By: Lisa Drew
For an explanation of my project, watch this video!
Say Hello to My Studies Participants!
Richard “TC”– 25-year-old automotive technician. TC grew up between Detroit, Michigan and the Upper Peninsula on Indian Reservations. He currently lives on the Bay Mills Reservation. He graduated from Madison Heights High School. TC enjoys spending time with family, working on cars, and making Ojibwe jewelry. TC was always interested in drugs and he credits this to how he grew up. When he lived on the reservations he saw a lot of abuse and “things that little kids shouldn’t see”. He was also sexually assaulted as a child and he did whatever he could to rid himself of these memories. He began as a social drug user with marijuana, molly, cocaine and alcohol until he got into a car accident and messed up his shoulder really bad. He was prescribed Vicodin but the dosage wasn’t strong enough to ease the pain, so he took more then the recommended amount. With this increased amount of Vicodin he grew a tolerance to the drug and moved to heroin because it was cheaper and stronger. Not realizing how addictive it was as he was soely focused on making the physical pain from his accident go away. Though, with extended use of heroin he became addicted, in and out of jail, broke, and ruining a lot of his personal relationships. TC is a recovering heroin addict and has been clean for 2 years.
Ashley– 29-year-old stay at home mom. She has a five-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. She graduated from cosmetology school and might go back into a salon when her son begins kindergarten. Currently, she enjoys fishing in her backyard, spending time with family, taking walks, volunteering at her daughter’s school, and helping people. She grew up in the Metro Detroit, Michigan area. Growing up with an alcoholic mother who also abused other drugs, Ashley was always surrounded by substances. She moved out at the ripe age of 13 but her life didn’t get any easier; she had boyfriends lie to her and steal her money to buy drugs, she was sexually assaulted multiple times and had no support. These traumatizing events in her life caused her to get night terrors where she felt helpless, frozen and at fault. She didn’t tell anyone because she was embarrassed, so she began to self-medicate with Xanax she got from her mother. These pills helped her terrors go away but after (ten) years of using them, she needed them to function. Ashley’s a recovering Xanax addict and has been clean for almost 2 years.
Noah– 21-year-old student. Noah is a senior at Michigan State University graduating with a major in neuroscience. He’s apart of MSU’s Traveler’s Club. He aspires to be a dentist like his father and brother. He grew up in Franklin, Michigan. Noah is passionate about making music, nature photography, and working out. He started using marijuana at a young age because he suffers from PTSD from falling off a chair lift as a child, he would have night terrors of free falling, which caused him a lot of panic attacks and depression. He researched how to free himself from these terrors and it said weed would help. In attempt to self-medicate he became an addict. Noah is a recovering marijuana addict who has been clean for 2 years.
Taylor– 19-year-old student. Taylor attends Michigan State University and is pursuing an environmental studies and sustainability major. He is the student leader of Traveler’s Club, and an avid environmentalist who loves everything outdoors! His hobbies include camping, hiking, canoeing and hammocking. Taylor tried marijuana with his friends and loved the way it made him feel, but with a history of substance abuse in his family, he didn’t know how easy it would be to become addicted. He was never in touch with his feelings and figured that you don’t talk about what goes on in your head, so to get rid of your thoughts, you smoke. Smoking made you feel okay, better, normal. Until he began to skip work to smoke and go in and out of adolescent programs for misbehaving children. Taylor’s a recovering marijuana addict who has been clean for 2 years.
Kim– 21-year-old Michigan State student and apart of MSU’s Traveler’s Club. She is graduating with a triple major in economics, mathematics, and statistics. She enjoys running, writing and swimming. Kim considered herself to always have addictive tendencies by throwing herself into a ton of school activities and a lot of work hours to stay busy. She was always on the go because she didn’t like to be still with her thoughts. She suffered from depression all of her life. She swore she would never drink because she saw her dad excessively drink, but when she had her first (Canadian legal) drink, her values immediately changed. Kim is a recovering alcoholic who has been clean since 2 years.
Traveler’s Club is a social group open to recovering addicts to connect and maintain friendships amongst people with similar experiences. It also works to raise awareness around addictive disorders.
The goal of my project is to understand addiction as a disease and help relieve the stigma that is associated around both addiction and addicts.
What is Addiction?
Ashley: “A lot of times if I didn’t have the pills, I wouldn’t function at all”.
