What makes a drug addictive? The easy answer is simply to say that exposure to some substances carries the risk, and that people should stay away if they don’t want to become addicted. But that’s the simple answer. The actual answer is far more complex: it begins with a person’s genetic makeup, and to an extent, their mental health history. Also, bearing in mind that different people will become addicted to different things for a variety of reasons is essential to understanding the baseline of the problem of addiction. Some people find themselves attracted to and with the opportunity to try one drug, while others have a similar experience with another drug.
It is also completely true that a person is more likely to use, abuse, and become a addicted if someone close to them is actively and frequently using drugs. Children that see their parents smoke often grow up to become smokers themselves. Children of alcoholics often find themselves in alcohol rehabilitation. Spending copious amounts of time with people who spend copious amounts of time using drugs and alcohol will usually yield one of two results: someone who never drinks or uses drugs, or someone who can’t be without them. The cycle of drug abuse within a family (or, these days, group of friends) is, in many ways, a public health concern, and talking to loved ones is essential to protecting them.
Outwardly, symptoms of addiction seem to be the opposite of what anyone could want – what is assumed to be the face of addiction simply doesn’t fit all categories. Really, it’s impossible to know exactly how many people are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol – especially given the number of people who are functioning addicts, and do not believe they have a problem because their professional or social life is intact. These individuals are not only difficult to find, they are difficult to treat because they don’t believe they have a problem, and because their addictions often are still successfully hidden from those close to them. In a way, secrecy, too, can become addictive.
With that though, it’s clearly not one’s personality, and only their personality that is responsible for addiction. The substances themselves are absolutely part of the problem, and limiting access to any addictive drug is crucial to saving lives. With thousands upon thousands of deaths from overdoses each year, it’s no wonder that illicit drug organizations have had to constantly refuel the machine – when the clientele dies off or gets sober, business has to go on, and newly addicted people are worth their weight in gold.
How Addiction Works
How does anyone become addicted, especially when so many people use or try the same things without such harsh and difficult repercussions? As stated before, a person’s biology and family history directly impacts their risk of addiction, and that some people are genetically disposed to drug and alcohol dependence. But whether or not a person is addicted to drugs clearly isn’t limited to what their ancestors could tolerate.
Addiction reprograms the brain in a way that makes sense, despite the danger: drugs affect your neurotransmitters, the molecules that tell your brain that you like or dislike something. What follows the use of any drug is mostly a rush of good feelings, and in some cases, energy and focus. From this perspective, it’s easy to understand why drug addiction can become a problem.
Even extremely dangerous and damaging drugs at least offer feelings of pain relief and happiness. Imagine being happy with the flick of a wrist. Imagine being able to instantly elevate your mood, or raise your energy levels. Sounds tempting, right? Again, from this perspective, drug addiction seems a little more understandable, and those who work with people living with addiction generally understand that taking and using drugs makes a person feel good in their mind and body, and is hence difficult to let go.
Narcotics (aka, Opioids or Painkillers)
Highly addictive, and usually available in pill or powder form, narcotic drugs are some of the most widely-feared and widely-used drugs. Originally developed to treat pain from surgery or traumatic injury, these drugs offer a quick rush of euphoria, and temporarily end pain. Most narcotics are actually naturally derived – cocaine, for example, is created from dried coca leaves. There are other steps in the process, but the drug begins as a plant.
Elsewhere in the world, particularly in South Asia, there are plants sought out for their leaves. The leaves are chewed, offering the chewer a burst of energy and stamina. Despite their wholesome beginnings, narcotics are quickly addicting, and vicious: people addicted to heroin and meth often overdose, and completing one round of rehab isn’t always enough.
Though all addictive drugs usually overlap, categorically speaking, legal drugs are a special kind of danger. Because they are not illegal, many people will make the mistake of believing that they are not dangerous. For example, alcohol is the most deadly drug known to man. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world die of an alcohol-related illness or event: drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, domestic abuse and murder fueled by alcohol. Despite this, every large culture in the world has a culture around drinking alcohol, and alcohol continues to be used in celebrations and religious ceremonies the world over.
It’s not just alcohol, either: because of the world’s love of tobacco, lung, throat, and mouth cancer is a huge and global public health issue. Adderall is traded all over high school and college campuses to kids trying to compete in a high-stakes, high-pressure world.
Stimulants, depressants, alcohol, nicotine – all of these drugs, whatever their legal status, when abused, have the power to chemically alter your brain to prioritize seeking them out for their pleasures.
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888-512-1705.
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