Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Why do drug addicts do what they do?
"People with substance use disorders engage in their behavior for various reasons, often complex and interconnected. Understanding these reasons is crucial to treating addiction. Here are some common factors:
Pleasure Seeking: Drugs often produce intense feelings of pleasure, euphoria, or relief from pain. The initial high can be so powerful that individuals continue using the substance to experience that feeling again.
Escape or Self-Medication: Many people use drugs as a way to escape from reality or cope with difficult feelings, trauma, stress, or mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Drugs can temporarily dull these feelings, but they do not address the root cause of the distress.
Physical Dependence: Over time, the body can develop a physical dependence on the substance, requiring it to function normally. Without the substance, the individual may experience unpleasant or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological Dependence: Even after physical dependence is managed, psychological cravings can persist. The desire to use drugs can become a powerful mental urge that dominates a person's thoughts and behaviors.
Peer Pressure or Social Influence: The influence of friends or social circles where drug use is common can encourage initial use or ongoing abuse of drugs.
Genetic Factors and Early Exposure: Genetics can play a role in vulnerability to addiction, as can exposure to drugs at a young age or in the prenatal period.
Lack of Coping Mechanisms: Without healthy coping strategies for life's stresses and challenges, some people turn to drugs as a way of dealing with these issues.
Changes in Brain Function: Long-term substance use can lead to changes in the brain that result in increased cravings and decreased ability to resist drug use, despite harmful consequences.
Who is SAMHSA?
SAMHSA, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is an U.S. federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Established in 1992, its primary mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on American communities. SAMHSA focuses on improving the quality and availability of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services related to substance use disorders and mental health conditions.
Some of the key functions and responsibilities of SAMHSA include:
- Funding: SAMHSA provides grants and funding to states, territories, tribes, communities, and organizations to support the delivery of mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
- Technical assistance: The agency offers technical assistance and training to service providers, practitioners, and other stakeholders to enhance their capacity to deliver evidence-based practices and improve the quality of care.
- Data collection and analysis: SAMHSA collects and analyzes data on behavioral health in the United States, including the prevalence and patterns of substance use and mental health conditions. This information helps inform policy, program planning, and decision-making at the federal, state, and local levels.
- Public awareness and education: SAMHSA raises awareness about the importance of behavioral health, promotes evidence-based practices, and works to reduce stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders.
- Guidelines and best practices: The agency develops and disseminates guidelines, best practices, and other resources to improve the effectiveness of prevention, treatment, and recovery services for substance use disorders and mental health conditions.
- Collaboration and partnerships: SAMHSA collaborates with other federal agencies, state and local governments, professional organizations, advocacy groups, and community stakeholders to coordinate efforts and resources to address behavioral health issues.
To support its mission, SAMHSA operates various centers, such as the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, and the Center for Mental Health Services. Additionally, the agency manages the National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP), a confidential, free, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental health and/or substance use disorders.
How does a person become addicted to drugs?
Addiction to drugs is a complex process that involves a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. It is not simply a matter of weak willpower or moral failing, but rather a chronic disease of the brain that can develop over time.
Here's a simplified explanation of how a person may become addicted to drugs:
- Initial Use: The path to addiction often begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs. This could be due to curiosity, peer pressure, seeking pleasure or relief from stress, or even for medical reasons under prescription.
- Pleasure and Reward: Drugs alter the brain's normal functioning, typically leading to intense feelings of pleasure or the elimination of uncomfortable feelings. They do this by overstimulating the brain's reward system - particularly by releasing large amounts of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which plays a significant role in feelings of pleasure and reward.
- Repeated Use and Tolerance: Over time, as a person continues to use the drug, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by producing less of it or reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high, leading the person to take more of the drug in an attempt to recreate the original experience. This is known as developing a tolerance.
- Dependence: As the brain becomes used to the drug, physiological changes occur that make the person's body require the drug to function "normally." When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms may be experienced, driving the person to continue using the drug to avoid these uncomfortable or even painful symptoms.
- Addiction: At this point, seeking and consuming the drug becomes a compulsion. The person may want to stop using the drug, but they find it extremely difficult or impossible to do so on their own, even in the face of negative consequences to their health, relationships, or other aspects of their life. The brain's cognitive functions related to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control are significantly altered, leading to harmful behaviors and the cycle of addiction.