Addiction is a brain disease that happens when a person can no longer control their drug intake and their bodies become dependent on substance(s) to function. Addicts continue using drugs even after the ‘positive’ effects of the substance end because without the drug they become violently ill. Positive effects meaning euphoria, anxiety relief, or pain relief. Addicts suffer from cravings of substance(s), heavy drug binges, and extreme selfishness.
“Addiction occurs when a person cannot control the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences—the defining characteristic of addiction. These behavioral changes are also accompanied by changes in brain functioning, especially in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers” (NIDA. Science-drug-abuse-basics).
“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences (NIDA. Science-drug-abuse-basics). It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be “long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors” (NIDA. Science-drug-abuse-basics).
Addiction is a “Choice”?
“I get it. for people who are on the outside, who aren’t actually expereicning it …it doesn’t necessarily look like a disease as we would think of it”. -Kim
Listen to this important explanation of addiction by Kim.
People argue that drug addiction is a choice because the person is choosing to take the substance. While, the initial consumption of these substances may be a choice, the addiction is not. People experiment with drugs all the time for various reasons. Maybe someone had a traumatizing experience when they were a child, maybe they’re trying to self-medicate an undiagnosed, or diagnosed, mental illness or physical injury, or maybe they want to experience what it means to be high. This experimentation, for the sake of arguing, can be considered a choice. However, someone might experiment with a drug ONE time and become addicted because their brain rewired its circuit to needing this substance. How fast someone becomes addicted relies solely on the person. Experimenting or abusing a drug is NOT choosing the disease.
Ashley: “I thought what happened in my life were nightmares, but the older I got I realized that the things throughout my life were not nightmares, they were true.”
Ashley suffered from anxiety, depression, tremors, and PTSD from her childhood and teenage years. The only thing that made these feelings go away were pills, so she continued taking them. They helped ease her subconscious of the things that she encountered throughout her life. She could go months without a night terror so she would not use pills during this time, but then something random would trigger her and the night terrors rushed back so she rushed to pills. She started taking 5-6 pills in one sitting. As she continued with this self medication pattern for ten years, it got to the point where if she didn’t take pills she became ill. Did she choose these events to happen in her life? No. Did she choose to suffer from these mental illnesses? No. Did she choose to take Xanax? Yes. However, it was the only thing that helped her not relieve her tragic past and allow her to move forward, so was it that she choose Xanax or felt trapped and finally saw a way out?
“Traditionally, diseases are considered to be a physical ailment, like scoliosis or heart disease. Not injecting drugs or excessively drinking, but it’s more than the act of taking the drug. It’s what happens to your body and mind.” -TC.
The disease is what rewires your brain causing you to become dependent on the drug to feel happy, calm, to feel safe in your own mind, feel alive, and to be free of pain. The disease is when you stop taking the substance and become violently, physically ill. The disease is when you can’t stop taking the drug because you’ll die from your brain becoming rewired to NEED the substance to function. When using switches from recreational use to a dependence, “a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired. Brain-imaging studies from people addicted to drugs show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical for judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control” (NIDA. Science-drug-abuse-basics).
People consume drugs at raves, music festivals and in a variety of other social scenes. These people can control their drug intake to be only when they’re at events; using substances recreationally/socially. Addicts on the other hand, lose control of what they’re doing and continuously need the drug to feel good. Additionally, addicts typically use substance(s) alone because they don’t want others to know what they’re doing, while they may be aware of having a problem, they’re ashamed of it because the heavy stigma society puts around both addiction and addicts.
“I have no idea how to explain how people stop using drugs because it’s not for them. I would always just want to do more if it feels good”. -Noah
This proves how addicts don’t understand how to take something for a short period of time for a short term high, rather, they’re in need of something to continuously make them high. It demonstrates how addicts brains are in search of a long term fix to take them to a higher state, rather than using something randomly for kicks and giggles.
Addictive drugs stimulate reward regions in the brain by severely increasing the amount of dopamine released.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is released in the brain when someone expects or receives a reward, such as a cupcake after dieting, or getting money for receiving a good grade. Dopamine is also involved with motivation. Meaning, if someone works out and feels happy they will be more likely to do it more often due to the dopamine that’s released that makes them feel good. While, doing their homework brings them little to no joy, so they’re less likely to do this. Another example is potty training children- if you give a child some sort of reward for using a potty they’ll associate this as a good behavior and they’ll be rewarded. Which helps in upgrading from diapers to toilets because they’ll be more apt to do this since they will be rewarded. If you do something and ‘happiness’ or a reward is released, you’re more likely to repeat these behaviors. Dopamine gives us the motivation to repeat an activity. It regulates movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure (Brookshire, B. 20013).
