People who use drugs and become addicted will tell you that there’s a variety of reasons they first started using them. Some people try them out of curiosity or to have a good time. Recreational use is often also due to stress, anxiety or depression. Many of the people who use drugs recreationally don’t become addicted. Drug use turns into abuse when the drug user’s behavior escalates from “fun” to problematic.
Abusing drugs can cause problems with a person’s social life, job/career, finances and more. If a person is using drugs and they can’t quit, despite harmful consequences, we view that as an addiction. But what does addiction mean?
Understanding Addiction & “Willpower”
For people who have never used drugs or alcohol, or who have experimented then quit, addiction can be confusing. A lot of people assume that all it takes to stop using drugs, even when addicted, is “willpower.” However, recent science has shown that willpower is an illusion. If somebody can quit using drugs and alcohol on their own without difficulties, it’s because of many factors. They usually aren’t addicted if they can do it on their own. Willpower itself doesn’t exist – for example, how many people try to change their health patterns through crash dieting through “willpower alone” and end up failing? Behavior is changed slowly through consistent patterns,; for example, when a person decides to eat vegan, they usually “ease into it” one meal at a time. Changing behavior isn’t easy, but support from others can help.
Addiction is a disease that affects the brain – not only the “thinking” part but also the pleasure centers. The brain signals to the body when a person is dependent on a drug by causing changes. It’s a complex disease process, and people who are addicted can’t simply “choose” to not be addicted anymore. Their thoughts, emotions, and body are addicted all at once. All of them must be addressed to begin on the path of recovery.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease that causes compulsive behavior. Some of this behavior is drug seeking and habitual drug use, despite harmful consequences. When a person first experiments with drugs, they do so of their own free will, but a variety of factors are at play as the brain changes that over time. A person addicted to drugs will seek them out despite negative consequences. Drugs affect the way your brain processes, sends and receives communications. They affect both the body and the mind. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain changes. It comes to expect the dopamine surges – the “high” – and produced less dopamine, making the user crave the drug to feel “normal.” If a person wants to get high, they must use more of the drug to get the feeling they crave.
For many people, relapse is a part of their addiction story. It’s not a moral failing; it’s a sign that the person needs more help battling their addiction. Many people find that a stay in a longer-term treatment program helps them detox from drugs and learn to focus on recovery and new coping mechanisms.
Studies of the brains of people in active addiction show that drugs affect and change parts of the brain that help control judgment, decision-making, and behavior. These changes, and the cravings they cause create the perfect storm for addiction.
Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, through biology or genetics, but no one single factor seems to be able to predict dependence or addiction in a person. Addiction usually develops over time, and the person using drugs may not even notice they have a problem until they’ve been using for a while. Once they’re addicted, they will find it nearly impossible to quit on their own.