Understanding Drug Use and Addiction

Written by: Janet Fluker, M.Ed., M.S.
Understanding Drug Use and Addiction

Drug use has become a concerning health issue in our society today. It is generally misunderstood to be a lack of moral principle or willpower when in reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting can be very difficult.

What is drug addiction?

“Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences” (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

While the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, continuing to use drugs changes the brain in a way that affects a person’s self-control and interferes with their ability to resist the intense urges to continue taking them. These brain changes are persistent, contributing to the increased risk of relapsing even after quitting. Drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit” and floods it with dopamine, creating a sense of euphoria. This reinforces unhealthy behaviors and leads people to repeat the behavior again and again. Over time the brain adapts, and the person needs more of the substance to achieve the same reaction. This can lead to a loss of pleasure in other things as well, like food or social activities. Long-term drug use causes changes in other areas such as judgment, decision-making, memory, and behavior. This is what can lead to continued use despite negative consequences.

Can drug addiction be cured or prevented?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease, and treatment for it isn’t considered a cure. However, it is treatable and can be successfully managed. People in recovery are at risk for relapse, but treatment with addiction medicines and behavioral therapy can offer the best chance of success. Each person’s recovery process is different and must be tailored to the individual. Support from family, friends, and professionals offers the best chance of success.

For more information, visit gasubstanceabuse.org.