Listen to the audio above for Noah’s explanation of addiction.
Why is Dopamine Important in Addiction?
Increasing the dopamine that the brain releases causes a euphoric state. Drugs release amounts of dopamine that nothing else can because it’s artificial. People yearn to be in this euphoric state so they continue to use such drugs. However, “repeated exposure to the same rewards (drugs) [cause] dopamine cells [to] stop firing in response to the reward (drug) itself and instead fire in an anticipatory response to the conditioned stimuli, (referred to as “cues”) that in a sense predict the delivery of the reward” (Harvard Health. 2009). Therefore, the brain begins to associate the “environment where the drug has been taken, persons with whom it has been taken [with], and the mental state of a person before it was taken” as the cue for the dopamine to be released (Harvard Health. 2009). Meaning, if a heroin addict sees a needle they’ll get a spike in their dopamine levels just by seeing the needle because it’s in anticipation of the reward. This is because the brain records every experience that uses our reward pathway so we can remember what brings us a pleasurable sensation, and when substances are involved they deliver an insane amount of dopamine so everything else is far less rewarding and cannot measure up to this (Harvard Health. 2009).
Drugs cause the brain to be less sensitive to dopamine stimulation by everyday activities that were once pleasurable. Also, prolonged exposure to drugs causes the drug reward pathway to become less sensitive, too. Therefore, causing addicts to lose the euphoric feeling that they once felt.
With “natural rewards” such as sex or food, the brain stops sending dopamine cells after repeated consumption/behavior deflating the crave to overconsume with these things (Longo, D., et al. 2016). However, addictive drugs cause the brain to send out higher, continuous amounts of dopamine causing a person to crave the drug and feeling (Longo, D., et al. 2016).
Addictive drugs fire intense levels of dopamine immediately, with little to no work, whereas sex releases smaller amounts of dopamine after putting in effort and time. As a human, we want the biggest reward with the least amount of work.
“The stuff I don’t like to do, is that stuff that’s great for me. It’s basically short term reward versus long term is what our problem is. We go for immediate reward, which leaves us like spiritually bankrupt, mentally purposeless. Always looking for that next high. But now, I can gain music skills by practicing. I can get stronger by working out. I’m aiming for growth instead of just now. Feel good now! It’s just like ‘ehhh, I’ll get there”. -Noah
This powerful quote from Noah explains why humans act impulsively but it also shows how growing towards something will have a longer, healthier effect on your life than doing anything for immediate joy. It may bring you joy now, but what about in the future? What’s best for the long-term?
Listen to the short clip above for TC’s explanation on how drugs made him feel.
“Drugs are a symptom of the disease. The use of drugs is a way to express the disease…it affects your thinking, the way you look at things, the way you perceive things, I guess. It’s a self-centered disease. Addicts tend to be very self-centered. -Taylor
How’s Addiction a Disease
When a person becomes addicted their natural ability to produce dopamine via the reward system is decreased because their receptor cells become overwhelmed from the immense amounts of dopamine that’s being produced with the use of drugs. However, dopamine is necessary to lead a healthy life, so the drug becomes the only way to fulfill this need. Drugs act as an artificial dopamine creator, like how energy drinks surprise us with a surge of energy when we are exhausted, drugs release surges of pleasure that you can’t get from anything else.
The brain becomes dependent on these drugs for dopamine and after repeated use of a substance(s) the user builds a tolerance causing the brain to crave more because it needs dopamine. Building a tolerance to a drug is when the users brain no longer responds to the drug how it once did and now this drug is becoming necessary solely to function.
For example, think of working 70 hours a week and doing everything you can for the biggest pay check possible because you want the biggest house and fancy cars. You’re excited about the money and you enjoy your job so you constantly want to be there. Over time, you become burnt out working these long work weeks and constantly being surrounded with the same people, yet you need to in order to maintain your life expenses. That’s similar to how the brain works when becoming tolerant; the drug causes overstimulation of dopamine and with time it becomes accustomed to this and needs it to function, but it no longer does anything for the user.
