Most people find it difficult understanding how or why people get addicted to drugs. As such, they mistakenly perceive such people as having lower willpower or lacking moral principles and that if they chose to, could stop using drugs. The truth of the matter however is that drug addiction is very complex and quitting involves more than a strong will and good intentions. Quitting drug abuse is difficult even for people with the right intentions, due to how it answers the brain’s functioning. Fortunately, modern research has plenty of useful information about the effects of drugs on the brain, and optimal treatments for people seeking to recover from addiction and regain control of their lives.
Compared to other chronic diseases, drug addiction is very similar, with the only distinguishing factor arguably being the compulsive drug seeking and use, which is very difficult to contain, despite obvious negative repercussions. For most people, the initial decision to try drugs happens to be voluntary. However, repeated subsequent drug use causes changes in the brain which challenge the addict’s self-control, clouding their ability to control intense urges to use their substance of choice. Due to the persistence of these brain changes, drug addiction is usually referred to as “a relapsing disease”. People in the recovery phase drug rehabilitation face a serious risk of returning to their old habits, sometimes even years after not taking a specific drug. While it is normal for some people to relapse, relapse does not necessarily imply that a particular treatment is ineffective. Drug addiction, like other chronic health issues should be treated on an ongoing basis, with plenty of adjustments based on how a patient responds to treatment.
Typically, drugs affect the reward circuit in the brain of the user. This causes the brain to be filled with a chemical messenger known as dopamine, as well as causing euphoria. Properly functioning reward systems motivate individuals to repeat positive behaviours that they require to survive socialising and eating. Whenever the reward circuit experiences surges of dopamine, pleasurable albeit unhealthy habits can be reinforced e.g. taking drugs. The more people continue to use drugs, the more their brains adapt by reducing the reward circuit’s ability to respond to their substance of choice. Eventually, tolerance takes its toll i.e. the user feels a weaker high compared to the first time they took drugs. They are eventually forced to use more drugs to achieve similar highs. Such brain adaptations because drug users to derive less pleasure from activities they used to enjoy e.g. social activities, eating food and sex.