What Makes A Drug Addictive?

what makes a drug addictive

No one ever begins using a drug thinking they will become addicted to it.

Often what begins as a curious experimentation or a prescription for pain or anxiety becomes a debilitating and devastating addiction.

Understanding Drug Addiction

While not all drug use leads to abuse or addiction, it is definitely still a gamble when a person ingests substances that have a track record to become habit-forming.

In the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report On Alcohol, Drugs and Health, it reported some staggering and rather alarming trends around addiction:

  • In 2015, over 27 million people in the United States reported current use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs
  • Over 66 million people (nearly a quarter of the adult and adolescent population) reported binge drinking in the past month.
  • It is estimated that the yearly economic impact of substance misuse is $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use.

Needless to say, our addiction epidemic continues to grow, and many people are seeking answers about why people become addicted to drugs.

Old mentality around drug addicts was one that suggested addiction is a moral failing or a character defect. However, over the years science has found that addiction is a chronic brain condition. This evidence demonstrates that addiction is actually caused by predisposed biological factors as well as learned or reinforced behavior resulting from reactions inside of the brain.

Why Do People Get Addicted?

Most people are of the mindset that addiction is a brain disease, while others reason with science in that addiction is a learned behavior from reinforcing properties that drugs contain.

According to an article published by Psychology Today, “The learning theory of addictions is also backed up by neuroscience because addictive drugs activate dopamine-based reward systems that are designed by natural selection to strengthen naturally-rewarded behaviors such as feeding and mating.”

However, the disease theory would better explain why some people get addicted while others do not. Both theories of why people get addicted are congruent. The factors that seem to be present in all people who face addiction are:

  • Biological – This includes risk factors attributed to genes, gender, ethnicity as well as any kind of mental disorders that may be present.
  • Environmental – People, places, and things are huge influences on people who decide to pick up drugs or alcohol. The prevalence poverty, abuse, exposure, and peer pressure can all play a major role in the development of addiction.
  • Neurological – The impact that drugs have on neurotransmitters inside of the brain is perhaps of the biggest underlying causes of addiction.

What Happens To The Brain When People Take Drugs

Drugs affect the communication system in the brain by interrupting how it normally processes information in a couple of different ways. One is when certain drugs mimic chemical messengers, and the other is that they stimulate the reward center of the brain.

Chemical messengers are neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced in the brain. Some drugs, such as opiates or marijuana, are able to essentially trick the brain into sending abnormal messages creating a false reaction. On the other hand, uppers such as cocaine or methamphetamine cause the neurotransmitters such as dopamine to be released in huge amounts. Both patterns disrupt normal communication in the brain.

Neurotransmitters regulate movement, emotion, and feelings of pleasure. When this system is over stimulated, it causes us to feel a false sense of euphoria in response to drugs. This response creates a fake pattern, which essentially teaches people to repeat the behavior of using drugs to try to keep acquiring the sense of euphoria it creates.

Are All Drugs Addictive?

All drugs affect the brain’s reward center causing a flood of dopamine into the body’s system. So, yes, all drugs are addictive in this way as they all affect the brain in the same manner.

When someone keeps using drugs to creating the same high they felt the first time, the brain starts to respond by adapting to excess dopamine. This causes less natural dopamine to be produced, which, in turn, reduces its receptors.

This process is what causes addiction a person will have to continue using drugs with higher dosages over time. This is the only way to make the dopamine receptors function as they used to and thus creates a dependency.

Getting Help

Whether you have been addicted for a long time or only a short while, help is always available. You can break the nasty cycle of addiction for good with the help of medically trained professionals. Our drug addiction treatment programs offer several options, and some insurance plans will offer coverage to help you with the cost.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you get on the road to recovery and begin living the life you truly want to be living.

Sources:

Facing Addiction In America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, <https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/executive-summary>, November 2016

Why Some People Are Drug Addicts, Psychology Today, Nigel Barber, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201308/why-some-people-are-drug-addicts>, August 2013