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Article Summary

What Causes Drug Addiction?

The problem of drug addiction has caused great concern for many years. As a result, few understand the real causes of such addiction - although the effects are quite clear to most.

Whereas some assume that those who abuse drugs lack the willpower and morality to fight their urges, others think that drug use can easily be stopped by making the right choice.

In reality, however, addiction is quite complex. Quitting, on the other hand, requires more than a strong will or good intentions. In fact, drugs have a different tendency to alter how the brain works in ways that make it hard for most addicts to quit.

Fortunately, years of research now show the true impact that drugs have on the brain. Scientific study has also helped us understand how a variety of treatments can be applied to addicts to clean them of the problem. In fact, some have even quit the habit altogether and gone on to lead meaningful, productive lifestyles.

Drug Addiction

At its most basic, drug addiction refers to the repeated, compulsive use of a variety of substances. Such use if often accompanied by withdrawal symptoms especially if the addict decides to kick the habit.

Although the specific causes of addiction are still unknown, scientific study points to several environmental, psychological, and genetic factors as contributing forces. In some cases of addiction, in fact, we cannot point to a single cause. Rather, multiple factors come into play for most drug addicts.

For other addicts, ignorance could also be counted among the likely causes. For instance, while trying to manage pain with prescription pills - such as oxycodone - the patient might become addicted. In such a situation, ignorance about the addictive effects of the drug might be viewed as the primary cause.

Drug Addiction As a chronic and often relapsing condition, addiction causes the victim to seek out and use drugs compulsively - in spite of or even because of the harmful consequences of such an action.

Researchers are now coming to count addiction among other conditions related to the brain - mostly because abusing drugs often leads to veritable alterations in the function and structure of the brain.

For some addicts, the first decision to experiment with drugs tends to be voluntary. Over time, however, changes in the brain emanating from repeated use and eventual abuse impairs the addict's self-control. Unable to make logical decisions and with an intense desire to feel the effects of the drugs of choice, they eventually sink even deeper into the mire of addiction.

Due to these changes and alterations in the brain, it can be challenging to quit drugs. Luckily, there are now treatments available to help counteract the powerful disruptive effects of addiction while ensuring that the recovering addict regains ultimate control over their lives - both personal and professional.

In effect, scientific research and studies have shown that a combination of treatments and medications - with some behavioral therapy - is one of the best ways to help patients succeed in their bid to quit drug use and abuse.

In some rehabilitation facilities, doctors tailor the approaches to treatment so that they meet the addict's patterns of use. At the same time, the treatments often deal with the social, psychiatric, and medical problems that the victim might be facing. Eventually, the process culminates in the addict's recovery.

Therefore, drug addiction is similar to chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes in the sense that it is a condition that can effectively be managed. However, some patients still manage to relapse back to abuse.

Still, this shouldn't be taken as a sign of failure. Rather, it is indicative of the need to reinstate and/or adjust treatment or a call to turn to alternative options until the addict regains full control over their lives and gets back on the road to recovery.

More specifically, addiction is now understood for its effects on the brain's reward structure. Caused by neurochemical reactions, it starts when certain behaviors, habits, and substances are introduced into the body.

With repeated use, these substances impair the user's judgment, emotional well-being, and physiological independence. Only through ongoing support and therapeutic intervention can an addict hope to reclaim their lives and free themselves from the bonding effects of drugs.

Characteristics Of Addiction

According to most authorities on the subject, addiction starts and develops when one becomes emotionally, psychologically, and physically dependent on a substance foreign to their body.

As such, drug addiction can be defined by the unique characteristics its causes in dependants. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Behavioral impairment
  • Chronic inability to keep away from certain substances and modes of behavior
  • Deep cravings for particular substances and behaviors
  • Dysfunctional and/or inappropriate emotional responses when access to the drug or behavior is eliminated from the equation Loss of control
  • Repeated use of substance and engagement in its accompanying behavior in spite of their evidence consequences, such as career loss, damaged relationships, and financial ruin

That said, drug addiction tends to affect most aspects of the affected individual's life - including but not limited to their professional endeavors, finances, and relationships. Similarly, most people struggling with substance use and abuse often experience poor physical health and memory impairment - with some suffering from disability and chronic disease.

