Drug Dependence Causes
Drug Dependence Causes?
Addiction is a disease of the brain characterized by the inability of the individual to stop using a substance. While it has a biophysical explanation, it is also a disease of the human soul, a condition that robs the person of his/her humanity, ability to sustain relationships or formulate moral and ethical decisions.
We know that certain drugs impact receptors in the brain, but exactly why one person can use a drug and never become addicted, while another person can use once and immediately become a slave to the drug is still a mystery. Studies have shown that genetics play a part, so perhaps that is a predictor of addiction, but even with that prognostication tool, there is no real answer to why one sibling is an addict and the other not affected.
Waiting to strike
Imagine a tiger lying in a thick patch of grass waiting for an unsuspecting animal to wander by. The tiger waits for the prey to walk past then quickly and skillfully attacks from the rear. Smaller animals die instantaneously, as the tiger’s jaws latch on the back of their neck, snapping it. Other larger animals put up a fight, but soon succumb to the tiger’s power and dominant clench. Drug dependence or addiction is much like that.
Some people are introduced to a substance and a neuro receptor immediately fires. The brain instantaneously welcomes the experience and desires to repeat the pleasure. Others may have a completely different, if not ambivalent experience. One person becomes addicted, while the other retains the ability to choose not to use that drug.
Everyone thinks “I can quit anytime”
But repeated use can lead to the person’s will breaking down over time, just like the larger animal cannot fight off the tiger forever. Recreational drug users always think they can quit anytime they like, but recreational use can over time turn into obsessive use as the user’s ability to choose is diminished.
The receptors in the brain react to the drug. The reaction may be dramatic or nominal. So drug dependence is caused by a pre-existing condition made known only when the drug is introduced to the receptors in the brain. Long before the drug is ever tried, the person is either going to be an addict or they aren’t. That seems unfair, but statistically you can offer a prediction that one in nine people that drink alcohol will develop an drug dependence, or that one in four users will become “hooked” on heroin.
When we take drugs, either for medical purposes or recreation, there is a benefit or reward that we are trying to achieve. For example pain medication is intended to bring relief to an injured or stressed area of our body. The beginning stages of drug dependence causes us to crave more and to use more. The unintended consequences of that is our need to take more and more of the drug to get the same result. drug dependence causes the pathways inside the brain to be altered. Physical changes in the nerve cells are brought on by the drug. These cells (neurons) communicate with each other releasing neurotransmitters into the gaps or synapses between the nerve cells. This makes some drugs more addictive than others.
There are several other factors that contribute to drug dependence. We’ll go into greater detail on another page, but for now the major factors are one’s genetic makeup, personality and peer pressure. Again we’ll explain these as we go along.
How Drugs Work in Our Brain
To gain some insight into what causes drug dependence, we turn to two major areas of examination to formulate a working understanding. The main target of the drugs is our central nervous system, so we look there first, followed by the individual actions of the drugs themselves.
The Nervous System
There are two types of cells that comprises the nervous system—glial cells (often called glia) and nerve cells (often called neurons). There are some 10 to 50 times more glia cells than neuron cells in the system. One important distinction between glia and neurons is that glia are not communicators. Neurons are the cells that communicate with other cells.
But the glia are important because they help to provide fitness and structure to the brain, distribute nutrients to the system and they eliminate waste. The glia also make up the blood-brain barrier, which separates the blood from the fluid that surrounds the neurons.
This is important because the barrier allows some chemicals to pass through, but not all. This protects the brain from potentially toxic chemicals carried by the bloodstream. A psychoactive drug is capable of passing through this barrier, while others are blocked. Stated another way, the blood-brain barrier’s job is to separate harmful toxins from beneficial chemicals.
Neurons are designed to analyze and transmit information. This is important because everything we experience and understand as behavior is a result of the function of neurons. We have over 100 billion neurons in our nervous system, all communicating and having an effect on other neurons.
Neurons come in many shapes and sizes, but each neuron has four areas. The first area is the cell body that houses the nucleus and substances that sustain it. The second area is the dendrites, which extend from the cell body and kind of look like trees. The within the dendrites’ membranes are receptors, special structures that recognize and respond to chemical signals. Next we have the axon, which is long and thin and its job is to conduct electrical signals. Finally, the presynaptic terminals at the end of the axon look like bulbs, and that’s where chemical messengers are stores.
So what does all this neuron discussion have to do with drug dependence?
