How to Explain Drug Abuse and Addiction to Someone Who Doesn’t Get It

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drug abuse and addictionIt isn’t a new story. In fact, it is one that someone with drug abuse issues or addiction has to deal with almost daily. The story is of the individuals who mistakenly believe that addiction is due to a drug abusers lack of morals, willpower, or inability to make good choices. There are people everywhere who believe that someone like you or me can stop using drugs by just simply deciding one day to change our behavior. In reality, and what we already know, is that drug addiction is a complex and profound disease that takes much more than good intentions, a strong willpower, or even knowledge of one’s self to overcome. Why? Because drugs change the brain in ways that create the perfect kind of ecosystem or environment that fuels compulsive and obsessive drug abuse. This makes quitting difficult, almost impossible, even for those of us who dont want to get high or drink anymore. 

Through certain scientific advances, now we know more about how drug addiction affects us and how it can be treated to help people beat it and then once again lead productive lives. So if anyone asks, especially those who don’t get it, give ’em the facts.

So what is drug abuse and addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive and obsessive drug seeking and use, regardless of any and all negative consequences to the addict themselves and the people around them. Although, the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for the majority, for the few with addiction, their ability to practice self control is greatly reduced and even nonexistent. It is nearly impossible for an addict to resist the intense impulses to take drugs. 

So what happens to an addict’s brain?

Well, drugs contain chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication systems and disrupt the way nerves send, receive and process signals or information. There are at least two ways that drug abuse causes this kind of disruption. 1. it imitates the brain’s natural chemical messengers and 2. they overstimulate the reward circuits in the brain. 

Some drugs have a similar structure to chemical messengers called neurotransmitters which are naturally produced by mine and your brain. This similarity allows the drugs to “fool” the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages. Other drugs, such as cocaine or meth, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or they prevent the natural recycling of these brain chemicals which are needed to shut off the signals between neurons. The result is a brain that is nearly drowning in a pleasure chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine controls movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The over stimulation of dopamine, which normally responds to things like eating, now knows to respond only to drugs. The release of this chemical literally teaches people to repeat the rewarding behavior of doing drugs. 

So, as a person continues to engage in drug abuse, the brain adapts. Eventually what happens is the brain starts producing less of the dopamine on its own and begins to rely more heavily on the drugs. As a result the drugs dont produce quite as euphoric of an effect and this decrease in effect compels the addict to more and more drugs in an attempt to raise the dopamine levels again, even in some events, back to normal levels. This is the effect known as tolerance. 

So why do some people become addicted and others dont?

Absolutely nothing can predict whether or not someone will become addicted to drugs. Risks for addiction are influenced by a copious amount of things such as biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors someone has the more likely they are to become addicted. This doesn’t guarantee they will and someone with no risk factors is not necessarily safe from addiction as well. 

So what do we do?

Prevention, prevention, prevention. Drug addiction is preventable. For the most part. Results from NIDA show that prevention programs that include families, schools, and communities and the media are effective in reducing drug abuse. Although, events and culture play into the drug abuse trends, when teens and young kids see drug abuse as harmful, it tends to reduce their drug taking. Education, outreach, and understanding of what addiction is are the key to helping in the future that is for sure. Everyone must be honest and upfront. Scare tactics are useless. Tell the truth. Share your experience. It may help. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from drug abuse and addiction please don’t hesitate to call us! We can help!