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Article Summary

How Does Someone Become A Drug Addict?

Are you looking for information about how does someone become a drug addict? Then you have come to the right place. There are many reasons why some people develop an addiction to drugs while others do not. However, since you might not understand these reasons, it is highly likely that you will find it troubling.

That said, it is sometimes difficult to explain the development of drug addiction over time. For many people, it might seem like this development is directed by a search for intense pleasure.

However, the pleasure that you might derive from intoxicating and mind-altering substances will eventually start declining over time and with repeated use. Additionally, some of these drugs might not produce the noticeable euphoria that you might be looking for - nicotine in particular.

So, exactly how does someone become a drug addict? Read on to find out more about how recreational drug use might turn into a compulsion and prompt you to make increasingly bad choices:

Myths About Drug Addiction

In general, there are two popular explanations for drug use and addiction - neither of which is true. For starters, people think that compulsive drug use is bad behavior or a habit that addicts can kick.

This is untrue because habits - to the human brain - refer to an ability to repeat specific tasks. For instance, brushing your teeth, going to bed every night, and tying your shoes before you leave the house are habits. Therefore, you can be sure that you will not just get caught up in a compulsive and endless cycle of repeating these tasks, such as a tying your shoes.

On the other hand, some people claim that it is too difficult for most addicts to overcome withdrawal. Drug withdrawal, in this case, refers to the highly unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling that will occur as drugs, and their resultant toxins start leaving your body. In the process, it creates withdrawal symptoms like heart palpitations, anxiety, chills, and sweats. Withdrawing from certain substances like alcohol can also come with a high risk of certain death unless you manage it medically.

In this case, some may cite the usually painful withdrawal symptoms are the reason why addicts are unable to overcome their dependence on certain drugs. However, the truth is that even for the hardest drugs like heroin and alcohol, these withdrawal symptoms will subside in a couple of weeks if you undergo a professional medical detox process. Other drugs produce mild withdrawal syndromes, meaning it is easier to overcome their use.

Even so, withdrawal, habits, and pleasure are all involved in drug addiction. However, you must still find out if they are the necessary components of chemical dependence and if addiction would persist if they were absent.

Desire Versus Pleasure

In the early 1980s, research scientists made an unusual discovery when they found out that drugs, sex, and food all cause the brain to release dopamine in certain parts of the same organ, including the nucleus accumbens.

According to this discovery, many scientists came to understand that these areas were the pleasure centers of the brain. They also understood that dopamine was a natural neurotransmitter that creates pleasure inside the brain.

Since then, however, this theory has been debunked. Although there are pleasure centers in the brain, dopamine is not responsible for modulating and changing them and how they work.

So, how does someone become a drug addict? Well, as it turns out, the brain differentiates wanting and liking something. This means that these sensations are separate psychological experiences.

To this end, liking refers to the spontaneous delight you might experience from some pleasurable activities - such as eating chocolate ice-cream. Wanting, on the other hand, is a grumbling desire - such as when you see a tub of chocolate ice cream.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for making you want something - not like it. In one research study, for instance, rats that couldn't produce dopamine naturally were observed. The researchers discovered that the rats lost their natural urge to eat. However, they still displayed facial reactions of pleasure when they received food inside their mouths.

When you take drugs, therefore, they will trigger the production of surges of dopamine. This means that there will be a rush of wanting that will make you crave more of these substances. Repeated use, on the other hand, will cause this wanting to grow while your liking of the substance will start stagnating or even decreasing. This is due to the buildup of the phenomenon of tolerance.

In another study, researchers looked at the amygdala - a small sub-region of the brain structure that is almond shaped and responsible for the creation of emotion and fear. The researchers discovered that when this area was activated in rats, it increased their likelihood of showing addictive-like habits and behaviors. It, for instance, narrowed their focus, caused them to escalate their intake of cocaine rapidly, and even start nibbling at cocaine ports compulsively.

From this study, it is clear that this amygdala subregion might be responsible for creating an excess want in human beings - as well as influencing us to start making increasingly risky choices like taking drugs.

Involuntary Addicts

From the opioid epidemic, however, it is clear that there are involuntary addicts. This is because opioids like fentanyl, Vicodin, Percocet, and oxycodone are all effective in the management of pain that might otherwise have proved intractable. However, they also cause surges in the release of dopamine in the brain.

This means that involuntary addicts might start taking these intoxicating prescription drugs for the management of pain on the recommendation of licensed doctors - and not for pleasure. Even so, they will experience some pleasure from the drugs, pleasure that is rooted in the pain relief they derive from the prescription medications.

