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Understanding Drug Addiction

For the general populace, it is difficult to understand why people become drug addicts. Many assume that most drug addicts lack moral principles, mental strength or willpower. Some also believe that just the choice to stop using drugs itself can let the addict easily get rid of the addiction, but the reality is far different. By merely deciding to quit one cannot stop drugs right away.

Addiction to drugs is like a disease that needs much more than just choice and willpower. Long time drug use has an impact on the brain and, therefore, it alters the way our brain works, making it very difficult for the drug user to give up drugs. But the good news is that ongoing researchers have much more of an understanding of drug addiction than ever before. Nowadays various kinds of treatment are available to help drug addicts get out of their addiction.

Drug addiction – how to define it?

Drug addiction can be defined as a disease that becomes chronic with the time. The characteristics of it are that the user seeks drugs and uses them compulsively, despite having difficulty to control the use of the drugs and suffering from harsh consequences resulting from the continued drug abuse. The first time a user takes the drug of choice - it is mostly a voluntary action, but repeated use of the drugs changes the brain of the user in a way that it becomes difficult to show self-control or to resist the strong urges of taking the drugs. Because of these brain changes being persistent, drug addiction is a relapsing disease where, even after the years of recovery and de-addiction, user can return back to the drugs. Even though patients relapse, it doesn't mean that the treatment for drug addiction is a failure. It only means that the success of the treatment, like with any other chronic disease, depends on the patient and has to be adjusted according to the specific changing needs of the addict.

The effect of drugs on the brain

Most recreational drugs have an effect on the “reward circuit” of the brain by flooding out with the “feel good” chemical dopamine. The brain’s reward system determines how a person feels pleasure and hope, how he or she is motivated to repeat the behaviors that give the person pleasure, like spend time with loved ones, eating, playing sports etc. But once someone starts taking drugs, this reward system gets overstimulated and the patient experiences an intensely pleasurable “high”. This feeling makes the patient go back to the drugs again and again. As the time of using increases, the patient generally needs more quantity of the drugs to feel the same high - thus, starting the cyclical chain of drug addiction. This happens because, with continuous use, the brain adjusts the amount of excess dopamine to release, and, therefore, the user needs more of the drugs to change the brain’s ability to control the release of dopamine.

Continued use of drugs affects other functions of the brain too, like learning, clear judgment, the ability to make proper decisions, the ability to control stress, memory and general behavior. Despite these harmful effects, a user who has become an addict cannot control the use of drugs.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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