Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can become addicted to any substance at any time. Many people are surprised to learn that someone they know or are close to struggles with substance abuse issues because we always think “that could never happen to me or anyone in my circle!” People always think they’re in control until they’re not. This is the nature of addiction. But how does it happen exactly? And how can we prevent it? We will address these questions and more in this article. 

What is Addiction?

Addiction is an intense craving for something, loss control over using it, and the continued use or involvement of substances in one’s life despite the consequences. It can change the brain by altering the function of the reward centers and corrupting the normal drives such as motivation and learning. While addiction is tough to break, it is totally possible to recover and go on to live a very normal, happy life.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic brain disorder which is characterized by the dysfunction in memory, motivation pathways, reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Many people believe that addiction is only based on the pleasure or euphoric effects, but it also contributes to the dysfunctions of memory and motivation. Both of these contribute to the poor judgment and decision-making capabilities of an addicted person.

Another way to define addiction is the inability to control the use of illicit substances which is needed by an individual to function properly. However, many people are asking what is the difference between a person who is addicted to drugs and the person who is dependent on the drug for health reasons? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the person who is addicted cannot control the amount and frequency of their drug use even though the consequences of this action is clear. 

How Addiction Affects the Brain

So how do drugs affect the brain? The process where chemicals affect the pathways of reward, pleasure, memory and motivation are done in this manner:

  1. Once the person takes illicit substances, this drug will interact with the neurotransmitters or brain cells to release dopamine. However, dopamine is not the only chemical released. In fact, they can also release other chemicals like epinephrine and GABA. When these chemicals are released in the brain, they will then alter the behavior of the person. 
  2. The brain chemistry and activity changes in order to counteract the use of these substances. In the long run, repetitive intake of these substances will make the individual develop drug tolerance which will then lead to further addiction. 
  3. The pathway of these neurotransmitters are altered over time as the brain adapts to the drug use. This will then result in dependence and tolerance.
  4. Long-term use will result in permanent changes in the brain, and even if the individual receives treatment, long-term drug addicts will still struggle with their cravings. 

How Addiction and Drug Abuse Develops

The truth is, not a lot of drug abusers or drug addicts realize that they have crossed the line between recreational use and dependence. While the amount and frequency of drugs consumed does not entirely mean drug addiction, it can be an indicator of a drug-related problem. So how does an addiction develop then? Here are some signs:

If the drug becomes more than just a need – in case you find yourself taking illegal drugs to calm your nerves or gain confidence, then this could be a start of a problem. If you have been abusing your prescription drugs to relieve pain, improve concentration or panic attacks then you are at risk of crossing the line with it. This could be a start of your drug addiction so in order to avoid this situation, you must have alternatives to help you cope without any drug use. Developing a positive and healthy lifestyle can bring balance to your life.

Using drugs as a means to connect with people – social situations are often triggers for drug use, and usually this is where it all begins. You may have friends and acquaintances that use drugs who could have influenced you to try. The strong desire to fit in can compel someone to do drugs or even make them feel like they don’t have any choice but to do so in order to be “one of the guys”.

Pressures from life can lead to drug abuse – we all face stress and problems every day but if you are taking drugs to make yourself feel better, it’s only a temporary bandaid over the problem. Over time, the intake of drugs and drug use will be more important to you than other ways of ridding yourself with these daily problems. 

As time goes on, the drug use will take hold of your life and you will eventually miss a lot of things that you usually do. Your grades will drop and perhaps your performance at work will not be as reliable as it used to be. You may fail to meet your daily responsibilities at school, work or home, and may even neglect your family. You can no longer stop and even if you try, you just fail to do so and yet, you do it all over again. Your casual drug use has now turned into something that you physically and psychologically need. As the drug addiction consumes you, you begin to stop seeing people and you will only have feelings of isolation. 

Contributing Factors That Lead to Addiction

Illicit substances are not the only contributing factors to the risk of forming drug addiction. In fact, there are a number of risk factors that contribute to this case. A person is more likely to develop an addiction if he or she has the following:

  • A family history of drug abuse or a genetic predisposition. It could also be a family history of other mental health issues that are drug related like PTSD, depression or anxiety. 
  • Men are more likely to have problems with drug addiction, while women can develop drug addiction a lot faster than men. 
  • Friends who are addicted to drugs and encourage the drug use. 
  • Family members who are permissive to drug and alcohol use. 
  • Has a history of abuse or neglect. 

People who display one or more these risk factors are most like to use drugs or develop an addiction. Genetics in particular, can contribute to the susceptibility of the brain to changes that could lead to addiction. However, this is not entirely the biggest factor on how an addiction develops. Addiction develops as a result of all of these factors coming together in an individual. 

Signs That You Have Developed Drug Addiction

While addiction can take hold quickly, it can take longer for someone to actually realize and admit that they have a problem. These are the common signs and symptoms of drug addiction. 

  • You have built up drug tolerance – this means that you use more than the usual amount to experience the same effects. If you have been taking more than you should in order to achieve the same euphoric effect, then this is a sign that you have developed drug tolerance. 
  • Using more to relieve drug withdrawal symptoms – going days without drugs can cause you to experience restlessness, insomnia, nausea, sweating, shaking, anxiety and even depression. They only go away once you take some drugs. 
  • Your life revolves around getting more drugs – you spend time and money getting drugs, thinking about them, where to get them and how to acquire it. You are always preoccupied with wanting more. 
  • Losing control over drug use – you do drugs more often than usual. You want to stop using but you feel powerless and fail to do so. 
  • You lost interest in your daily activities – you ignore doing your hobbies, sports and even socializing is not something you want to do because you prefer getting high than spending time with people. 
  • Continues to use drugs even though you know its consequences – you continue to do so even if you are already suffering from mental health issues, financial problems and other issues related to drug use. 

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.