The Effects Of Drugs On The Brain

Drug Effects on BrainAt their most basic, drugs can be defined as chemicals that have the ability to tap right into the communication system in the brain and change the standard way that the nerve cells process, receive and send information.

There are different ways through which drugs manage to do this. First, they imitate the natural chemical messengers in the brains. Second, they over stimulate the reward circuit in the brain.

Some drugs, like heroin and marijuana, are similar in structure to the brain's chemical messengers. Neurotransmitters, as these chemical messengers are referred to, are produced naturally by the brain. Due to this similarity, these types of drugs fool the receptors in the brain causing the nerve cells to start sending out abnormal messages.

Methamphetamine and cocaine, another class of drugs, force the brain's nerve cells to release an abnormally large amount of these natural neurotransmitters. At times, they might even prevent the brain from its normal recycling of these chemicals. Since such recycling is required to shut off signals between different neurons, the disruption usually produces substantially amplified messages that eventually disrupt the brain's usual communication pattern.

Almost every drug that is known to lead to addiction will target the reward system in the brain either directly or indirectly. They do this by flooding dopamine into the circuit. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is present in those segments of the brain that ultimately control motivation, emotion, movement, and feelings of pleasure.

When this system is over stimulated, the addict is unable to respond to the natural behaviors and habits that are linked to human survival - including engaging in social activities, eating, and so on. Therefore, overstimulation only produces the euphoric effects that are common among drug users.

The reaction then creates patterns that teach the user to repeat their behavior over and over again. With this repeated use, the brain slowly but surely adapts to the surges in dopamine. It does so either by reducing the dopamine receptors or by producing less dopamine.

As a direct result, users continue abusing drugs and other substances to normalize their dopamine function. Others end up using even more drugs in a hopeless bid to achieve the well-known dopamine high.

Extended drug abuse eventually causes even more changes in the circuits and chemical systems within the brain. This is to such an extent that many brain imaging studies conducted on drug addicts have shown clear changes in the segments of the brain that are linked to behavioral control, memory, learning, decision-making, and judgment. Combined, all these changes force the affected individual to seek out and compulsively take drugs. In effect, they become addicted to drug and substance abuse.

However, even as the brain changes are powerful enough to influence behavior while the impulse to procure and abuse drugs is strong, addicts do not lose all control over their ability to make intelligent decisions and exercise proper judgment. In fact, the desire to quit drug use and pursue full treatment and recovery is hinged on their wish to lead sober lives.

However, since drug addiction is similar in nature to many other chronic disorders with a relapsing nature, recovery only works successfully when the addict takes it upon themselves to keep away from drugs over the course of the rest of their lives.

Long term drug and substance abuse have also been shown to cause many other changes in the brain. It eventually affects natural brain functions such as:

  • Behavior
  • Decision-Making
  • Judgment
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Stress

Even while they are aware of these outcomes, most people who have already started using drugs continue with the abuse - which is the defining, if not defeating, nature of drug addiction.

Physical Nature Of Addiction

As mentioned above, addictive drugs and behaviors alter the areas of the human brain that are associated with motivation, memory, and reward. By repeatedly using these substances, therefore, you only increase your risk of growing into an addict.

The areas of the brain that drug addiction affects include:

  • Nucleus Accumbens
  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex
  • Basal Forebrain
  • Amygdala

Addiction also affects the physical aspects of the brain. It does this by interfering with how brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) interact - in particular between the reward and the memory areas of the brain.

Since drug addiction has a high physiological nature, overcoming it requires ongoing effort and time. In fact, patients who try to quit drug use cold turkey often face a milieu of withdrawal symptoms that cause them to revert to drugs. These symptoms include but are not limited to headaches, vomiting, and nausea.

