Drug addiction causes share a common denominator in that people seek out substances of abuse for enjoyment. People begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol for a new experience, a rush or high, and for young people substance use is often associated with partying. Nobody starts out intending to become addicted, but can run the risk simply by engaging in experimentation.
Nearly 23 million Americans—almost one in 10—are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
The top three drugs causing addiction are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers and cocaine. Typically individuals who are taking opioid medications are sufferers of chronic pain, and chemical dependency can be a byproduct, but current research supports that many young people are also experimenting with opioids. All drugs of abuse, from caffeine or nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the brain- the feel good chemical.
“At first, addiction is maintained by pleasure, but the intensity of this pleasure gradually diminishes and the addiction is then maintained by the avoidance of pain.”
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether derived from a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal, a monetary reward or with a psychoactive drug. Dopamine reactions occur naturally and are how we understand the reward principal. When substances of abuse are habitually taken, the brain’s natural dopamine responses become altered, adjusting to the new chemical stimulus.
Drug addiction causes dramatic changes in the brain and body over time which perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Without natural dopamine responses, lows of not using become even more dramatic and painful, and high levels of tolerance will make it more and more difficult to arrive at a pleasurable state. What started as an enjoyable act becomes an exercise in maintaining without the pain of withdrawal.
It is possible to stop the cycle of addiction and substance abuse with treatment and support. By stopping the cycle in its tracks, the natural ability to enjoy life without the need of a substance can be restored.
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