“When I was on pills, I just really didn’t care. When I was sober, I kind of felt crazy. Like I felt everyone who looked at me knew what was going on and what I was dealing with. It was embarrassing. So when I would take pills, even if I wasn’t high, even if I would just take one, it was enough to calm myself down to be able to leave the house and function. To get up and give the kids a bath. As sad as it sounds, it almost gives you confidence”. -Ashley
The brain craves the dopamine that it was once being fed by these drugs, so for the user’s brain to receive dopamine again, they must increase their intake of the substance(s). This doesn’t necessarily increase the high the user feels, but their brain became used to the amount of substance being used so the reward pathway isn’t giving off rewards anymore because that amount is becoming necessary just to function. For the user to receive dopamine they must increase their intake. After a while, the pleasure released from using the drug is eliminated, regardless of the amount used, and the user must use the drug for their brain to function because the brain has created pathways to where that substance becomes necessary to function. Their brains have become so adjusted/dependent to having the drug that without it makes the addict physically ill.
“I was focusing way more on like my actual substance intake and less on like how I felt. When I was drinking, I didn’t even realize it or even acknowledge it at the time, I felt miserable. And for whatever reason, part of the disease, that wasn’t even an important enough reason for me to stop”. -Kim
I believe this miserable feeling that Kim was encountering wasn’t enough for her stop because her brain tricked her into thinking that ‘this makes you feel better. It makes you a better you’ so she continued drinking. She didn’t realize the way it made her feel because she needed it and without it she would feel worse because of withdrawal.
Drugs completely replace the way you think. Not just by enjoying the increase of dopamine but also giving you motivation, and the inability to feel a haunted past by tricking you into thinking what you’re doing is normal or acceptable and necessary.
“I realized I was suffering from a disease because a lot of times when I would [have] binges, like when I would go a couple of weeks and take pills or something, if I didn’t have it I would literally be sick and I would try my absolute best to hide it…then I’d take a pill and be like ‘oh no, I’m okay’”. Ashley.
The short audio clip above is Noah stating how tolerance affected him.
This audio clip about tolerance is a bit hard to hear so I included the transcription of what’s being said.
TC: “I needed more so I was doing more. Without it you get sick. Feels like you got the flu, kind of”.
Me: “Why do you get sick? From not using it”?
TC: “Yeah, because your bodies addicted to it….and it sucks”.
Susceptibility to Addiction
Listen to Kim’s addiction susceptibility through her family history, risky teenage behavior, and addictive tendencies. This goes to show how she may have had an increased susceptibility to alcohol abuse because of the environments she was in, as well as her mental state.
The time it takes a person to become addicted or dependent on drugs varies per person. It depends on mental health illnesses, emotions, life experiences, family history, and how fast one’s brain creates these connections (Harvard Health. 2009). Some people can use drugs for years and never become addicted. Some people use a drug once and become addicted. It depends on the vulnerability of each person’s natural reward system, meaning, some people might have an enhanced response to stress, some people form addictive habits faster than others, especially if the person has a mental health illness. The pathway to addiction depends on how each individual’s brain is wired. Also, adolescent’s brains aren’t fully developed yet so if they use a drug their brain may not be able to warn them about the pleasure overload and it could cause them to become addicted extremely fast (Harvard Health. 2009).
Addiction susceptibility depends on “various genetic, environmental, and developmental factors” (Longo, D., et al. 2016). There are some factors that increase the likelihood of addiction, which include family history, early exposure to drug use, and exposure to high-risk environments (Longo, D., et al. 2016). Just like everyone who eats fast food everyday doesn’t become obese, not everyone who uses drugs/alcohol becomes addicted.
Kim: “for a while it [alcohol] helped me be social but for a while it was actually like I was really not comfortable in my own skin so drinking, and drinking alone especially gave me like an excuse to not have to do anything, or have anything to do with other people”.
If you’d like to hear more of what Kim said about her alcohol use, listen!
Alcohol is known to make people more talkative, outgoing and loud. So with Kim having a self complex and being introverted, alcohol acted as a ‘crutch’ to give her what she wanted to be social. It gave her confidence and social skills so alcohol appealed to her brain more since she ‘lacked’ these things.
Listen for Taylor’s family history of addiction. Taylor’s family suffered from addiction so he had a heightened sensitivity to marijuana, which allowed him to become addicted.
