What Is Drug Addiction?
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Many people do not understand why people become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain into uncontrollable drug abuse. They mistakenly view drug abuse and addiction as a social problem and may describe those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior.
What people often misjudge is the difficulty of drug addiction; that it is a disease that impacts the brain, and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of self-discipline. Through scientific research we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people who want to stop abusing drugs and resume normal lives.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic, often fall back, brain disease that causes obsessive drug seeking and use, regardless of the harmful consequences to the drug addict and those around them. Drug addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Although it is true that for most people the opening decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can impair a persons self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time create an intense urge to take drugs
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, there are treatments that help people to respond the addictions powerful upsetting effects and recover control of their lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medications, when appropriate, with behavioral therapy is the best way to confirm success for most people. Treatment approaches that are personalized to each persons drug abuse patterns and any separate medical, psychiatric, and social problems can help achieve a continuous recovery and a life without drugs.
As with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed effectively. Yet, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. Relapse does not always mean failure; somewhat, it indicates that treatment should be put back or adjusted, or that another treatment is needed to help the person regain control and recover.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Take Drugs?
Drugs are chemicals that go into the brains communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. There are at least two ways that drugs are able to do this: by imitating the brains messengers, and/or overstimulating the “reward path” of the brain.
Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar structure to messengers, called neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain. Because of this similarity, these drugs are able to “fool” the brains stimulus and activate nerve cells to send unusual messages.
Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause the nerve cells to release irregularly large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals, which is needed to shut off the signal between neurons. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message that ultimately disrupts normal communication patterns. Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brains reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to normal behaviors that are linked to survival traits (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc), produces joyful effects in response to the drugs. This reaction sets in motion a pattern that “teaches”