They feel that if a person chooses to try illegal drugs and they form an addiction, that’s their problem. It’s not quite that simple though. Drug abuse and addiction effects people of all ages and the harmful consequences affect families, communities and the entire world. It’s imperative that we understand as much as we can when it comes to brain function and addiction because our future depends on it.
Babies who have been exposed to legal and illegal drugs while in the womb are being born premature and underweight. Drug exposure slows the child’s intellectual development and behavior later in life for many. It’s imperative that we find out how much genetics plays a role in addiction. This alone is a reason for continued research.
Children abusing drugs quite often act out, do poor in school and often drop out before they graduate. Unplanned pregnancies, violence and infectious diseases are also factors relating to drug addiction. They are our future, we can’t stop learning.
When a parent or both parents suffer from drug abuse and addiction home-life is stressful and chaotic for the whole family. There are also cases where neglect and child abuse is present. This is harmful to the well-being and development of children in the home and can even lead to drug abuse in generations to come.
There are many people that abuse drugs but don’t form addictions to them. The causes of drug abuse and drug addiction are much different. Any use of an illegal or illicit substance is considered drug abuse even if it’s used occasionally, as long as the individual can maintain control of their use. In some cases, the individual will even lose control of their substance use; this still doesn’t mean they have a true addiction. Drug addiction is quite different, disturbances in the brain takes place effecting and controlling the brains reward and motivational system. In these cases, compulsive drug abuse is present, they have lost all control.
In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a need for research, drug abuse or treatment. I hope we continue to learn, strive for answers, expand our knowledge and improve Drug Treatment and Drug Recovery Programs for those in need. Life really can be beautiful, but you can’t appreciate it when addiction is present.
Websites used in this article
Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Abuse from Drug Addiction http://addictionscience.net/ASNabuseAddiction.htm