For most people, the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary. But as they are swept up into the cycle of addiction, the neural pathways in their brain change so they are less able to control their behavior and resist their intense impulses.
It works like this: the brain rewards pleasurable experiences (such as food, intimacy, and laughter) with surges of feel-good chemicals like dopamine. But using drugs triggers the release of much more dopamine than chocolate or cuddling does, and the rush of euphoria compels them to repeat the experience. The more someone uses drugs, the more they condition their brain to anticipate the same substance-fueled pleasant sensations.
That’s why it’s so difficult to stop. The brain becomes wired for addiction. Eventually, one’s tolerance may build so much that addictive behavior no longer provides any pleasure, and using drugs simply becomes a way to avoid withdrawal. They need drugs just to keep feeling normal.
he sad truth is that more deaths, illnesses, and disabilities are caused by substance abuse than by any other preventable health condition. Prolonged drug dependence interferes with just about every organ in the human body, and while different drugs have different damaging effects, these are some of the common conditions substance abuse can cause:
- Damaged immune system, which increases susceptibility to infection
- Cardiovascular conditions, including heart attacks and collapsed veins
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
- Liver overexertion or liver failure
- Seizures and strokes
- Widespread brain damage that can interfere with memory, attention, and decision-making, as well as permanent brain damage
Some of the worst effects of substance abuse aren’t even health related. Drug abuse can have a number of damaging consequences on an addict’s social and emotional well-being, including:
- Loss of employment
- Relationship loss
- Financial trouble
- Risky sexual behavior