Over time, they might also develop tolerance to the drugs. When this happens, the medications might increasingly become less effective - meaning that they will have to start taking them in larger doses or more frequently than their doctors recommended. This need to continue managing and controlling their pain might eventually expose them to increasing dopamine surges inside their brains.

Therefore, even as the pain continues subsiding, they will find themselves hooked on the drug. With time, they may even start taking more of it as a result of the combination of pain relief and pleasure.

However, taking larger amounts of the medications on a regular basis will eventually create a hyper-reactive wanting system. The system, on the other hand, will trigger intense bouts of powerful cravings whenever they are exposed to some drug use cues or they are in the presence of these medications. Some of these cues might include negative emotions (like stress), drug paraphernalia, and specific places and people. Today, it is understood that these cues are among the most significant challenges that addicts have to deal with.

In the long run, the brain changes that drugs cause tend to be durable and - sometimes - permanent. Some people, however, have a higher likelihood of experiencing these changes.

Research, for instance, suggests that there might be genetic factors that may predispose you to drug taking and addiction. This perhaps explains why people with a family history of substance abuse and addiction tend to have a higher risk of abusing the same drugs.

Additionally, some factors like early life stressors, physical abuse, and childhood adversity might also increase your risk of the same drug taking and addictive habits.

Drug Addiction And Choice

Many people indulge in intoxicating and mind-altering substances like nicotine, marijuana, and alcohol. Some may even choose to overindulge every once in a while. However, this is not quite the same as addiction. In part, it could be because you manage to regain some modicum of balance and eventually find yourself choosing alternative reward systems like engaging in enjoyable hobbies or spending time with loved ones.

However, if you develop a heightened susceptibility to excessive wanting, you might find it difficult to maintain this balance. If researchers can figure out the factors that increase this susceptibility to developing hyperactive wanting systems, they can help doctors to manage the risk of exposing their systems to drugs with addictive potential.

Meanwhile, you should try and reframe how you envision addiction and the answers you might have formed to the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question. The general lack of understanding of the factors that predict the risk of drug addiction might affect anyone.

In many situations, you will find that addicts do not lack the willpower to stop abusing drugs. They can see the suffering, pain, and other negative consequences that the habit causes all around them. However, they are unable to do much because addiction creates intense drug cravings that tend to be stronger than their ability to overcome it on their own.

This is why you should support and show compassion to any addict you know instead of engaging in the exclusion and distrust that has become so common in mainstream society.

Understanding Substance Use And Addiction

For many people, the right answers to the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question are elusive. This means that few know or understand how and why people develop drug addictions.

You might, for instance, mistakenly think that drug users lack willpower or moral principles and that they can choose to stop using drugs. In reality, however, addiction is a complicated condition. Quitting, on the other hand, will require more than a strong will or good intentions.

This is because addictive and intoxicating substances have a quirky way of changing how the brain works. These changes might make it difficult for you to quit - even if you want to and work hard at it.

Luckily, research now known more about drugs and their effects on the brain than ever before. They have also discovered some effective treatments and rehabilitation options that can help you recover from your addition and go on to lead a meaningful and productive lifestyle.

But precisely what does drug addiction entail? Essentially, addiction is defined as a chronic condition that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse that is difficult to control in spite of any harmful consequences that it might cause.

For most people, however, the initial decision to try drugs tend to be a voluntary action. However, repeated the habit could cause some changes in your brain that start challenging your self-control as well as interfering with your natural ability to resist the intense urge you get to take these substances.

In many cases, the brain changes tend to be persistent. It is for this exact reason that substance abuse and addiction are considered to be relapsing conditions. This is because even those who are in recovery and treatment for substance use disorders still have a heightened risk of continuing to use these substances even after they go for several years without them.

Relapse is also common among substance users and addiction. However, it does not necessarily mean that addiction treatment does not work. Instead, you should view your dependence as you would any other chronic health condition. This means that your treatment and rehabilitation needs to be continuous. You should also ask the treatment professionals to adjust your rehabilitation plan depending on your response to the treatments.

The Reward Circuit Of The Brain

To better understand the answers to the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question, it is essential that you try to find out what will happen to your brain when you take drugs.

In many cases, you will discover that most intoxicating substances affect the reward circuit of the brain. In the process, they cause euphoria and flood this circuit with dopamine - a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter.

If your brain's reward system is functioning properly, it will motivate you to repeat some of the behaviors and habits you need for survival - such as spending time with your loved ones, eating, and sleeping.

However, if this circuit experiences a surge in dopamine levels, specific pleasurable behaviors will be reinforced. Examples of these behaviors include unhealthy habits as drug taking. As a direct result, this could effectively lead you to start repeating these behaviors over and over again.