As a result, most addiction therapy and detoxification programs are structured in such a way that they can easily control these symptoms and bring them under control. By so doing, they increase the addict's chances of eventual recovery.

The Development Of Drug Addiction

Drug AddictionAlthough most people voluntarily decide to take their first hit of drugs, the common fact is that they are all swept up into a vicious cycle towards addiction. During this time, the neural pathways of the brain change, making it harder and harder for addicts to resist the intense impulse to take more drugs. They are also less able to take control over their behavior and decisions fully.

Here's how it works: the brain is naturally wired to reward pleasurable experiences. These experiences include laughter, intimacy, and food. The reward is a feel-good chemical called dopamine.

When you use drugs, you trigger your brain to release even more dopamine that you'd get from cuddling or chocolate. In a rush of euphoria, you feel so good that time compels you to try replicating the first experience.

With time, you continue using drug in pursuit of this perpetual high. By so doing, you condition the brain to start anticipating the next time it will generate the pleasant sensations fueled by substance use.

This is one of the main reasons why drug addicts have such a hard time quitting. After all, their brains have already become too wired to addiction for them to give up the habit easily.

In fact, one's tolerance might eventually build to such a level that the addictive behavior no longer provides the same pleasure anymore. At this juncture, an addict continues using drugs to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that are the inevitable result. To simply feel normal, addicts start spending more time, resources, and thoughts on their habits.

The Most Addictive Substances

At present, alcohol is the most commonly abused addictive substance. This is to such an extent that the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that 17.6 million adults are either abusing or dependent on alcohol.

With regards to drugs, the most commonly abused is marijuana. In 2012, the extent of marijuana use got to the point that more than 18.9 aged above 11 years were current users according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Other commonly used addictive substances and drugs include:

  • Barbiturates, such as Phenobarbital
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Prescription amphetamines, including Adderall
  • Prescription benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Klonopin
  • Prescription opioid pain relievers, including hydrocodone
  • Spice

Common Reasons Given For Drug Use

Addiction For most people, addiction is something one reads about in the papers after a celebrity dies after a drug overdose. As such, most people have never and might never experience the raw effects of addiction. Among such people, the logic behind repeated drug use and abuse does not make sense.

However, as drug use becomes more common in the country, it is increasingly easy to understand why more time and resources are devoted to understanding addiction, its causes, and effects.

In the following list, you will find some of the reasons why people end up struggling with addiction after what might have seemed like a good decision to have some fun. Read this list if you or someone you know is having trouble trying to kick the habit:

1. Mental Illness

Some people, particularly those suffering from such mental illnesses as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, turn to alcohol and drugs to end or ease their suffering. This eventually leads to their addiction. In this group, mental illness becomes too heavy a burden to bear. As a direct result, they try everything in their power to relieve the pain they feel.

By taking alcohol and drugs, the mentally ill patient is temporarily able to feel normal once again - or at least how they used to feel when they were okay in the past. Since poor mental health is a scary area that still comes with stigmatization, most of the people experiencing it feel they can't turn to members of their family, friends, or doctors for help. Instead, they opt to take drugs to solve the problem.

2. Copying Behavior

Others start using drugs and delve deeper into the reaches of addiction because they saw entertainers, role models, friends, or family members using drugs before rationalizing that it was okay for them to copy the behavior.

As young adults and teens, it is easy to think that alcohol and drug use is controllable. This is especially so when the impressionable see others doing something they didn't think was possible.

Among these people, it becomes easy to rationalize the behavior and think that it is completely well-made. In fact, the music and entertainment industries are laden with drug references - which further add to the impression that occasional drug use is quite normal.

Further, people with a family history of alcohol or substance abuse have a higher likelihood of developing addiction compared to those who have no similar family background.

