What Is Drug Addiction?
Clarifying Misconceptions //
Drug addiction is not a choice, but rather a chronic disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use. People who are addicted to drugs cannot control their drug use without assistance – despite the negative consequences their drug use may cause.
Many people misunderstand drug addiction and mistakenly believe those who use drugs lack willpower or moral principles. This is simply not true, as drugs change the brain and body in ways that make quitting – or even cutting back – extremely difficult.
Why Do People Choose to Take Drugs, to Begin With?
Not everyone who takes drugs develops an addiction, and drugs can appeal to people for a number of different reasons. People may feel peer-pressured or take drugs for stress relief or recreation. Sometimes, individuals even start taking drugs as part of a prescription, only to end up with a debilitating drug addiction. Most people do not take drugs with the intention of forming an addiction, however, regular drug use can quickly rewire the brain.
How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?
The majority of drugs affect the brain’s reward circuit, which is the system that encourages you to repeat life-sustaining behaviors. When you eat, for instance, your brain’s reward circuit lights up and you experience pleasure. As such, you continue to eat and sustain yourself, time and time again. Similarly, when you take drugs, your brain experiences pleasure and tells you to do it again – this sensation only becomes more intense the more you use.
Many drugs also release dopamine, which is a feel-good chemical in your brain. Over time, drug use can make your brain less sensitive to dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. This means the only time you will feel good is when you take drugs.
People experiencing addiction often lose interest in other hobbies and activities. They may even lose their ability to derive pleasure from food, sex, or social activities.
Tolerance and Withdrawal
Drugs not only affect the brain, but they also have a notable impact on the body. Once someone has been using drugs for a long time, they may need more and more of the drug to feel the same pleasure or “high.” This is called tolerance, and it can be very dangerous. If someone takes too much of a drug, they could overdose, and overdoses are frequently fatal.
Another aspect of drug use and addiction, and one that is a huge obstacle to recovery, is called withdrawal. When someone stops taking a drug, their body may struggle to adapt to the change.
People experience the following symptoms during drug withdrawal:
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Tremors (shaking)
- Hot and cold flashes
- Runny nose and watery eyes
- Changes in appetite
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Anxiety and depression
- Trouble focusing
- And more
In severe cases, drug withdrawal may come with hallucinations and seizures. While you can detox from some drugs on your own, you may need medical attention to stop using others.
Luckily, there’s no shame in asking for help.
Can People Overcome Drug Addiction?
Yes. While there is no cure for drug addiction and managing the disease is a lifelong process, the right treatment can help individuals overcome addiction. There are also many options available for people who want to get better. At The Carter Treatment Center, for example, we offer partial hospitalization programs for those who need more support after coming out of inpatient care or want to pursue treatment while maintaining outside commitments.
Today is the day to make a change.