Most people tend to think that drug addiction is a phenomenon of the modern world, but there is recorded evidence that shows humans have used different types of drugs for thousands of years. Narcotics were said to have been used from around 4000 B.C., and marijuana was considered to have medicinal uses in 2737 B.C. in China. It was in the 19th century that drugs like cocaine and morphine were prescribed by physicians for a vast range of illnesses. During the American Civil War, it was the norm for soldiers to use morphine. Opium dens were seen everywhere. Looking back at the history of drugs, it is no surprise that there were about 250,000 drug addicts in the United States by the early 1900s.
How Drug Addiction Starts
Drug addiction usually begins with some problem, some form of emotional or physical pain people experience. When it gets too much to handle and they are unable to deal with, they look at drugs as a way to find solace. Teenagers may be having difficulty “fitting in,” and as an adult it could be a divorce, work issues or financial stress. It can also be due to some physical discomfort that is giving them chronic pain. There can be a zillion reasons. The person experiencing the problem finds his present unendurable, yet has no solution. Most of us go through this phase in our lives, but the difference is that a drug addict chooses drugs or alcohol as a solution.
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A common scenario: A person just wants to try an addictive drug like cocaine once. He wants to experience the feeling, because everyone around says it’s unlike anything else. He says to himself, “C’mon there’s no harm in trying it once!”
For many, this is how the horror story begins. The next thing they know – they find themselves enjoying the drug’s euphoric effect so much that they are tempted to use it again after a few months – then again – until they start taking it more frequently.
The thing about drug addiction is that everyone who is into drugs knows that it isn’t good for them; they understand the perilous long-term consequences. In due time, most people decide to quit. But before they realize what is happening, they are addicted.
What is a drug?
In medical terminology, a drug is any substance that when taken modifies one or more functions of a living organism. Drugs have the capacity to provide temporary relief from unhealthy symptoms or provide the body with the necessary substances that the body is no longer able to make. While there are negative side effects associated with some drugs, some lead to dependency.
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Understanding Drug Addiction Causes
We know that it is easy to get addicted to certain drugs, but why does this happen?
The human brain, a three-pound mass of gray and white matter, is the center of all our activity. It is the most important tool that helps us face all aspects of life. We think, we interact with the world, enjoy daily activities, resolve issues and do so many other things. You must have studied in school that it is our brain that regulates the basic body functions, and enables us to respond to our experiences. Drugs of abuse can harm this ability to think and make people lose their awareness of the surroundings.
It is interesting and shocking to see how drugs take over our mind. Our brain has a reward system – the limbic system – which links several brain structures that control and regulate our feelings of pleasure. What makes us do certain things over and over again, are these feelings of pleasure. It is natural isn’t it? When we enjoy a particular dessert, we look forward to having it again. We crave for anything that gives us immense pleasure. It is the same with drugs of abuse.
People who are into drugs, rally believe they have found a solution to their problems, because they seem to be able to deal with life better. This feeling makes the drugs most valuable to them. They have found a cure to their negative emotions or physical discomfort, which is brought on by the pain killing effects of drugs.
Addictive drugs activate the brain reward mechanisms strongly. Drug addicts crave for their drugs and focus all their attention on trying to get their hands on the drug they are addicted to. They totally ignore the horrible consequences of this drug abuse.
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There are Several Effects of Drug Addiction
As in our example earlier in this article, even when the person decides to quit his cocaine usage, his brain has a different agenda. Over a period of time, unknown to the person, the brain has changed dramatically in structure and function. After a certain point, the brain gets very demanding, and starts insisting for cocaine. In spite of the person’s rational mind knowing that the drugs shouldn’t be touched again, the brain overrules and controls all those warning signals, ensuring they don’t register. The brain turns into an all-powerful monster.
Drug addiction is a brain disease. Different drugs affect the brain in different ways, but the transformation is strikingly similar, irrespective of the drug used. The changes in the brain can range from long-lasting changes in the biochemical makeup of the brain, to memory process changes, mood changes and changes in motor skills. It is these changes that bring about a tremendous transformation in the person’s behavior.
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On the person
If you’ve ever witnessed the transformation of a normal person into a drug addict, you would know how horrible it is. I’ve seen my friend’s bother change from one of the most sensible persons I’ve ever known to someone who people look down at. Drugs have the ability to change the behavior and change the total personality of a person beyond recognition. Many of the drug addicts start harboring negative feelings towards others, and this is the main reason for many criminals being drug addicts.
Here are some of the personality changes:
- They become dishonest and start lying to close family and friends.
- They withdraw from people close to them and prefer isolation.
- Many appear depressed all the time.