3. Boredom

Others simply start abusing drugs in the hope that they will find respite from their monotonous schedules. Among young adults and teens, especially, boredom is one of the leading causes of drug use, abuse, and addiction.

Most of the people within the young age bracket usually don't have stable jobs, careers, or bills to deal with. Further, they are devoid of the basic stresses that come with adulthood.

As such, it is quite easy for them to become bored with their daily lives - something that compels them to try out something that they feel is as new as it is exciting. With time, they opt to use drugs to escape from the mundane and dive right into a life where reality is altered.

4. Stress

Others claim that they started using drugs as a stress relief mechanism. In the modern world, new sources of strain and strain seem to crop up at every turn. Although technological advancements have made life a bit easier than it used to be several years ago, the burdens of daily living are considerably higher.

Simply holding down to a job, maintaining a proper household, and having and taking care of a family are all sources of great stress for many. Due to these stresses, some people turn to drugs if only to relax and clear the storm from the mind.

Although drugs have been shown to be effective when it comes to dealing with stress, the accompanying side effects are never worth the temporary feeling of goodness and peace.

5. Prescriptions

Another common cause of drug abuse and eventual addiction stems from the fact that people believe, and legitimately so, that drugs that have been prescribed are quite effective irrespective of the use they are put to.

The thinking in this case usually applies to those who assume that simply because a doctor prescribed the drug to someone with the same problem, it ultimately follows that the drug will also work for their case.

However, this rationalization is quite dangerous. In fact, it is because of such thinking that people end up mixing drugs and warping their bodies. Others overdose or suffer from dependence and unintended side effects.

6. Physical Injury

In many causes, people who sustain injuries sometimes get prescription drugs which lead to their addiction. In this group, you will find the elderly, anyone with pre-existing conditions and injuries, as well as those who work as physical laborers.

Some people get injured while others are simply born with sources of chronic pain. To solve these problems, doctors prescribe drugs correctly. However, the patient soon develops a dependency on the drugs.

This situation mostly applies to pain medications that also make the patient feel a bit better. With time, the patient rationalizes that they can keep using the drugs - eventually realizing that they have become dependent on the drug.

7. Painful Memories

Even more people turn to drugs as a source of refuge away from the painful memories that the past holds for them. Among these, you will find those who experienced traumatic events over their lifetimes - particularly when they were in their childhood. These people turn to drug use if only to recover from the horrible memories they have of days and years long gone past.

Children, in particular, are susceptible to trauma - both emotional and physical. After they've been traumatized, their feelings can continue haunting them well into their adulthood.

An ideal solution for anyone with an addiction problem would be to work with a psychologist to repair the pain and brokenness from the past. Turning to drugs, on the other, will never resolve the issues.

8. Fitting In

On the other hand, you will find people who start taking drugs to fit in with their chosen clique. While hanging out and relaxing with friends, almost everyone tries to blend in and seem to be a part of a larger whole.

If the other people within the group are doing drugs or drinking alcohol, it is highly likely that you are going to fall into the trap. In fact, peer pressure is one of the most tremendous of forces where addiction is concerned. This is because it compels you to try out things that you'd never even consider taking on your own.

9. Ultimate High

Some people find themselves in the throes of addiction on account of trying to chase the high that drugs first provided when they were novices. Anyone who has ever tried drugs can tell you for free that the feeling they got was one of the best in their entire lives.

In fact, the high from the drugs is so intense that you cannot even begin to compare it to everyday mundane joys. This is because drugs overload the brain with pleasure sensors.

After you've already felt this extreme pleasure, it is not too unlikely that you will become hooked on your drug of choice - if only to try and arrest the initial high you once felt. However, the cycle turns out to be vicious even after you've discovered just how hard it is to break your new habit.

Common Causes Of Addiction

Now that you've seen the main motivations behind repeated drug and substance abuse and eventual addiction, it is time to find out the most common causes of such addiction. According to the ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America), around 20% of all addicts and drug users have a mood or an anxiety disorder. These disorders include but are not limited to depression.