As you continue using drugs, your brain may adapt to the presence of these substances. This means that it could reduce the natural ability of the reward circuitry cells to respond to dopamine. This could reduce the intense pleasure that you feel when you take drugs relative to what you felt when you started using the drug. This effect is commonly known as tolerance in addiction treatment and research circles.

After you develop tolerance to a drug, you might have to take more of it to achieve the initial intense high that you felt when you first took it. This adaptation in your brain will also reduce your ability to derive pleasure from the other things that you used to enjoy - like socializing, having sex, or eating good food.

In the long term, repeated drug use will cause other changes in the circuits and chemical systems of your brain. It will also affect some of your natural functions, including but not limited to:

  • Behavior
  • Decision making
  • Judgment
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Stress

At this point, you might start being aware that continued drug taking is causing these harmful outcomes. Even so, you might keep on repeating these bad habits - a natural consequence of drug addiction.

Risk Factors For Drug Addiction

An excellent way to get answers to the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question is to understand the risk factors for addiction. Although no single factor can be used to predict your susceptibility to addiction, you can be sure that many different factors could increase your risk.

As such, the more of these risk factors you have, the higher the chances that if you take drugs, you will become addicted. These risk factors include, but are not always limited to:

a) Biology

Your genetic makeup accounts for about 50% of your risk for drug addiction. Other biological factors that might increase your risk for substance abuse and addiction include the presence of a mental health disorder, your ethnicity, and your gender.

b) Development

Environmental and genetic factors will also interact with the various stages of your development to affect your risk of addiction. Although starting to use drugs and alcohol at any given age can cause you to become addicted, researchers have now discovered that people who start using drugs at an early age have a higher likelihood of progressing to addiction.

This risk factor mostly affects teens. This is because the areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling judgment, self-control, and decision making in adolescents are still developing. As a direct result, teens are increasingly prone to specific risky behaviors like experimenting with mind-altering and intoxicating substances.

c) Environment

Your environment includes a variety of influences - from your quality of life, friends, family, and economic status. In the same way, there are specific environmental factors that could affect your likelihood of trying drugs and become addicted. These factors include parental guidance, sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, peer pressure, stress, and early exposure to intoxicating substances.

The Persistent Pursuit Of Reward

As we mentioned earlier, addiction is a chronic and complex disease of the brain. If you are addicted, therefore, you might experience compulsive and uncontrollable cravings for your drugs of choice. As a direct result, you will continue seeking and using these substances despite the negative consequences that such drug taking causes.

But what common characteristics of drug addiction can explain this phenomenon? ASAM (or the American Society of Addiction Medicine) reports that addiction is typically characterized by:

  • A warped emotional response
  • An inability to abstain from drugs and their rewarding experiences for long
  • Impaired control over your behavior
  • Intense cravings for drugs
  • Reduced recognition of the significant problems with your interpersonal relationships and behavior that arises from your continued substance abuse

Even though these characteristics tend to be present in many people who are addicted, these are not the only features that should be used to diagnose drug addiction. Such diagnosis, instead, will require a comprehensive assessment of some spiritual, social, psychological, and biological factors. The assessment should also be conducted by a certified and trained professional.

Addiction manifests itself in a variety of behavioral changes. While dealing with an addict, therefore, you can tell that they have a problem as a result of their outward behavior, as characterized by their impaired control. These changes include:

  • Being unable to take any steps to address these problems caused by addiction
  • Continued drug taking in spite of the presence of persistent problems
  • Increasing frequency of substance abuse in spite of their attempts to try and control it
  • Narrowed focus and attention to the rewards linked to ongoing addiction
  • Spending more time, energy, and resources using drugs and recovering from the resultant adverse effects

Research also shows that continued substance use will cause chemical changes inside the brain. These changes will alter the reward system of the brain and prompt the user to continue seeking drugs compulsively - even when they are experiencing more negative consequences as a result.

This addictive state when the habit continues despite the adverse effects and the knowledge that drug use is no longer pleasurable or rewarding has been called the persistent pursuit of reward by addiction experts. This is because of the chemical changes that drug use causes to the brain's reward circuitry.

But how does addiction start? Many people engage in drug taking in the first place while trying to achieve some feeling of euphoria. Others do so in an attempt to relieve emotional symptoms of dysphoria like restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and discomfort.

When you take drugs or drink, you will experience a high that could provide you with the relief or reward that you have been seeking. This high will be as a result of the increased opioid peptide and dopamine activity in the reward circuits of your brain.

However, after this euphoric feeling that you experience, you may also undergo a neurochemical rebound that causes the brain's reward function to drop way below the initially normal level.

