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The Effects of Drug Addiction

Understand the science and psychology of drug addiction

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The Effects of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a dangerous and potentially fatal disease, but it can be treated. Understanding the science and psychology behind addiction enables skilled professionals to manage addiction and successfully treat it.

How drug addiction impacts the brain’s reward system.

Drugs are psychoactive substances that alter brain chemistry and physiology when introduced into the body. Although each works a little differently, most drugs target and alter the brain’s reward system by altering the brain’s natural chemical activity. At least initially, taking drugs causes euphoria and intense pleasure, thus teaching the drug user to repeat drug use.

How drug addiction develops.

As the individual continues to abuse drugs, the brain begins to compensate for drug-induced alterations in brain activity (usually surges in the neurotransmitter dopamine) by suppressing its natural reward circuit. This, in turn, reduces the drug user’s ability to enjoy drugs and other pleasurable stimuli. Eventually, the drug user is compelled to continue abusing drugs in larger quantities to achieve normal brain functioning. This process of developing tolerance to and dependence on drugs eventually leads to drug addiction.

Types and effects of drugs.

While some drugs are used for medicinal purposes, others are taken illegally for their narcotic or stimulant effects and can often become addictive.

Medical drugs are used to diagnose, treat or prevent of illnesses or medical conditions. There are three types of medical drugs:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available in pharmacies and supermarkets without special restrictions.
  • Behind-the-counter (BTC) are dispensed by a pharmacist without needing a doctor's prescription.
  • Prescription drugs must be prescribed by a physician or licensed medical professional.

Prescription drugs can also be harmful when not used for their intended purposes. Doctors prescribe medication in carefully measured doses to treat specific medical conditions. They provide instruction for how to take the medications, including things to avoid while taking the drug — such as drinking alcohol, smoking or taking other medications. Most importantly, doctors are aware of potentially dangerous side effects and monitor patients accordingly. For all of these reasons, prescription drugs are only safe when taken in the correct amounts by those who have a script.

Like all drug abuse, using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons results in drug addiction and serious risks to a person's health. Learn more about prescription drug use.

Illegal drugs or street drugs, are chemical compounds that are forbidden by law often and frequently lead to addiction. Learn more about illegal drugs here.

Social and psychological effects of drug abuse and addiction.

Whether they're abusing street drugs or medications, drug addicts often have trouble at school or work, at home, in relationships or with the law. In fact, the likelihood that someone will commit a crime, be a victim of a crime or have an accident is higher when that person is abusing drugs — regardless of whether those drugs are medications or street drugs. In fact, any drug (when taken too frequently or in inappropriate quantities) can become addicting when the user looks forward to the effects of the drug produces, despite knowing the risks is poses.

Treating drug addiction.

Drug addiction is a dangerous and potentially fatal disease. If the negative effects of drug addiction or abuse have impacted you or a loved one, take heart. Proven drug addiction treatment options are available to you.