Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Why do people abuse addictive substances?
People may abuse addictive substances for a variety of reasons, often involving a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors. Here are some common reasons:
Biological Factors: Certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to addiction. This could involve inherited traits that affect the way substances interact with their brain or influence their susceptibility to mental health disorders, which can increase the risk of substance abuse.
Psychological Factors: Many people turn to addictive substances as a way to cope with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance use may provide temporary relief from these conditions, though in the long term it often exacerbates them.
Social Factors: Peer pressure, especially among young people, can lead to substance abuse. If an individual is in an environment where drug or alcohol use is common, they may feel compelled to partake in order to fit in.
Environmental Factors: Stressful or traumatic environments can increase the risk of substance abuse. This can include living in poverty, experiencing abuse or neglect, or being exposed to violence.
Curiosity and Experimentation: Particularly among adolescents and young adults, the desire to try new experiences can lead to substance use.
Self-Medication: Some people use substances to self-medicate physical pain. For example, the opioid crisis has been fueled in part by individuals who initially used prescription opioids to manage pain and then developed an addiction.
Escapism: People may use substances to escape their reality, numb emotional pain, or simply to feel good. Addictive substances often provide a temporary sense of euphoria or relaxation, which can be enticing.
Co-occurring Disorders: Individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders are at a significantly higher risk of substance use disorders. This is because these individuals might use substances as a form of self-medication.
How do addictive drugs influence behavior?
Addictive drugs influence behavior by interacting with the brain's reward system. This system is responsible for driving pleasurable feelings and motivating behaviors essential to human survival, such as eating and socializing. Addictive substances can hijack this system, leading to changes in behavior and brain function.
Here's a simplified explanation of how this works:
Alteration of Neurotransmitter Activity: Addictive substances often increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. One key neurotransmitter affected by many drugs is dopamine, which is closely associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Overstimulation of the Reward System: By increasing dopamine levels, addictive drugs overstimulate the reward system, often creating a sense of euphoria. This intense pleasure can lead individuals to repeat the drug use to recapture this feeling.
Development of Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the brain adapts to the increased dopamine levels by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the drug's effects are lessened, a phenomenon known as tolerance. This can lead users to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same dopamine high. This cycle can lead to dependence, where the brain relies on the drug to function normally.
Withdrawal and Cravings: When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms can occur as the brain attempts to rebalance itself. These can include negative emotions like anxiety and depression, physical symptoms like nausea or restlessness, and intense cravings for the drug.
Compulsive Drug-seeking Behavior: As the cycle of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and cravings continues, individuals may engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when faced with negative health, social, or legal consequences. This is a key characteristic of addiction.
Impairment in Decision-making and Self-control: Long-term drug use can also cause changes to other areas of the brain that impair decision-making, self-control, judgment, learning, and memory, further fueling the cycle of addiction.
What drugs turn off emotions and make you feel numb?
Several classes of drugs can have the effect of numbing emotions or creating a feeling of emotional detachment. It's important to note that these effects can vary widely between individuals and depend on many factors, including the dosage, the method of use, and the individual's personal physiology and psychology. Here are a few examples:
Depressants: This category of drugs, which includes alcohol, benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Valium), and opioids (like heroin or prescription painkillers), can reduce brain activity and dull emotions. Users often report feeling numb or detached from their emotions.
Dissociatives: Dissociative drugs like ketamine, PCP, and certain kinds of cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM), can induce a state of detachment from reality and one's self, which can include a sense of emotional numbness.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): While primarily used as antidepressants, some individuals report feeling emotionally numb or detached when taking SSRIs. This is generally considered a side effect, and if experienced, should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
Antipsychotics: These medications are primarily used to treat conditions like schizophrenia, but they can also induce a state of emotional numbness or flatness in some individuals.
While these substances can make a person feel emotionally numb, it's important to note that this is often a temporary and potentially harmful solution. Long-term use can lead to a range of negative health effects, including physical dependence, addiction, and a worsening of emotional or mental health symptoms. If you're feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, it's crucial to seek help from a mental health professional rather than turning to substances. They can provide support and discuss healthier ways to cope with these feelings.