As a result, if you repeat the activity, you will not be able to achieve the same level of relief or euphoria. This means that you will never get quite as high as you did when you first tried drugs.

Eventually, you will start experiencing lower lows and lower highs. When you become tolerant to the high, you will need to take more of your preferred drugs of abuse to achieve the initial level of intense euphoria you experienced. However, you will not develop tolerance to any emotional low that you feel. Therefore, instead of returning to normal, you will revert to the grave state of intense dysphoria.

After you become addicted, you will increase the dose and frequency of drug use. This is because you will be trying to achieve the initial euphoric state. However, you will only end up experiencing deeper lows as the reward circuitry of your brain start reacting to the ongoing cycle of withdrawal and intoxication.

ASAM further reports that getting to this point will make your pursuit of the rewards from drugs almost pathological. When this happens:

  • The behavior will no longer be as pleasurable as it used to be
  • The drug taking will no longer provide you with any relief
  • Your reward-seeking will become impulsive and compulsive

At this stage, your addiction will no longer be a matter of choice. Instead, you may find yourself compelled - in spite of your deepest intentions to quit - to repeat the drug taking behaviors that no longer provide you with rewards. This will be in an attempt to escape the overwhelming feelings of being ill even if you won't find any relief.

ASAM also points out that when you get to this stage, your addiction will longer be a matter of choice. Instead, you will find that it is a miserable experience both for yourself and for anyone around you.

Addiction As A Chronic Disease

Eventually, drug addiction might turn into a chronic disease. This means that you might experience relapses in the same way you would with another chronic disease like hypertension, asthma, or diabetes. Relapse will most happen if you fail to follow through with your rehabilitation and treatment.

In many cases, relapse occurs even if you go for a long time without trying drugs. As an addict, you might take some action before you go into remission. However, you will still be at high risk of suffering another relapse.

ASAM also notes that without engaging in recovery activities and seeking treatment, your addiction will prove progressive. It might even result in permanent disability, organ failure, and premature death.

Further, addiction might start causing medical problems. According to the disease theory, for instance, addicts are biologically vulnerable to the condition even before they start using drugs.

Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, relies on this perspective in its strategy - a strategy that continues saving many lives while proving useful to therapists and family members of addicts alike.

In case the disease theory is proved correct, it might provide better hope for addicts in the form of medications that could potentially correct any chemical abnormalities that underlie the risk of addiction.

Addiction As Learned Behavior

You can also answer the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question by finding out whether it is a learned behavior. The idea that addiction arises from some of the reinforcing properties of certain drugs was recently boosted after some research studies showed that lab animals work harder to press levers that allow them to receive addictive drugs.

From this approach, it might be clear how crack cocaine - which people smoke - tends to be more addictive than regular cocaine - which is snorted. The crack cocaine reaches the brain faster. Therefore, from this immediate reinforcement, it is clear why drug taking behavior can be strengthened.

Neuroscience has also backed up this learning theory of drug addiction. This is because intoxicating substances act to activate the reward systems of the brain - based on dopamine. These systems were designed through natural selection to reinforce and strengthen some naturally rewarding behaviors like mating and feeding.

This interpretation of addiction as learned behavior is also based on evolution. Additionally, it provides a clear explanation of the source and origin of addiction. However, it fails to explain why some people develop an addiction while others do not even when both have similar histories with drugs.

Commonly Abused Drugs

You might also be able to better understand the risk of addiction by learning about the most commonly abused drugs. For starters, many people visit doctors for pain relief. This is because doctors can prescribe a wide variety of drugs to ease the pain.

1. Opioids

For instance, opioids - also known as narcotics and opiates - are effective pain relief medications made from opium, a chemical based on the poppy plant. Opium is also used to create codeine and morphine naturally.

Imitations of morphine and other synthetic modifications can produce a variety of other opioids like:

  • Dilaudid (or hydromorphone)
  • Fentanyl (or Duragesic)
  • Heroin (a street drug)
  • Hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin, or Lorcet)
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, or Percodan)
  • Pethidine (or Demerol)

If you only use narcotics for pain control, it is highly unlikely that you will develop an addiction. However, opioids can also produce an intoxicating and pleasurable high when you take them orally or inject them in high doses. This is one of the main reasons behind the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States.

2. Other Commonly Abused Drugs

There are many other drugs that you might start abusing because of their intoxicating and pleasurable effects, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates such as Luminal, Nembutal, Seconal, and Amytal
  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine

Over and above everything else, there are many answers to the "how does someone become a drug addict?" question. Instead of trying to understand these answers, however, it would be better to seek addiction treatment and rehabilitation - especially if you have already become addicted. This is the only sure way to overcome the condition and go on to lead a productive lifestyle.

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