Drug Addiction Can Happen to Anyone – Understanding How a User Can Become an Addict

Genetic link to addiction

There is medical evidence that people can be born with a predisposition to having a dependency on the liquid drug that is alcohol, or on drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana. There is evidence that this may due to a genetic condition. That said, whatever the reason, for everyone who becomes addicted it tends to be the case that the addiction creeps up on you unawares and before you know it you are hooked.  There is a very definite route from experiencing that first high to, for many, the very depths that addiction will take us to.

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Apart from possibly Crystal Meth, there is no drug that will give us an instant addiction from taking it the first time. What we usually feel from the first time we try any drug is a sense of euphoria, that feeling of a high that will last for a different time for everyone. What happens though is that having experienced it the once we want to experience it again.

Why people try drugs

The initial use of any drug can be from an encouragement from others, our mood could be low, or we might just be bored. Generally, though we would be offered it from someone we know and who will then introduce us to their dealer and for the dealer it’s their business to ensure that once we have started, they always have a supply for us.  Possibly one of the worst and most appalling examples of someone we know showing us how to use drugs would be the person injecting heroin in to one of our veins for the first time to show us how to do it.

Addiction versus drug abuse

Addiction is the compulsive need to use drugs or alcohol even if using them is physically and mentally harming. The addiction completely takes over our lives in an extremely detrimental way. The key is that addiction is compulsive and almost impossible to stop. It is different from substance abuse where someone uses an illegal substance but can stop. Substance abuse comes first and the developing cravings of addiction will develop over time. Substance abuse is a choice but once the addiction has developed our choice is removed with it.  It is important to remember that there is no one cause of addiction, and no one can predict who will become addicted and who will not.

The brain and addiction

The brain will respond to the type and number of drugs used, the frequency of use, and the stage that the addiction to the drug has developed. For example, if someone uses Cocaine, generally speaking Cocaine and alcohol use are linked. Using Cocaine, they will experience a sense of euphoria, and this occurs because Cocaine is a psychoactive drug and impacts the area of the brain that controls pleasure and motivation. The brain will produce a short and powerful dose of dopamine and it is this chemical that causes the short-term feeling of being euphoric. It is because this feeling is so intense that, when it wears off, we want to use the drug again to experience a similar feeling. Also with Cocaine, the more someone abuses the drug then they will also feel physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, and other individual sensations that they have absolutely no control over. 

The brain regulates temperature, emotion, decision making, breathing and coordination. This major organ also impacts physical sensations in the body including cravings, compulsions and habits.  Under the influence of drugs such as, for example, Benzodiazepines or Heroin, these can actually alter the normal function of the brain. The effect of these and other drugs on the limbic system in the brain will be that initial response of an increase in levels of dopamine. However, over time, and that time is different for everyone, continual use of a drug will create related changes to this area that will contribute to the opposite effect: depressed moods, mood swings, emotional outbursts and persistent irritability. At The Haynes Clinic we get people being admitted who say they are very depressed and have even been prescribed anti-depressants by their doctor. These will not work in the presence of drug use and an addictive lifestyle. This then results in people feeling even more depressed.

So, using illegal drugs will “hijack” the pleasure circuits in the brain and hook you into wanting to use more often to get the same experience and the body will then start to develop a tolerance.  At the same time the brain recognises that levels of dopamine are too high and will start to reduce the amount in our body. There is then the situation that we are using more to try and get an effect – but are not – and the body is craving the drug, so we are having to use even if we don’t want to, to reduce any effects of withdrawal.

Without the regular intake of our drug of choice the body will start to go into withdrawal and the serious effects of the withdrawal symptoms will only stop when we use again.  We get to the stage where we are using just to function and it is a constant, vicious, damaging, daily cycle. This affects all our life areas: work, relationships, family life, health, and finances. To add to all that, repeated use of drugs can damage the essential decision-making centre at the front of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex.  This is the region of the brain that should help you to recognise the harm and danger of where drug use has has taken you.

Addiction and effect of increased drug availability

The availability of all drugs has increased hugely, especially in the last few years and this has led to it being accessed by younger people in their teens. Certainly, at The Haynes Clinic we have seen a higher proportion of a younger generation being admitted for residential drug rehab treatment.  Teens are especially vulnerable to possible addiction because their brains are not yet fully developed until about the age of 25 – in particular the important frontal regions of the brain that help with impulse control and assessing risk are not fully developed. Pleasure brain circuits in adolescent brains also operate in overdrive, making drug and alcohol use even more rewarding and enticing.  Another problem for any adolescent is they think they are invincible and find it hard to believe that addiction could happen to them.