“I had enough dealing with my mom. I became depressed [and] quit hanging out with my friends because I was embarrassed by my mom. I was tired of dealing with it. She was in and out of rehab, and mental hospitals”. Ashley also had a history of substance abuse in her family with opiates, and alcohol.
This pattern shows how there are strong outside factors in addiction, and family history is a large factor in someone’s susceptibility. Even if you swear to never be like your parent(s) or to be an addict, sometimes the influence is stronger and out of your control.
Mental Illnesses and Drug Addiction
Listen to Noah’s explanation of battling mental illnesses and trying to self medicate.
“Depression would make me feel numb. I would always want to cry by I couldn’t. I would hurt, mentally, but it wasn’t very intense. It was just this dull sort of pain that was always present. Like ‘fuck this, not again’ every day. All day. Smoking weed was just like very…it brightened the colors. It gave me motivation, like this is in the beginning. It made me want to do stuff. It opened up the world. It happened so immediately that there’s no way I wouldn’t do it again. At the end, it didn’t do anything. At all. I remember I would sit there smoking because that’s all I knew how to do anymore and if I stopped I would become suicidal. I needed it to escape the suicidal thoughts”. -Noah.
Mental illness impairs individual’s cognitive performance, as do drugs, which is why those suffering from mental illnesses are more susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs. However, it’s said that those who suffer from mental health illnesses abuse drugs at higher rates than the general population. “Substance abuse is almost twice as prevalent among adults with serious psychological distress as among age-matched controls and it is estimated that over half of U.S. individuals with drug disorders (excluding alcohol) also have mental disorders” (NIDA. Comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses).
TC: “I went to jail with almost a quarter ounce of heroin on me.”
ME: “So you used it while you were in jail?”
TC: “Yeah, I tried to like wein myself off of it. it didn’t work. It still hurt [his shoulder] really bad and then I ran out. The day that I finally quit was when I ran out, I felt like I was gonna die in jail. From withdrawals and that made me never want to do it again…’cause I was puking, shitting, had migraines, all this shit….I really thought I was gonna die…in jail.”
When an addict tries to stop using, the “antireward” system that oversees stress response, increases (Longo, D., et al. 2016). This increase in activity from this system causes dysphoria, which is the opposite of pleasure (Longo, D., et al. 2016). Dysphoria is the feeling of being unsatisfied and is typically associated with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety (Longo, D., et al. 2016). To get rid of these unpleasant feelings, people begin taking drugs again to get rid of these feelings of dysphoria, rather than to feel a high or to receive dopamine. Those suffering from addiction don’t understand why they need the drug when it no longer makes them feel good, but it’s because they need it to counter react the withdrawal symptoms.
If someone quits using their drug/alcohol cold turkey, it could be very dangerous and even deadly since their brain and body has become so dependent on these things. Most addicts must seek a professional for detoxification to get these drugs or alcohol out of their system. Withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to “death, agitation, sweating, high blood pressure, insomnia, seizures, hallucinations, psychosis, nausea, depression, tingling, and numbness” (Foster, L. 2009). Anyone experiencing drug withdrawals need to seek medical attention so they can be adequately helped with the correct therapies.
So, why don’t addicts get help?
Ashley: “I was embarrassed of myself… I didn’t want to be around or talk to anybody”.
Taylor: “My mom told me I was an addict every fricken’ day but I didn’t wanna believe it. In treatment they told me but I didn’t wanna believe it. See, I thought that being an addict was a weakness because it kind of is in like our society. The stigma is there that it is a weakness. And I did not want that, ya’ know? I am not an addict. I can take care of my shit”.
Sadly, addicts may recognize they have a substance abuse problem but want to hide it because society marks addicts to be weak to temptation. Therefore, they deny themselves the right to get clean and live a healthier life. Sometimes, these addicts who are embarrassed will go through some sort of treatment but they’re so ashamed of themselves that once they get out, they immediately start using again so they can ignore their feelings of shame.