On the other hand, most Americans start their path towards addiction with a light prescription. This is because commonly-prescribed drugs - such as Oxycontin - often come with addictive properties. There's also a high likelihood that most of these drugs tend to get overprescribed.

The case is so serious that The Los Angeles Times showed how over 92,200 people were reported to have been treated for overdosing on simple prescription opioid pain relievers. This was back in 2010. In 2012, the CDCP (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) noted that doctors and physicians wrote around 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers.

When you receive prescriptions that you are in need of - such as getting benzodiazepine to deal with your anxiety - you might assume that it's business as usual.

However, you might also be in ignorance on account of the fact that most of these drugs tend to be quite addictive. As a result, doctors should only be allowed to prescribe them for shorter time periods.

Whatever the cause, however, most habits are mistaken to be signs of addiction. Still, there are key differences to this rule. Whereas they are second in nature, habits tend to be controlled by the actor. They are also performed out of choice.

Although it would certainly take a great deal of time and effort, you can break just about any habit. However, such a divorce wouldn't be associated with the same neurological and psychological changes that addiction causes.

That said, drug addiction can be pointed towards a variety of lifestyle factors. These include:

  • Exposure to drugs at an early age
  • Having parent (or a parent) with a history of drug use and addiction
  • High levels of stress
  • Mental health conditions, including mood disorders like depression and chronic anxiety
  • Psychological trauma, such as chronic loneliness or the loss of someone close to you
  • Severe injury
  • Severe trauma

Still, no one can predict the likelihood of addiction either in themselves or anyone else. The risk for addiction is usually the subject of the individual's biological composition, their social environment, as well as age and stage in development.

The greater the number of risk factors, the higher the chances that if they take drugs, they will get addicted.

Consider the following:

  1. Psychological Causes of Addiction

    Cycle of Psychological Addiction Whereas there are biological causes of addiction, many people believe that psychological factors play a greater role. These factors appear to come from trauma when the addict is quite young.

    Chaos at home, neglect, and physical or sexual abuse have all been linked to psychological stress. When people try to self-medicate to deal with this level of stress, they usually only end up getting themselves hook to their drug of choice.

    The other psychological causes of addiction include:

    • Mental illnesses, such as depression
    • Lack of friends
    • Inability to properly connect with others
    • Poor performance at school or work
    • Poor coping skills where stress is concerned
  2. b) Genetic Causes of Addiction

    Addiction has been shown to run in the family. This is indicative of the fact that genetics play a major role in causing addiction and drug dependence. These genetic causes involve more than one gene sequence, although science is yet to pinpoint the exact genes that are involved.

  3. c) Environmental Causes of Addiction

    Last but not least, the environment one occupies might also increase the risk of drug use, abuse, and eventual addiction. In fact, addiction is quite common in those environments where use and abuse are considered to be more permissible. For instance, children growing up in homes where drug addicts live often end up becoming addicts in the future.

    Since drug use mostly starts in one's teens, children with neglectful, abusive, or inattentive parents tend to develop a higher tendency to use drugs.

    Other environment factors that might cause addiction from early drug abuse include:

    • Participation in sporting activities where drugs are encouraged, especially to enhance performance
    • Peer groups that promote drug use or already abuse drugs
    • Lower socioeconomic status
    • Ethnicity and gender

Getting Help

To combat drug and substance addiction, it is imperative that the addict is removed from the environment and any other internal factor that might compel them to use. Instead, their environment must be bolstered with positive motivations that force them to work even harder to kick the habit.

Further, harm reduction strategies can be adopted early on to ensure that those who are not yet addicted are removed from the path of destruction. One good way to do this would be by preventing young people and teens in particular, from abusing drugs.

Overall, the earlier the intervention, the higher the chances that the victim can kick the habit. With time and using the right strategies, approaches, and medications, addiction can be a thing of the past for many.



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