In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.
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Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a "relapsing" disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.
As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Most drugs affect the brain's "reward circuit," causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones.
Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance.
They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities. Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:.
What is Addiction?
Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction. No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs.
A combination of factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.
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For example:. However, addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. More good news is that drug use and addiction are preventable. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction.
Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction.
Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. June 6, Skip to main content. Revised June What Is drug addiction? The first hypothesis, as expressed cogently for example by Prof.
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Lee Goldman in his book Too Much of a Good Thing , is that several prevalent addictions result from a discrepancy between our evolutionary heritage and our current life conditions. Now that same tendency to eat more than our bodies really need explains why 35 percent of Americans are obese and have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
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The second hypothesis, powerfully described by Profs. The third major hypothesis points to a core design feature of a market economy: addictive products boost the bottom line. Americans are being drugged, stimulated, and aroused by the work of advertisers, marketers, app designers, and others who know how to hook people on brands and product lines. As Adam Alter powerfully describes in his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked , the tech companies are aggressively adjusting their apps to induce more screen time e.
Slot machine owners program their machines so that they give a payout after a long stretch of losses, in order to hook the individual on continued gambling. Food companies spike their products with extra sugar and salt, highly processed foodstuffs, and fats that trigger a craving response. The tobacco industry added nicotine in order to induce more smoking addiction.
For countless behaviors, including those that ultimately lead to addiction, peer imitation and peer pressure are often decisive in leading an individual to an addiction. Zhang et al. Illicit drugs, we know, have powerful and direct pharmacological impacts on the brain that contribute to their addictive nature and their long-term harmful effects. Direct physiological impacts may be contributing to the addictive qualities and adverse consequences of addictions other than illicit drugs.
Smartphone use, similarly, may have physiological affects beyond the psychological effects of peer pressure, social anxieties, exposure to onscreen violence, and so forth.
In view of the multiple addictive epidemics underway in the United States that are contributing to shockingly adverse public health outcomes — obesity rates among the highest in the world; rising rates of adolescent depression; rising age-adjusted suicide rates since the year ; a searing opioid epidemic; and falling overall life expectancy — one would expect a major public policy response. Yet the shocking truth is that U. If anything, the epidemics expose the remarkable power of corporate vested interests in American political life, power that is so great that it has forestalled any effective responses that would jeopardize corporate profits and control.
As described in many recent exposes, Purdue Pharma developed and aggressively marketed two highly addictive drugs, MS Contin and Oxycontin, despite inside knowledge of the dangers of addiction. The company used hard-sell approaches such as kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the drugs. When the addiction risks began to be noted, the company denied or downplayed them. Even after paying a large fine and incurring criminal convictions in , the company continued its relentless and reckless policies of pushing the addictive medicines onto unsuspecting patients.
In early , it has begun talk of entering bankruptcy to protect the assets against future lawsuits. Second, the beverage industry has strenuously resisted responsibility or regulation for the obesogenic risks of sugar-based sodas. It has fought relentlessly against sugar taxes aimed to induce consumers to buy less expensive, safer beverages. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.
In a ruling that epitomizes the alarming state of US public policy, the US Court of Appeals found that the mandatory warning was an infringement of commercial free speech under the First Amendment. US Court of Appeals, Third, processed food industry leaders, such as Heinz Kraft, have strenuously resisted claims that highly processed foods are obesogenic, contributory to metabolic disease, and in need of regulation.
Instead, the industry has mocked these warnings. In a highly noted and publicized advertisement during the Super Bowl, for example, the Heinz Kraft subsidiary Devour Foods indeed mocks food addiction by glorifying it instead. The list of corporate recklessness in the US goes on and on, and now especially implicates the Tech industry as well, which has played no constructive role to date in addressing the alarming trends of adolescent screen time and the ensuing depressive disorders described by Twenge in this volume. As every major study of Facebook has shown, the company is duplicitous in use of personal data, relentlessly focused on its bottom line, and steadfastly dismissive of the dire consequences emanating from the use of its product and services.
The US has had, by now, two startling wake up calls: back to back years of falling life expectancy.
Major studies have documented the rising suicide rates and substance misuse. Psychologists have been decrying the apparently soaring rates of addictive disorders and seemingly associated mental disorders, including major depressive disorders and a range of anxiety disorders. Measured subjective wellbeing has declined during the past 10 years, and there are reasons to believe that the sheer scale of addictive disorders is probably implicated this decline in SWB, though studies have not yet made that definitive link.
A public policy response built around wellbeing rather than corporate profits would place the rising addiction rates under intensive and urgent scrutiny, and would design policies to respond to these rising challenges. Longer-term measures would include public policies to reduce stress levels in society, including greater job and healthcare security, reduced inequalities of income and wealth, healthier work-life balance, and greater integration of health and wellbeing programs in work, schools and communities. Ali, M. PloS one, 6 1 , e Alter, A. Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked.
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New York: Penguin Press. American Beverage Association v. Barman-Adhikari, A. Social network correlates of methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine use in a sociometric network of homeless youth. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 6 3 , Bickel, W. Easterlin, R. Does economic growth improve the human lot? Some empirical evidence. Academic Press. Fogoros, R. The Costs of Drug Use to Society. Goldman, L. Too Much of a Good Thing. Little, Brown and Company.
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