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Article Summary

Cause of Drug Abuse

There has long been a controversy over the cause of drug abuse. Historically, it was thought that drug abuse was caused by lack of willpower, poverty, moral weakness, mental illness, genetics, family socialization, anti-social personalities, and societal problems. The truth is that all drugs affect a "reward mechanism" in the brain. Each time a person uses a drug; they feel good, which makes them want to use the drug again. The desire to feel good helps explain part of why people abuse drugs.

Recent scientific research shows that characteristics of the individual, rather than of the drug, play a dominant role in the cause of drug abuse. The social and psychological maladjustment that characterizes most frequent drug abusers precedes the first drug use. One study that tracked children from an early age to adulthood identified predictors of future serious drug use that could be identified in children's behavior as early as age seven.

Study on Drug Abuse

A study based on a sample of 20,291 individuals drawn from the community at large found that more than half of those who met the medical criteria for diagnosis as drug abusers also suffered from one or more mental disorders at some point during their lifetime. This included 28% with anxiety disorders, 26% with mood disorders (depression), 18% with antisocial personality disorder, and 7% with schizophrenia. Some had multiple disorders. The prevalence of mental disorders varied with the drug being abused, ranging from 50% of marijuana abusers to 76% of those who abused cocaine. Almost half of the drug abusers also suffered from alcohol abuse at some point during their lifetime.

Drug abuse caused changes in the user's brain. The main chemical messenger involved in the brain's reward mechanism is dopamine. Each time the person uses the drug they feel good, which makes them want to use it again. Over time, changes in the brain occur (e.g., less dopamine is produced), which lessens the pleasurable effects of the drug and larger amounts are needed to get the same feeling.

Many people believe in the existence an "addictive personality" which is to blame for drug addiction. While this condition may exist, evidence shows that an "addictive personality" is a result, and not a cause, of drug abuse. An "addictive personality" is often associated with poor self-esteem, trouble relating to people, a low tolerance for frustration, and a desire to escape reality. Many people abuse drugs following accidents, failures, breakups, losses of self respect, giving up on life goals, job problems, and the list goes on. What is common to all these pains and problems is the ABSENCE OF a better solution and an inability to resolve the original problem. Factually, what's missing was a real accessible solution to the problem in the first place.

Factors that cause Drug Abuse

There are several common factors that are associated with the cause of drug abuse. These factors are:

  • Biological Factors:
    • Family history, genetic predisposition
    • Preexisting psychiatric or personality disorder
    • Medical disorder
    • Reinforcing effects of drugs
    • Withdrawal effects and craving
    • Biochemical factors 
  • Psychological Factors:
    • Curiosity
    • Social rebelliousness
    • Early initiation
    • Poor control
    • Sensation seeking (Feeling high)
    • Low self-esteem (Anomie)
    • Poor stress management
    • Childhood loss or trauma
    • Boredom.
    • Psychological distress

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