Those who have never experienced addiction may wonder what causes someone to become addicted to a substance or why anyone would use a substance that would lead them down a path of addiction.
Humans are the most intelligent species, but we are also pleasure-seeking. Humans like to pursue delicious food and drinks, comfortable environments, and fun and exciting activities. When our brain learns of something pleasurable, as we develop from infants to adults, it will store this memory and the source of this pleasurable feeling or rush of dopamine.
People with healthy brains will store this feeling and move on with life as their brain continues to associate the pleasurable feeling with that memory. If a person uses drugs, their brain does not function normally, releasing more dopamine than normal.
Drugs alter the brain’s chemistry, blocking the reabsorption of dopamine. This causes people to experience a prolonged euphoria sensation than they would experience if they were not using drugs. Because we are hedonistic or pleasure-seeking, the brain craves more of this euphoric feeling, which requires the person to increase their dosage of drugs to get the effect.
This also leads to building a tolerance to the drugs. This can cause simple things that used to make the person happy to fall to the wayside, making the drugs that release these happy feelings the priority.
This is a simplified explanation of the cycle of addiction, but it shows how brain chemistry is affected by drug use and how your dopamine and the reward center of your brain are changed with every use.
Every person who uses drugs has a unique experience, and it is crucial to view them as individuals. While each person who suffers from addiction has a unique experience, they do have certain things in common.
People who are looking for a way to escape from the hardships of daily life will often look for pleasure as a distraction. Not only sad people want to feel good; people from all walks of life are seeking pleasure. Different types of drugs give users different effects, leading to self-medicating to escape from daily struggles.
Suppose someone begins experimenting with drugs early in life. In that case, they have likely been dealing with a variety of factors such as drugs in their home environment, peer pressure, and being new to risk-taking behavior as a young person. Teenagers can be vulnerable due to their need to find their independence from societal and parental rules.
In many cases, people begin using drugs to help treat other symptoms, which according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can contribute to about 40 to 60 percent of the person’s risk of addiction. Some people do not have access to mental healthcare or are ashamed to reach out for care, using drugs to alleviate symptoms. Other people begin their addiction through prescription pain medications such as opioids given to them for an injury or pain management after surgery, falling into a cycle of misuse because of the prescription painkillers’ addictive qualities.
No one factor can determine who will be affected by addiction. In some cases, people may develop drug use disorder when exposed to drug use as a child, while others may be introduced to drugs later in adulthood, typically to cope with mental health issues or pain.
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