Drug Addiction

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Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They 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.


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Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives. Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a "relapsing" disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Most drugs affect the brain's "reward circuit," causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones.

Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit 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.

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They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities. Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:.

Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction. No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs.

Helping a loved one get treatment for drug addiction

A combination of factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:. However, addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed.

Drug Use - Our World in Data

People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. More good news is that drug use and addiction are preventable.


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  • Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction. Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use.

    Alcohol/Drug Addiction, Treatment & Recovery - David Streem, MD

    Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. June 6, Skip to main content.

    Drug Abuse and Addiction

    By Sam Wong. After completing his medical degree in , Kleber spent two years working at the National Prison Hospital in Kentucky, where thousands of drug users were incarcerated. Kleber recognised the limitations of this approach. Nine out of 10 patients relapsed within three months of leaving the facility. At the time, addiction attracted little interest from researchers.

    Step 2: Hope - Preston’s Story on Drug Addiction Recovery

    Kleber set up a dedicated drug dependence unit at Yale University, Connecticutt, and was instrumental in pushing for evidence-based treatment. He pioneered new approaches such as community-based treatment and methadone maintenance therapy for heroin addicts. Methadone is an opioid taken orally which is commonly prescribed to opioid addicts as a step towards coming off drugs.

    It helps them to get through the day without cravings or withdrawal symptoms.