From alcohol, tobacco and marijuana to heroin, cocaine and LSD, the addiction grows on a person in a way that the brain’s chemistry is altered altogether. Addiction, as defined by NIDA, is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. Some people may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.
The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. Consequently, choosing to take drugs no longer remains a voluntary action. With continued use, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired; this impairment in self-control is the hallmark of addiction. Brain imaging studies of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical for judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.
Most of the drugs hit the central nervous system. There are chemical messengers produced in the brain that result in feelings. They are called hormones. Each and every emotion we experience is a result of the release of certain hormones inside our bodies. Certain hormones, like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, vasopressin etc are the reasons behind the good or happy feelings that we feel. They are released by eating certain foods, exposing yourself to sunlight or by exercising. The consumption of drugs plays with these hormones and the temporary high is caused. By flooding the brain with dopamine, drugs make people feel alive and alert, refreshed and renewed. The overstimulation causes intense pleasure and hence the person is drawn to it like a magnet. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by making less of it and/or reducing the ability of brain cells to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug, trying to achieve the same dopamine high. It can also cause them to get less pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food or social activities. When they first use a drug, people may perceive what seem to be positive effects; they also may believe that they can control their use. However, drugs can quickly take over a person’s life. Over time, taking the drug becomes necessary for the user just to feel “normal.” They may then compulsively seek and take drugs even though it causes tremendous problems for themselves and their loved ones. Some people may start to feel the need to take higher or more frequent doses, even in the early stages of their drug use. These are the tell-tale signs of an addiction.
To brief it all, this is how the trap is laid:
They make you feel better than you usually feel and create a dependency with continued usage. Consequently, more quantity is needed to be consumed in order to feel the same intensity of happiness. The last stage to the process of drug consumption becoming an addiction happens when one requires drugs to feel their normal self.
What makes you feel better than usual initially, erodes your system in a way that it doesn’t let you feel usual without it.
– Apoorva Gauba