Drug use has become a widespread epidemic in today’s society. We are in an age where drugs are readily available and many are socially acceptable. According to a 2009 study, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that 16 million Americans over the age of twelve had taken some form of drug for recreational purposes. They also found that 7% of the population abused drugs regularly, and 2% could be classified as addicted.
Does drug use always lead to addiction? Not always – drug use can lead to abuse, which can lead to addiction. It is always advised to end drug use as soon as possible to avoid future issues. Since the nature of drugs is to change the way someone’s brain functions, and we all have unique brain chemistry, there is no set way to determine when a user may become addicted.
Drug Use vs. Drug Abuse
According to Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, a medical doctor that specializes in rehabilitation, drug abuse is a disorder that can be characterized as a destructive pattern of drug use that can lead to social problems and distress. There are a wide variety of circumstances that lead to drug use, which range from wanting to fit in, wanting to feel a certain way or wanting to escape emotional issues. The exact reason one begins to use drugs will be unique for each individual. However, repeated use can often become drug abuse.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that with continued drug use, the brain adapts to the surge of dopamine that is released by most drugs. This overloads what neurobiologists call the ‘reward circuit’ of the brain. By overloading the ‘reward circuit’ with dopamine from drug use, natural dopamine release is lessened. This can often result in drug abuse to reach normal dopamine levels.
Signs of abuse are often irritability, anger, significant weight gain or loss and a dramatic effect on the abuser’s personal life. These side effects do not usually occur from occasional drug use and are indicative of drug abuse. If you begin to notice these signs, seek help from a rehabilitation counselor immediately. Continued use may lead to an addiction that can damage every aspect of your life.
Why Are Some Able to Quit While Others Become Addicted?
NIDA defines addiction as, “a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.” NIDA has found that no single factor can determine if a person is at risk of becoming addicted to drugs. They have pinpointed three primary factors that can lead to the development of an addiction:
- Biology – Our genetic make-up accounts for roughly 50% of addictive vulnerability. If an individual’s family has a history of drug or alcohol addiction, it is likely they are genetically predisposed to becoming addicted. However, this is only one factor and does not mean they will become addicted.
- Environment – The family dynamic an individual was raised in largely contributes to addiction susceptibility. Other factors, such as economic status and quality of life, also play an important role. Peer pressure has shown to be a dramatic influence on drug abuse and its escalation to addiction.
- Development – Taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, however NIDA has found that the earlier drugs are introduced into someone’s life, the more likely they are to abuse them. This abuse can more easily lead to addiction compared to an older individual, as their brains are still developing decision-making skills and self-control.
These factors greatly determine an individual’s ability to end drug use before it leads to an addiction. Many people in more favorable environments are able to use drugs a few times without leading to abuse or addiction. Others may become addicted after the first use.
When to Seek Help
The earlier you seek treatment, the easier it will be to remove the drug from your life. If you catch the issue early enough, you may be able to stop use with the support of friends and family. Seek advice from your primary care physician as soon as you identify an abuse or addictive issue to develop a treatment program that is best for you.
This article was written by Adam Watterson. Adam has over four years of experience working in drug rehab and has writes other great articles such as such as “Staying Sober with an Inspirational Reading List” on behalf of the Narconon network.