In 2011, 22.5 million people in the U.S. admitted to abusing drugs, and many of those people become addicted eventually. In today’s day and age of rampant drug use, no person, family, neighborhood, or community is safe from the deadly grip of drug addiction.
Many people struggle to understand how or why people succumb to drug addiction. Most people mistakenly presume that those addicted to drugs lack willpower and moral principles, or that they can stop abusing drugs by simply making a conscious choice to change their behavior. The realities of drug addiction are far more complex. Drug addiction is a disease, and a person needs much more than strong will power in order to stop using drugs. Thanks to scientific advances, we now understand how drugs affect the brain, and that treatment can help people put their drug addictions behind them, allowing them to lead healthy and productive lives.
The Cost of Drug Addiction
Drug addiction has severe negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole. In fact, the total cost related to drug abuse and addiction exceeds $600 billion in the United States each and every year. This staggering figure includes:
- $428 billion for alcohol and tobacco
- $193 billion for illegal drugs
These numbers may be overwhelming, but they do not accurately portray the breadth of destruction and the safety implications associated with drug addiction. Every year, jobs are lost, families are torn apart, and abuse takes place at the hands of addiction.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that forces people to compulsively seek out and use drugs, despite the severe consequences that are often experienced by those that are addicted and their families. Although most people voluntarily make the initial decision to use drugs, the changes in the brain that occur over time diminish the self-control of an addicted individual, making it difficult for them to resist the desire to take drugs.
Changes in the Brain’s Ability to Function Properly
Drugs contain harmful chemicals that affect the brain’s communication system and alter the way nerve cells typically process information. Scientists have discovered that there are two ways that this occurs: by over-stimulating the brain’s pleasurable “reward circuit” and by imitating the chemical messengers found naturally in the brain.
As a person’s drug abuse continues, their brain begins to adapt to the extreme dopamine surges it has become used to by producing less or reducing the amount of dopamine receptors. This results in a lessened impact of dopamine on the brain’s reward circuit, which lowers the person’s ability to enjoy the drugs and other things in life they once found pleasurable. This reduced level of dopamine makes an addicted individual feel the need to keep using drugs in order to restore their dopamine levels back to normal. Unfortunately, by now, larger and larger amounts of drugs are needed to achieve the same “high”.
Everyone Reacts Differently to the Drugs
There is no single variable that can determine whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs. However, the more risk factors that are present in a person’s life, the more likely they are to begin abusing drugs. The following risk factors play a prominent role in determining drug abuse and addiction:
- Individual Biology – When combined with certain environmental influences, the genes that a person is born with account for nearly half of their vulnerability to addiction. A person’s ethnicity and gender as well as the presence of any mental disorders may also influence their risk of drug addiction.
- Personal Development – The important developmental stages of a person’s life can affect their vulnerability to addiction as well. Drug abuse can lead to addiction at 21any age, but the earlier a person begins abusing drugs, the more likely it is that their drug abuse will transform into addiction. This is especially challenging for adolescents, because the parts of their brain that control judgment, decision making, and self-control are not yet fully developed. Adolescents are also more prone to experimenting with drugs and engaging in other risky behaviors.
- Social Environment – From friends and family to quality of life and economic status, a person’s environment can also seriously influence their addictive behaviors and be a major factor in causing their drug addiction.
Thankfully, there are treatments available that can help people overcome their drug addictions and the disruptive effects that drugs have on their lives. Studies have shown that specialized behavioral therapy can help the majority of patients counter their addictions. Inpatient treatment programs are specifically tailored to each patient’s pattern of drug abuse, providing them with the specialized care they need to experience a sustained recovery and a drug-free life. If you or a loved one has become addicted to a drug or to alcohol, take steps today to begin treatment and return to living a fulfilled lifestyle.