How does addiction affect the body?
Repeated drug and alcohol use causes chemical dependency, or lasting changes to the way the brain functions and operates. In fact, all abused substances alter the areas of the brain responsible for self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, motivation, memory and learning by hijacking the brain’s normal reward pathways. Although abused substances—including alcohol, heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, nicotine and prescription drugs—act on different pathways in the brain, they all necessitate increasingly higher doses to produce a high or simply allow the user to feel normal. Issues such as mental illness, multiple addictions and ancillary health problems may complicate substance addiction.
Addiction as a Disease [video]
Why do people use alcohol and drugs?
Because many drugs act on the brain’s pleasure pathways, the user experiences intense euphoria followed by related emotional highs. Cocaine, for example, induces feelings of empowerment, confidence, high self-esteem and increased energy. People might chase these perceived emotional benefits for a variety of reasons, including:
- Social: People use alcohol and drugs often as a way to fit in with a particular group or to feel more at ease in a social setting,
- Stress: Substance abuse may be a means to escape problems or a way to reduce stress. The role of stress in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or relapse in recovering patients should be addressed and approached holistically.
- Psychological triggers: People suffering from anxiety disorders, trauma, depression or other psychological illnesses may begin using alcohol and drugs to reduce or numb personal distress. Individuals with alcohol or drug dependence are nearly twice as likely to have a co-occurring psychological disorder.
- Peer pressure: Some people, especially teenagers and adolescents, are vulnerable to group pressure or the rationale that “everyone is doing it.”
When does alcohol and drug become substance addiction?
Substance use becomes abuse and later addiction when the drugs or alcohol begin to take control over one’s life. For many substance addicts, this is the tipping point: seeking and using increasing amounts of drugs, despite the tremendous problems it causes for themselves and their families.
Individualized addiction treatment can help.
Though substance abuse and addiction affects millions every year, no two people experience addiction the same way. People suffer from substance abuse and addiction for a variety of reasons and usually face related challenges, such as life stressors, emotional burdens and psychological issues. Although the prospect of overcoming substance addiction may seem impossible, recovery is within reach for all addicted persons.
To learn more about the characteristics, effects and treatment of substance abuse and addiction, please explore Caron’s treatment programs.