- They experience mood swings.
- They are no longer reliable and cannot be trusted.
- They harbor hatred and negative feelings towards people.
- They feel that the whole world is against them.
- They begin stealing from close family and friends. It usually begins with the need for money to get their hands on drugs.
Understanding how the drug addict’s mind works makes it easy to figure out these changes in a person, when you are close to them.
In fact, in drug addiction, the drug itself becomes the single most powerful motivator in the person’s life. If you’ve noticed, you will find that drug addicts are almost always willing to do anything for the drug.
People who are on drugs and may be getting addicted, should understand early that the euphoric effects they feel initially when they begin taking drugs – are a sure sign that the particular drug has the capability to induce changes in their brain. It starts innocently enough, but over time, when the drug is taken with increasing regularity, the brain gets addicted, and it is no longer in the hands of the drug addicts themselves.
This is the reason, despite taking vows of never touching cocaine again, the person continues taking it – again and again. Now everything is beyond control and it is compulsive. Drug addiction has set in.
While this may come as a shock to the person taking drugs, researchers have for long known and warned people about the predictable outcome of addictive drugs. They have found evidence that it is virtually inevitable that prolonged usage of drugs leads to addiction. This is the reason parents advice their children to steer clear of drugs.
Click here for an excellent resource for parents, to understand why their children and teenagers are pulled towards drug abuse and how they can prevent/treat this issue.
On the family
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Drug addicts are known to have marital problems and problems at their work place. It has also been seen that the family mostly turns a blind eye to the drug addiction until it is too late. They may do this out of fear of consequences, and out of confidence that if they show enough love, the person will give up drug abuse.
Pregnant women on drugs risk giving birth to babies with low birth weight or babies who show withdrawal symptoms as soon as they are born. Mothers who acquire AIDS during pregnancy also pass it on to their babies.
On the health
The risk of AIDS is scary and overrules all other effects of drug abuse. Many drug addicts share hypodermic needles that they use to inject drugs. This increases the chance of contracting AIDS as well as hepatitis. Studies also reveal that promiscuity is more rampant among drug addicts. Their increased sexual activity and prostitution also increases the risk of AIDS and STDs.
Drug overdose is yet another danger that can kill them. There are said to be more than 10,000 drug-related deaths in the United States every year. The most commonly used drugs in America are cocaine, morphine and heroin -taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol.
Drug Withdrawal and Cravings – a Huge Side Effect
In fact, drug withdrawal is the worst side effect of drug addiction. Apart from relationships falling apart and life becoming a mess, the drug addict’s body also gets used to the drugs. They experience immense pain with withdrawal. The drug cravings become unendurable. So, the addict continues taking drugs not only to experience the “pleasure” he derives out of taking them, but also to avoid the mental and physical pain of withdrawal. Over a period of time, the drugs also stop offering the same pleasure, so in order to feel the effects of drugs; the victim has to take more and more. The drugs change the person not only mentally but also physically.
Need we say that you should never ever try drugs?
After having read all about what happens in our brain and the whole process of how people get addicted to drugs, you should know that nobody starts out intending to become a drug addict. Everyone just wants to try it once. But the initial voluntary and controllable decision turns involuntary and compulsive.
Most people tend to think that drug addicts who are weak-willed are the ones that cannot quit drug use without help. Scientific evidence states that this notion is wrong.
The Need for Drug Treatment Programs
Studies show that only 7 percent of smokers who try to quit smoking without seeking external help, succeed. Similarly, it is critical for drug addicts to seek help and join drug treatment programs, to be effectively treated. If you have a member of your family who is deeply into drugs, and even if they are willing to work on getting out of it, it is important to know that you may not be able to do it alone. The changes in the brain that turned them into addicts; make it very difficult for them to control their craving; which heightens when exposed to situations that trigger a memory of the extremely pleasurable moments they experienced when using drugs.
Have you heard or drug relapse?
Relapse is when a recovering drug addict gets back to taking drugs. It is a very common phenomenon and the goal of treatment is to get addicts out of their addiction and increase the gap between relapses – until finally there may be no more. There are several treatment programs available today, which include medications, behavior therapy, social services and rehabilitation.
Stephen J. Della Valle, the author of “Rising Above The Influence,” has himself picked up his first drink when he was just twelve. He was a drug addict for twenty years when he turned his life around by joining a recovery program. I suggest you read this amazingly insightful book about drugs and the reality of addiction and recovery, if you can get your hands on it.
Following a proper treatment strategy that places emphasis on all aspects of drug addiction helps people who have abused drugs to get back to leading normal fruitful lives by fitting in to the society. There are thousands that are doing it!
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