The Brain’s Relationship with Drug Addiction

There are numerous ideas circulating around what constitutes a drug addiction and how people develop an addiction to drugs. Some believe that it is the result of a moral failing, while others argue that it can be attributed to a lack of healthy free will. However plausible these ideas may seem, the reality of the matter is that addiction is rooted in our body’s relationship with our brain. It is a real chronic disease that is characterized by compulsion, despite the harsh and unfortunate consequences that may unfold.

When a person begins to use drugs, the chemicals in their brain are altered. In response to the drug use, the “reward center” of the brain; the area associated with the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivation, is flooded with the chemical dopamine. This increase in dopamine overstimulates this section of the brain resulting in the pleasurable high that draws people to use over and over again. Over time, the body grows accustomed to this increase in dopamine and it is needed to feel a sense of “normal”. Without the drug use, there is no alteration of chemicals and the high is not experienced.

As drug use accumulates, a tolerance is developed and the strong high that was once experienced weakens. The user is then even more accustomed to use more frequently and more often, chasing the great pleasurable high they once felt. This need for the drug, and the compulsion it demands is what goes to ignite the constant battle of addiction.

Similar to other chronic diseases, drug use can be treated and mamnaged, but it is not curable. Not all those who use become addicted for a variety of factors such as one’s biology, environment, or development. Treatment is often tailored to one’s specific case and can help manage use. Even years after abstinence, people are at risk for relapse. Like any chronic disease, drug addiction is a constant battle to be fought and there is not an easy cure in sight.

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