Some people are introduced to a substance and a brain 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. 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 addiction 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 SUD, or that one in four users will become “hooked” on heroin. Drug addiction causes are still not known but the stats of who gets addicted are.
Here are some of the problems that Drug Addiction Causes:
- Unhappiness - Crime - Divorce - Major illness - Even death
What are underlying Drug Addiction Causes?
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 addiction 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 addiction 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 addiction. 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
To gain some insight into what causes drug addiction, 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 is likely to be drug addiction causes, but we still don't know for sure.
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.
Much of what we experience is about neurons.
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 pre-synaptic 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 addiction?
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 drug addiction causes.
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. These are how drug addiction causes are different per drug.
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.
What Are The Risk Factors?
We are all a product of our parents. If your parents have addiction struggles, chances are you are more susceptible to addiction. That’s why drug addiction is more common in some families than in others. If your parents smoke, chances are good you will smoke. If your parents used alcohol, you’ll probably follow and use that drug in much the same way. If your father was an alcoholic, you have a predisposition to abusing that drug.
Drug addiction causes one generation to pass it on to the next.
Aside from the inherited factors, some people have a personality that is more likely to become drug dependent.
- People are curious, so that alone can lead a person to try a drug. We experiment and see what happens. - We are looking to relax and have pleasure.
- We all want to feel good, and we’re by nature impatient. Drugs give us an instant gratification that other things do not, so for that moment or hour of for whatever time-frame, we feel good. - We want what we want.
- Someone diagnosed with depression, attention deficit disorder, or hyperactivity.
- Maybe there has been some stress, or anxiety in their life. Whatever the case, these are contributing factors.
Even some common personality characteristics, such as aggression, may be a factor. Children who do not have confidence, healthy self-esteem may be prone to turning to drugs to fill the void.
Drug addiction causes negative changes in personality that can lead to an even more destructive behavior.
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 teenaged 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 addiction causes you to be accepted and part of the 'popular' group.
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 addiction 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.
We include this heading because we want to stress that there is no data to support ANY claim that one race of people or any particular cultural group is more prone to drug addiction than another. Drug addiction is a human problem and crosses all boundaries. Drug addiction causes do not include race.
Loneliness and Depression
We want to feel good physically and emotionally. Sometimes drugs are the substitution for a healthy life experience. The person in pain and they want to numb the pain. The drug numbs the pain and for a moment they don’t feel as poorly. The person needs to escape the pain of the life experience, and for a short while, the drug takes them away and they feel “better.”
Sometimes people need some help coping with life. Everyday life becomes a struggle and simple things become too much to handle. Drugs are used to deal with it. In the case of addiction, we are not talking about the use of medication, under the care and observation of a doctor. People who have been clinically diagnosed with anxiety can lead a very good life. We’re talking here about people who just need to escape. Their drug of choice facilitates that escape.
Additional Risk Factors
There are many contributing factors to drug addiction, 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.
Need Drug to feel NORMAL
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.
There is a genetic risk factor to drug abuse and drug addiction. 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.
Teens at HUGE risk because of peer pressure!
Peer pressure is huge and nowhere is this greater than during our teenaged 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 addiction causes you to be accepted and part of the 'popular' group.
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 addiction 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.
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