Sometimes people get frustrated and wonder why their loved ones can’t just stop using drugs? Why is addiction so powerful? Why would people not stop using substances that are hurting them physically and ruining so many aspects of their lives? It can be really difficult for friends and family to understand why these individuals continue to use drugs knowing the harmful effects.
The simple reason it is so difficult for individuals struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol to stop using is that drug addiction is an actual disease. When people are addicted to drugs and alcohol and take them for a long period of time changes in their brain circuits occur. These changes make it really hard for users to stop their addictions to drugs and alcohol. Recently, researchers have termed this the “brain disease model of addiction” that views drug and alcohol addiction. This view categorizes addiction not as a lack of willpower but as an actual illness that needs treatment.
Addiction can harm the brain in the following three ways:
1- the brains reward circuits become less sensitive. Drugs that are addicting can cause ether brain to release dopamine which creates feelings of pleasure. After time, the brain circuit becomes imbalanced and individuals need more and more of the drug to create the same pleasurable response. This can cause individuals to lose interest in things they use to enjoy like friends, or other natural rewarding situations.
2-The brain’s reaction to stress increases with addiction. In an addicted individual’s brain, the circuits become overactive and people feel stressed whether they are using drugs or not.
3-Decision making skills are compromised. Drug addiction affects the prefrontal cortex which is the center of the brain that controls decision making. Even when addicted individuals try to stop using drugs, they can’t make the decision and stick with it to do so.
Many factors impact the disease of drug addiction and research is constantly uncovering and learning more about how to help those individuals struggling.