Drug Addiction: Why do we get addicted?

Author: Branden Chen

Editors: Kira Tian and Cynthia Zhang

Artist: Tiffany Chen

Addiction, defined as “a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences,” is a commonly misunderstood yet prevalent topic in society today. Many individuals do not understand why and how others develop drug addictions and instead perceive these addicts as psychopathic or lacking morals; however, this is not always the case. In 2017, about 741,000, or 3% of the adolescent population (ages 12-17) and 38% of adults in the United States suffered from an illicit drug use disorder. With drug abuse being a prominent issue, it is crucial to understand the reasons why some people become addicted and why others do not.

First, we must understand how addiction develops. The initial choice to take drugs is usually voluntary, such as out of curiosity or peer pressure. However, as people use them repetitively, the brain begins to change, challenging the users’ self-control and ultimately interfering with their ability to refrain from using them. Another critical point is to understand that drug addiction is a “relapsing disease,” meaning that those who recover from drug addiction through rehabilitation or other means are likely to return to drug use even after extended periods away from drugs. Treatment is essential towards helping others in their journey of battling drug addiction, but it is still likely that the addiction will return because of brain changes that occurred during their usage.

Neurologically, drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” filling up users with hormones such as dopamine and euphoria after drug use. This rush of dopamine will increase users’ dependence on the substances, motivating them to continue these behaviors to indulge themselves, though these habits are unhealthy. As one continues to use drugs, the brain slowly develops tolerance, meaning that it is better equipped to handle highs and thus the user might choose to consume more of the drug to achieve the same level of euphoria. Drug addiction tends to lead one to be more focused on drugs, straying away from other daily activities that are pleasurable, such as sexual and social activities. Long-term use of drugs can cause other damages to learning, judgment, stress, memory, and behavior.

So why do some people get addicted to these drugs, while others do not? One factor is your biological composition. Individuals can be born with genes that account for half of their risk of addiction. Other biological factors such as gender, ethnicity, and mental disorders also affect the risk of addiction. Another factor that plays a determining role in the environment, specifically, the background and surroundings of an individual. Family and friends, economic status, and general quality of life all affect their risk of addiction. Other factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can also increase the likelihood of developing an addiction. Lastly, age also plays a role. The earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely they are to develop a long-lasting addiction, since the brain develops at a young age, therefore causing adolescents to be more prone to risky behaviors.

Although drug use is a widespread issue, it is entirely preventable and treatable. It is essential to educate young people about the severity of the problem to decrease the chances of addiction in future generations.

Citations:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts |

National Institute on Drug Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 6 June 2018‌

“Addiction Statistics | Drug & Substance Abuse Statistics.” American Addiction Centers, 2020, americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics. Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

‌“What Is Addiction?” Psychiatry.Org, 2017

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