There’s a lot of misunderstanding about why and how someone develops an addiction. Some people may believe that those who use drugs lack the willpower to stop. However, this is not the case. Drug addiction is a complex disease; it takes more than a strong will or good intentions to quit. It’s essential to get help for substance abuse as soon as possible.
Don’t wait until you hit rock bottom. The more ingrained the addictive patterns become, the more difficult they are to beak.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug and alcohol addiction are diseases that affect your mind, body, and behavior. When someone is addicted to substances, they are no longer in control. They cannot resist the urge to use them, no matter how much harm they cause. Addiction can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter if the drugs are illegal, prescription, or as accessible as alcohol. Anyone is capable of becoming addicted.
How Substance Abuse Starts
In the beginning, someone may choose to take drugs. Most commonly, individuals take drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their stress levels. But over time, substances change the brain’s chemistry. These physical changes can last a long time and lead to genuinely damaging behaviors. In some cases, chronic substance abuse can cause permanent changes to the brain and body.
Tolerance, Abuse, and Addiction
The physical changes to the brain are what is known as tolerance. Sometimes this is also referred to as dependence. However, it is the occasional abuse that leads to dependence. When someone’s body becomes dependent on a substance, it requires that substance to feel normal. Once someone continues to take a substance to avoid feeling bad or withdrawal, this is known as an addiction. Addiction is also referred to as substance use disorder (SUD).
Effects of Substance Abuse On the Brain
Human brains are designed to repeat processes that make them feel good. This is why many people are inclined to continue to take drugs over and over. Substances with addictive qualities normally act on the brain’s reward system. They flood the brain with happy chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, causing a pleasant reaction. People continue to up the amount of drugs they take to chase that pleasurable feeling.
But with time, the brain adjusts to the higher level of happy chemicals, and they start to change the brain’s circuitry.
Long-term use can affect functions including:
Risk Factors for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Every person is different and will experience addiction differently. Individuals will also react differently to substances depending on their genetics and environment. Not every person who misuses drugs and alcohol will develop an addiction. But it can happen to anyone at any age.
A few risk factors that can increase the chance of this happening include:
- Family history. The genes you’re born with makeup for roughly half your odds. If someone in your immediate family has issues with substance abuse, you’re more likely to do so as well.
- Experimenting with substances early on. The brain doesn’t fully develop until the early 20s. While it’s developing, drug use can have more of an influence on your addictive habits.
- Mental health disorders. If a mental illness is present, there’s a higher chance addiction will develop. Individuals with a history of trauma are also more likely to abuse substances.
- Trouble establishing relationships. If someone grows up with family issues and isn’t close to their parents, it can increase their chances of addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
If you believe you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, you may have one or more of the following warning signs:
- Cravings for substances
- Taking more than you mean to, for longer than you wanted
- Using substances, even if they cause you trouble at work or school
- Isolating yourself
- No longer caring about your personal appearance
- Spending the majority of your time obtaining, using, and recovering from drugs or alcohol
- Feeling sick when trying to stop
Preventing Substance Abuse
In many ways, there’s no perfect way to prevent substance abuse. Our best tools are parents, community, and loved ones educating young people who are the most vulnerable. If drug use is out of control or causing issues, it’s time to reach out for help. The sooner someone seeks help, the greater their chances of long-term recovery.
It’s time to seek help if you:
- Can’t stop using drugs
- Continue using the substance despite the harm they cause
- Substance abuse leads to unsafe behavior, including sharing needles or unprotected sex
- Think you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping drug use
If you’re not ready to ask for help, there are hotlines available to learn about a good option for treatment.
Finding Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you or a loved one is ready to start retaking control of your life, call the addiction treatment helpline at Harmony Recovery Center. Our team of trained addiction specialists can help you determine the level of care needed to start getting better today.
Mayo Clinic – Drug addiction (substance use disorder)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts