For a major portion of the previous century, scientists who studied drug abuse worked in the midst of misconceptions and powerful myths regarding the nature of drug addiction. As scientists began to study the nature of addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were considered to be morally at fault and deficient in willpower. Those views shaped the responses of society to the abuse of drugs, treating it as a moral failure instead of a health problem.
This led to the emphasis of punishment instead of treatment and prevention. Today, because of science, our views and our responses to addiction as well as other disorders of substance use have dramatically changed. Revolutionary discoveries about the human brain have revolutionized people’s understanding of compulsive use of drugs, which let us effectively respond to the problem.
Because of scientific research, we all know that addiction is a disease which affects both the behavior and the brain. We have identified a lot of the environmental and biological factors and are starting to look for the variations in genes that contribute to the progression as well as the development of the disease. Scientists use this information to develop effective addiction treatment and prevention approaches that contribute to the reduction of the toll that drug abuse takes on families, communities and individuals according to the Denver addiction treatment site Jade Recovery.
Even in the presence of these advances, a lot of people today lack the understanding why people get addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain which leads to further compulsive use of drugs. Increasing the understanding of the basics of drug addiction is going to empower people to create informed choices in their own lives, decide on programs and science-based policies which reduce addiction and drug abuse in the communities as well as foster scientific researches that improve the well-being of nations.
Addiction to and abuse of nicotine, alcohol as well illicit and prescription drugs cost Americans more than $700 billion in increased crime, health care costs and lost productivity. Each year, prescription drugs and illicit drugs and alcohol contribute to the death of over 90,000 Americans, while tobacco is linked to about 480,000 deaths every year. People from all walks of life are affected by drug addiction and abuse. Babies who are exposed to drugs in the womb could be born underweight and premature. Adolescents who abuse drugs do poorly in school and even drop out. Adults often have problems remembering, thinking clearly and paying attention when they abuse drugs. Parents could abuse their children and neglect their families when they abuse drugs.
There are many reasons why people take drugs. They take drugs to feel good. A lot of abused drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure. They take drugs to feel better. People who suffer from stress-related disorders, social anxiety and depression start abusing drugs to try to lessen feelings of distress. They also take drugs to perform better. Some people feel the pressure to improve or chemically enhance their athletic or cognitive performance, which could play a role in experimentation and continued abuse of drugs like prescription stimulants. Lastly, they do it out of curiosity because “others are doing it”.
Scientists study the effects of drugs on people’s behavior and the brain. They use the information to develop programs to stop drug abuse and help people get well from addiction through addiction treatment. Further research helps transfer the ideas into practice in many communities. The question is, if taking drugs is supposed to make people feel better or good, what’s the problem? When people first use a drug, people see what they think as positive effects. They also believe that they can control their use of the drugs.
The problem is, drugs can easily take over the life of a person. Over time, if the use of drugs continues, other activities that are supposed to be pleasurable become less pleasurable. Taking the drug becomes necessary for the user and they use it as a “maintenance” to feel “normal”. They will then compulsively seek and take drugs even it causes serious problems for their loved ones and themselves. A lot of people begin to feel the need to take higher or more frequent doses. This happens even during the early stages of the drug use. These are the signs of addiction.
Even moderate drug use still has some risks. Just think how a social drinker can get intoxicated, get behind the wheel of the car, and quickly turn pleasurable activity into a tragedy that affects the lives of many. Usually, the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary. However, with continual use, the ability of the person to exert self-control could become impaired seriously. This impairment of self-control is the signature of addiction. Brain images of people with addiction reveal physical changes in areas that are crucial to learning, decision making, judgment, memory and behavior control.