No one thinks they are going to develop a substance use disorder the first time they take drugs or have a drink. Unfortunately, these substances can quickly become addictive. Why? Our brains are wired to seek pleasure.
How the Brain Works
We receive positive signals from our brain whenever we do something that benefits our survival. When we eat, for example, our brain releases a small amount of dopamine to encourage us to do it again. This is known as a “reward circuit.” When we do something good for our bodies, our brains reward us by making us feel good.
How Drugs Affect the Reward Circuit (and the Rest of the Brain)
Drugs work by artificially triggering dopamine and the other chemicals that make us feel good. When our brains are filled with these chemicals, we might experience deep pleasure or euphoria.
Because of our reward circuit, our brains will crave this experience again. Nevertheless, our reward circuit will also adapt, so that the pleasure is not as overwhelming. Over time, this increases the amount of the drug our brains need to produce the same effect. It can also decrease our ability to derive pleasure from things we once enjoyed. Drugs are strong, so they can change other parts of our brains, as well. These changes can affect:
- And more
When the brain and body change drastically as a result of drug use, the resulting illness is known as drug addiction.
Reasons People Use Drugs
The easiest way to avoid drug addiction is to never use drugs in the first place. For many people, however, this is unrealistic. People tend to use drugs and alcohol in social settings. They may be peer pressured into taking a drug or take it because they are genuinely curious. Not everyone who tries drugs and/or alcohol develops a substance use disorder.
People generally take drugs to feel good. Drugs and alcohol produce a feeling of pleasure, also known as a “high.” As we discussed earlier, when the high wears off, many people crave those feelings again.
Other people take drugs to feel better. Surges of feel-good chemicals can interrupt feelings of stress or sadness. Many times, people develop drug addictions in conjunction with mental illnesses. To address their symptoms, these people “self-medicate” with drugs and/or alcohol. Sadly, this behavior usually makes mental conditions worse, and it can lead to a dual diagnosis where the individual has a mental disorder and a drug or alcohol addiction.
Some people also take drugs to improve performance. Drugs like Adderall or cocaine, for example, may temporarily promote focus.
No matter why someone uses a drug, drug use turns into addiction when it gets out of hand.
Signs of Drug Addiction
Occasional drug use may work for some people. For many others, drugs rewire the brain and create symptoms of substance use disorder. Drug addiction can affect anyone, but certain factors (i.e. family history, environment, etc.) can increase someone’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. In general, addiction symptoms fall into 4 categories:
- Impaired control – cravings and an inability to quit or cut back.
- Social problems – substance use creates problems with work, school, and social relationships; or replaces hobbies or leisure activities.
- Risky use – driving, having unprotected sex, or engaging in other risky behaviors while using.
- Drug effects – needing larger amounts of the substance to achieve the same effects (tolerance) or experiencing negative symptoms when not using the substance (withdrawal).
If you or someone you love is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction, do not be afraid to ask for help. Recovering from a substance use disorder is difficult, but there are many resources available.
When drugs and/or alcohol take over your life, you may need to enter recovery. This is the process of getting help with a substance use disorder. At The Nestled Recovery Center, we approach recovery with a holistic model of wellness and a comfortable, cozy inpatient facility.
When you choose our recovery program, you will make lasting connections in a desert oasis and have access to the best treatments available. We will detoxify your body and mind and teach you ways to promote your social, emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, environmental, financial, and occupational wellbeing.
For personal attention and individualized care, look no further than The Nestled Recovery Center.