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Drug Abuse and Addiction

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People who have addictive personalities make poor decisions and often misinterpret the motives or intentions of others by continual drug use. Drugs contain substances that disrupt or impair the way the cells in the nerves receive, transmit and process messages. Therefore, drugs can cause an impairment in one of two ways:

- By mimicking the natural chemical messengers in the brain; or
- By excessively stimulating the brain's "reward circuitry".

Drugs, such as heroin and marijuana, are similar in structure to the chemical messengers that are produced by the brain known as neurotransmitters. Because the drugs replicate the natural messengers, they can cause the brain’s messaging system to become skewed.

Drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine, cause nerve cells to produce excessive amounts of the neurotransmitter called dopamine, which, in turn, causes a euphoric effect when the substances are used. As the user continues to abuse the dopamine-producing substance, the number of dopamine receptors is reduced in the “reward circuitry.” As a result, the user tries to increase the pleasure he once experienced by taking more of the drug – a practice that is referred to as tolerance.

Long-term use can also alter the amount of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain. When a large amount of glutamate is altered from the practice of drug abuse, cognitive functioning becomes increasingly impaired. Imaging studies of long-term drug users show alterations in the brain that are directly related to one’s decision-making ability and judgment. Therefore, drug abuse and addiction are not only are a danger to the user but also to the people with whom he interacts.

Given that drug use can have such devastating effects, it is indeed difficult for some people to understand how anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol in the first place. However, no one sole risk factor can predict whether or not an individual will abuse drugs. Instead, risk is determined by a combination of components, such as the developmental stage of the user, DNA and biology. For example, a user may increase his risk if he has a history of mental disorders in his family or is suffering from depression. Socioeconomic influences can increase the risk of drug addiction and abuse as well. Factors that motivate excessive drug use include physical or sexual abuse, anxiety and pressure by peers.

While drug abuse at any age can lead to an addictive pattern, users who start taking drugs early usually progress to the point where they are suffering serious issues with drug abuse later in life. Therefore, it is imperative that adults with children do all that they can to prevent the problem from surfacing. Family counseling and support from public health agencies can support a parent’s efforts in this regard.

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