Neurotransmitters carry information which allows us to experience pain, pleasure, etc. When a doctor administers an anesthetic, that drug blocks the pain by blocking the perception of pain. In a sense, we are fooled into thinking something doesn’t hurt because the vehicle for delivering that information is blocked. The communication between neurons is key to understanding how we react to a drug. The effect the drug has on us is what triggers addiction. When we go from enjoying something, to craving it and losing control over our reasoning and our actions, that is addiction.
Let’s start with any person who is not using any drugs. All of the neuro function of the brain is normal and there is no foreign substance in the bloodstream to interfere or influence this function. Now we introduce cocaine and the drug circulates in the bloodstream.
The user experiences euphoria, a very pleasurable experience. Human nature will cause a person to want more. They like the feeling and want to repeat the experience. Remember that blood-brain barrier? It allows the cocaine to filter through and the neurons gather and transmit the information. Let’s fast forward now as our person repeats this experience over and over. The drug’s unintended consequences now come into play.
Actions of Drugs
The drug is carried to the brain by the bloodstream. It goes everywhere in the brain, but some drugs effect parts of the brain in different ways. Here’s an example: LSD molecules act on the serotonin systems, so anything that depends on serotonin is affected.
Serotonin plays a role in how much we eat, or the regulation of our weight. Diet drugs block apatite, because they impact serotonin. Low levels of serotonin may explain aggressiveness, or excessive alcohol consumption. People who have committed suicide, as recent studies have indicated, have a serotonin dysfunction role in the taking their own life.
Getting back to the unintended consequences of a drug, as the brain chemistry is altered, the brain is fooled into thinking that “normal” is when the drug is present. Take away the drug and something is wrong.
Highly addictive drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine, have powerful brain altering potential, so much so that the addict actually believes that using the drug is an absolute necessity for life. The neurons and the systems they regulate have been altered.
Risk Factors for Drug Dependence
There are many contributing factors to drug dependence, which may give us some insight into why one person becomes addicted and another person does not. Ask yourself a few questions.
- Are they unhappy or angry, for example, and if they are, is there an external source of irritation or are they just like that naturally?
- Along the same lines, are they “depressed” or to put it another way, do they appear sad?
- Are there factors in their life that may cause them to seek relief, such as financial pressures, problems at work, loss of a loved one or other negative experiences?
- What is their psychological makeup? A person may turn to drugs if they lack self esteem. The drug makes them feel better, because it fills a gap that they are incapable of filling themselves.
As the disease progresses, taking the drug to feel better is not enough, they have to take the drug just to feel “normal.” Some people have a personality that is more likely to become drug dependent. For example, they may be curious and want to try new things.
That leads them to try drugs, and might be the beginning of becoming addicted to a certain drug because it meets a desire. People naturally want to relax and have a good time, but people are often impatient and drugs will provide instant gratification. Over time, the drugs become the only way a person can relax, or feel good.
Don’t discount genetics
There is a genetic risk factor to drug abuse and drug dependence. Just as you have inherited your parent’s physical characteristics, you have also inherited their chemical characteristics. If mom and dad used drugs, chances are high you will too, and addiction, like any other disease, runs in families.
Most people have an alcohol link in their family tree, so even if the parents did not use, there was an aunt or uncle, etc. The alcohol use is often the first step towards the use of drugs, so one generation might have abused alcohol and their children might abuse illegal drugs.
We are all wired to have relationships, and sometimes those relationships cause us to give in to something we otherwise would avoid in order to maintain the relationship.
Peer pressure is huge and nowhere is this greater than during our teenage years. Kids want to be cool. It begins as a social action, to take the drugs to be a part of the group, to be accepted. It’s not just teenagers, as peer pressure takes so many different forms. There is social etiquette, for example, to take a drink during a party. “I’m a social drinker.” How many times have you heard that? Some people actually believe that drug dependence causes you to be accepted and part of the 'popular' group.
Drugs are everywhere!
Today, drugs are in our schools, in small towns and large urban areas. If you want to get drugs, you won’t have to look far because they are everywhere. High school students can tell you this. Drug dependence causes people to sell drugs to the most vulnerable population, children.
It’s not just the stereotypical poor sections of the inner city that serve as the hotbed for drugs. Drugs are found in suburban shopping malls, rural schools, well-to-do private school, on the job in factories, offices and remote job sites.
There is still a lot of things about drug dependence we don't know, but some things are very clear:
- Many people are predisposed to drug dependence regardless of what they believe.
- Any drug use can cause dependence in certain people.
- Everyone is unique and what their tolerance is impossible to know at this time.
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The rest of the pages are there for your reference to explain important topics in more detail.