Nobody ever starts out using drugs with the intention of becoming addicted. Some use for the first time in an effort to numb or hide from painful feelings or mental disorders. Others give it a try at a party or due to peer pressure, thinking it will be a onetime thing.
Drugs effect the “feel good” portions of the brain, leaving users feeling euphoric, “high,” or uncharacteristically giddy. It’s hard to resist giving it another try, and by the time they realize it’s time to stop using, they are already addicted and are no longer capable of quitting on their own.
What is Drug Addiction?
Addiction has two components, the first of which is physical addiction. Drugs effect parts of the brain, namely neurotransmitters and hormones produced by the brain. These include dopamine, serotonin, and others. These compounds are the brain’s “happiness center.” When drugs artificially stimulate their release, the brain sends signals to give the feeling of happiness and the trademark “high” most drug users seek.
Eventually the brain begins to stop producing these chemicals on its own, and the drug is needed in order for the user to feel normal. Tolerance begins to develop, and more and more of the drug is require to illicit the same effect. This is also why when the drug is not taken, users will experience withdrawal symptoms as the body physically craves the drug and its effects.
How do addictive drugs affect the brain?
Addictive drugs affect the brain by altering the functions of certain hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, especially dopamine and serotonin. Since dopamine and serotonin levels control the brain’s perception of pleasure and “happiness,” an increased release of these chemicals causes a person to experience feelings of euphoria resulting in a “high.”
There is also a psychological component to addiction. The users begin to believe they need the drug. They will do anything they can to get their hands on the drug. They may hate the drug and all that it does to their lives, but at the same time, they can’t seem to stop using, even if they tried. An addict will spend more time trying to get, use, or recover from their drug use than they do working or spending time with friends and family. The drug becomes the most important thing to them, even if they hate it and wishes they could stop using.
What are the most commonly abused drugs?
The most commonly abused drugs include:
- MDMA or ecstasy
- Inhalants (contents of paint or other aerosol cans)
- Hallucinogens (LSD, mushrooms, etc.)
How Prevalent is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction has a stigma attached. Addicts are often labeled as weak, selfish, or without ambition or will. But the truth is, anyone can become a drug addict. It knows no socioeconomic status, race, religion, or gender. Over 9% of Americans are addicted to drugs. That’s 23.9 million people aged 12 and up at the last survey taken in 2012. This is a markedly higher number than most people would expect, because many assume that drug addicts are those who are from the outskirts of society. But not everyone who experiments with drugs is from a broken home or someone who hangs around on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Business professionals can be addicts, for instance – turning to drugs to deal with the stresses of business success or high-pressure careers. Addiction is also common among youth, veterans, and those with chronic health and mental disorders.
While there are hundreds of drugs available, including prescription and recreational “street” drugs, some are more commonly abused than others. Some of the most common drugs being used are:
Marijuana – This is the most commonly used illegal drug. It comes from the cannabis plant, and is usually smoked or ingested. Cannabis oil can also be inhaled through vaporizers. It gives smokers a “high” feeling of happiness and relaxation. While marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes, it is most commonly smoked illegally. Lung damage, cancer, and diminished brain function can be the result of long-term marijuana use.
Cocaine – This drug is a powerful stimulant that is concentrated into a powder and snorted through the nasal passages. It causes a “high” sensation, but can also lead to irregular heart rhythms and high blood pressure. When used in excess, it can cause cardiac episodes or even death.
Ecstasy – Commonly known as a party or rave drug, it is most frequently used by high-school teens and college students. It is a stimulant, which means it can cause rapid heart rate, higher blood pressure, and jitters. In many cases, it is combined with other drugs, or “cut” with other drugs without the user’s knowledge, both of which are highly dangerous.
Methamphetamine – This man-made drug can be produced using items you’d find in the grocery store, such as cough medicine or drain cleaner. Meth is highly addictive and often fatal when used in excess.
Inhalants – Inhalants include anything you inhale, such as aerosol cans or paint fumes. They offer a very quick high. They wear off quickly, and are often combined with other drugs or alcohol to increase their effects. Over time, they may lead to brain damage.
Heroin – Heroin is snorted as a powder or can come in gel form, which is known as black tar heroin. This is one of the most addictive drugs available, and also one of the deadliest. It can lead to heart problems and other organ damage over time.
Hallucinogens – LCD, Acid, Mushrooms, and other drugs that cause a psychoactive sense of displacement of time and self are called Hallucinogens. They are frequently combined with other drugs, which makes them all the more dangerous.
How many Americans are addicted to drugs?
According to a 2012 survey, 23.9 million Americans ages 12 and up are addicted to drugs, which equals about 9 percent of the US population. Addiction commonly affects students, veterans, professionals with demanding careers, and those who suffer from mental or other chronic health disorders.
Treatment for Drug Abuse
Getting treatment for drug addiction and abuse is not always easy. Users often do not know they have a problem until they are deeply entrenched in drug use. Often times, friends and family are the first to notice how far things have gotten. In order to get clean, and stay clean, an integrative approach much be taken. First, the patient must detox from the drugs in his system. This can be a dangerous step, as withdrawal symptoms can lead to severe illness or death in some cases.
Drug addicts must also receive psychological counseling and therapies to address whatever underlying issues led them to use in the first place. Many addicts use drugs and alcohol to mask or numb painful symptoms related to mood disorders, post-traumatic stress, or illness.
Inpatient facilities with addition experts are the most effective way to get clean. If you, or someone you love is suffering from addiction, help is available.