Why is it so difficult to give up drugs, even when using them is destroying your relationships, career, health, and finances? Many people dealing with addiction blame themselves for lacking willpower, but the answer is much more complex than that. Drugs actually alter the way the brain works, making addiction very powerful.
The World Health Organization defines addiction as the repeated use of an intoxicating substance and the subsequent dependence on that substance. People with addictions are called addicts. Addicts will go to great lengths to find their substance of choice and are often unable to stop using on their own.
Withdrawal occurs when an addict stops using a substance after a long term of regular use. During addiction treatment, a former user experiences intense cravings for the substance. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological. Physical withdrawal symptoms typically subside after the body adjusts to not having the drug or alcohol, while psychological withdrawal can linger longer.
If an addict returns to drug or alcohol abuse during or after an addiction treatment program, he is said to have relapsed. With the right treatment and support network, a former addict can avoid relapse and stay drug free.
Triggers refer to any kind of stimulation that sparks an addict’s desire to use drugs or alcohol. Triggers can cause relapses. Every addict has his own unique set of triggers, though some of the most common include stress, visiting places where drugs and alcohol are available, or being around friends who are addicts.
Recovery is the stage that comes after drug addiction treatment. During recovery, treated addicts work to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. Recovery lasts for the rest of the former addict’s life.
What Are Neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in your brain that transmit messages from your neurons to other cells. Many neurotransmitters are involved in the regulation of mood and behavior. Dopamine is associated with pleasure, rewards, and energy; serotonin regulates mood and impulse behavior; and nor-epinephrine is involved with excitement and pleasure. There are many other such neurotransmitters that are directly responsible for how you feel and your behavior. Changes in your brain’s delicate balance of neurotransmitters can have far-reaching effects, from depression to impulsive behavior and addiction.
How Are Neurotransmitters and Drugs Linked?
The high associated with most drugs is derived from an alteration of neurotransmitters. Different drugs affect different neurotransmitters, often sparking a feeling of euphoria that the user craves again and again. The relationship becomes more complicated with repeated drug use. Take dopamine for example; using drugs can cause an increase in dopamine levels, which boosts the user’s mood. However, with repeated use, your brain will respond by making less dopamine when the drug isn’t being used, which means sober periods are marked by depression. Eventually, the brain stops making dopamine unless the drug enters the system. The user is now physically dependent on the drug.