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Article Summary

Causes and Effects of Drug Addiction

The causes and effects of drug addiction encompass both the reasons why one starts using drugs and what happens once they have become addicted. Drug addiction is not a matter of moral weakness or faulty willpower. It is a vicious cycle that actually causes changes in the brain, leading to stronger and stronger impulses to use. Without help, the effects of drug addiction can destroy families and take lives.

The causes of drug addiction are different for each addict. Often it is questioned what makes one person abuse drugs to the point of losing their home, their family, and their job while another does not? There is no one simple answer to this question. The cause of drug addiction has many factors. A powerful force in addiction is the inability to self- soothe or get relief from untreated mental or physical pain. Without the self-resilience people often turn to drugs to deal with stress, loneliness, or depression. Unfortunately, due to the changes drugs make to the brain, it may only take one time using drugs before an individual is on the road to addiction.

Addiction Risk Factors

  • Family history of addiction. While the interplay between genetics and environment is not entirely clear, if you have a family history of addiction, you are at higher risk for abusing drugs.
  • History of mental illness. Drug abuse can worsen mental illness or even create new symptoms.
  • Peer pressure. If people around you are doing drugs, it can be difficult to resist the pressure to try them, especially if you are a teenager.
  • Untreated physical pain. Without medical supervision, pain medications or illegal drugs like heroin can rapidly become addictive.

The effects of drug addiction often cause problems not only for the addict, but for their family, friends, and community as well. What’s more, the strong denial and rationalization of the person using drugs makes it extremely difficult to get help, and can make concerned family members feel like they are the problem.

People who use drugs experience a wide array of physical effects other than those expected. The excitement of a cocaine effect, for instance, is followed by a "crash.” A crash is a period of anxiety, fatigue, depression, and a strong desire to use more cocaine to alleviate the feelings of the crash. Marijuana and alcohol interfere with motor control and are factors in many automobile accidents. Users of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs may experience flashbacks, unwanted recurrences of the drug's effects weeks or months after use.

Addict Health Problems

Those who are addicted to drugs have a greater risk for health problems down the road, from neglecting their own health to risk of infectious disease like hepatitis or HIV from sharing needles. Heavy drug has a direct cause and effect on health including lung disease, arthritis, heart problems, brain damage, and potential death from overdose. Productivity at work often suffers, and eventually trouble keeping a job or even homelessness can occur. The urge to use is so powerful that criminal activity for money or more drugs can be a strong temptation for addicts.


One of the most powerful effects of drug addiction is denial. The urge to use is so strong that the mind finds many ways to rationalize drug use. Someone abusing drugs may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs they are taking, how much it is costing them, and how much time it takes away from their family and work. They may lash out at concerned family members, making the family feel like they are exaggerating and overstating the problem. What makes this so frustrating for family members is the person abusing drugs often sincerely believes they do not have a problem and can make the family member feel like the dysfunctional one.

Family Consequences

Sadly, the effects of drug addiction do not only influence the person abusing drugs. It also affects friends, family, and society as a whole. The user's preoccupation with the substance, plus its effects on mood and performance, can lead to marital problems and poor work performance or dismissal. Drug use can disrupt family life and create destructive patterns of codependency. Codependency occurs when family members inadvertently enable the user out of love or fear of consequences. This may come in the form of covering up for the addict, supplying money, or denying there is a problem.

Addiction and Pregnancy

The effects of drug addiction on pregnant women can be seen by a much higher rate of low birth-weight babies than the average. Many drugs (e.g., crack and heroin) cross the placental barrier, resulting in addicted babies who go through withdrawal soon after birth. Fetal alcohol syndrome can affect children of mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy. Pregnant women who acquire the AIDS virus through intravenous drug use also pass the virus to their infant. Studies show that child abuse and neglect are much more common when there is drug abuse in the family. The abuser may neglect a child’s basic needs in the quest for more drugs, or lack of impulse control can lead to increased physical and emotional abuse.

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