The Dangerous Process of Addiction Within the Brain

In today’s America, many of us are affected by addiction personally or through a loved one. Recent statistics show that over 20 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, not including tobacco products. Despite preventative measures, such as initiatives like D.A.R.E and others who seek to educate children, over 90% of those addicted tried their vice (alcohol, tobacco, or drugs) before the age of 18. Even with help treatment centers everywhere and insurmountable measures taken to end life-shattering addiction problems, millions of Americans are still struggling to overcome.

There are many unique reasons for initially trying these substances, and many of these reasons can lead to prolonged use. These motives can include social aspects of use, and some of them may be habit-forming; for example, socially having a drink after work can become part of a nightly routine. Many drug users start as experimenters of mild substances, eventually turning the experiment into a routine and mild substances into harder ones, in an effort to find more drastic highs. Rather than answering the question of what are opiates by doing research, these individuals prefer to find out through experience. Use can turn into abuse, which evolves into compulsion due to the different ways substances affect the brain.

Drugs and alcohol affect different parts of your brain, but addictive tendencies tend to develop in the same way. Once addicted, the brain then disregards any consequences that may arise as a result of drug and alcohol use as it becomes rewired to prioritize it.

Most of the dependence happens within the limbic system, which controls our emotional responses. Eating, for example, creates a positive reaction in the limbic system, motivating us to repeat the action. In this case, the reactions create a system in which we need to live, by rewarding us for eating. Addictive substances also give the user a good feeling which in turn creates the same reaction and motivation sequence.

Largely because of how the brain works, these steps enable the brain to develop a reward system, and the rewards are activated and heightened with every use of the addictive substance. Medical research shows that the brain believes it is being rewarded with something good and eventually with something needed. This is because most addictive substances either mimic the effects of dopamine, which sends positive signals to the brain, or they cause the brain to overproduce the dopamine. The repeated use of drugs increases the need for dopamine in that sense, forcing the user to repeatedly seek them out.

There are many unique factors that contribute to the way in which a person becomes addicted, and how long the process may take. It is important to note that the method of using the drug tends to play a large part. Certain methods, like injection and sometimes smoking, create a rush or a high of brain-rewarding activity but fades very quickly into an extremely low feeling. This reason creates a need or higher reward for repeated use. Younger users can also develop addictive traits more quickly, as scientific and medical research shows that a developing brain is more easily subject to addictive patterns.


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