“I think the hardest thing is that people feel ashsamed and I don’t think it’s really anything to be ashamed of. Now that I’ve gone through it and im doing okay now. I think people should look at it more like when you try to get help or when youre asking for help…it should make them feel stronger. You have to be a strong person to get through it, or to even ask for help, or even admit that you have a problem because that’s heartbreaking to anyone around you and its embarrassing for yourself. But life’s so much better on the other side”. -Ashley
These testimonials demonstrate why reducing the stigma around addiction and addicts is so important! Labeling these human beings as weak, lesser, disgraceful, or shady contributes to how they seem themselves. They don’t want to be labeled with these negative labels so they try to hide their addiction, which causes them to deny they have a problem. When addicts understand they have a problem they can get help and actually benefit from treatment because it’s something they want, rather than being pressured into it. Essentially, labeling these people as anything but those suffering from a brain disease that deserve help and respect for wanting help is doing nothing but contributing to their illness by denying them the freedom of getting clean.
Treatment is crucial because:
“A cancer patient goes to chemo. A person with a disease, a physical alignment, they have daily things they need to do to ensure it’s in check. They say the disease of addiction will never go away. Just like cancer. It’s like in remission. If you take care of everything and do what you’re supposed to do, you can go into remission but it will never go away. And it can always come back if you don’t do what you need to do.” -Taylor
If you’d rather listen to Taylor’s cancer analogy, listen here.
Narcotics Anonymous’s logo is on the left and Alcoholic Anonymous is on the right. Get help!
I had the privilege of attending a NA meeting at MSU and I believe that attending these meetings would be extremely beneficial to anyone struggling with addiction. When you imagine a NA/AA meeting, you imagine sitting in a large circle, going around saying “Hi, my name is ____, and I’m an addict”, while being in an incredible bright white room…that is exactly what happens. You’re constantly referring to yourself as an addict and I believe it’s a way to condition your brain to never forget this since you’ll be a (hopefully) recovering addict for your entire life. That becomes part of who you are and you cannot shed that ‘label’ of being an addict.
During the meeting, each member would go around and speak about what step they are on in the process of addiction. There’s twelve steps, so they would read the step that the group president declared to be what would be focused on during this meeting. I think this would be a beneficial treatment because you form close social and personal relationships with these people. You’re able to relate to them through their experiences and their emotions that they share. These meetings, as I can imagine, get pretty deep and emotional, which brings the members together. In this particular meeting, I saw how everyone treated each other with a ton of respect, love and encouragement. Also, the room really smelled like coffee, which is a soothing smell!
Also, I believe it’s a beneficial treatment because it’s a safe place to talk about whatever is on your mind, what you’re dealing with in life, how recovery is going, literally anything. The people in the meetings are not going to judge you and it becomes a safe haven for the members to lean on one another if they need extra strength. They get through recovery as a team, upholding one another whenever necessary. I imagine it to be beneficial, and it would never hurt to gain a few friends who have been where you have been! If anyone’s struggling, I advise you to attend a meeting!
Listen to this last audio of Noah explaining how addiction controlled his life, if you’re interested!
Neurotransmitter: brain chemicals that are responsible for communicating information from our brain to our body. Neurotransmitters are sent from the brain to tell your “heart to beat, your lungs to breath, and your stomach to digest” (Neurogistics).
Central nervous system (CNS): made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The CNS is responsible for controlling your thought process, movement, and feelings/sensations within your body (WebMD).
Brain reward system: “Our brains are wired to ensure we will repeat life-sustaining activities associating those activities with pleasure or reward. Whenever this reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it” (NAABT). This is useful to help us survive because it knows that when we eat or drink we will be rewarded with dopamine.
Euphoria: “an intense STATE of happiness and self-confidence” (Dictionary.com). I highlight state because it shows how this isn’t just a temporary feeling, short or long-term, but a state of mind. A state of mind is much longer-lasting and has more of an effect on you because it involves your reasoning and your thought process. Feelings come and go and are felt whether we want to or not because we have little control over what we feel. Our state of mind is what we have control over, and it can be good or bad. “Our state of mind influence(s) what you project on others”, meaning it is how others see you (“The Very Important Difference Between a Feeling and a State of Mind”. 2011) . A feeling, such as anger, you can hide but you can’t hide a state of mind of resentment, it will slip through the shadows and eventually display itself through your actions.
What are Addictive Drugs?
Addictive drugs are substances that lead to addiction by causing long-term changes in a person’s brain reward pathway. Every substance manipulates your brain chemistry in different ways so to understand why individual drugs are addictive, it’s essential to understand how each drug works and how it manipulates in the brain. The most addictive drugs are amphetamines (stimulant), benzodiazepines (depressant), methadone (affects the CNS), GHB (depressant), nicotine, alcohol (depressant), cocaine (stimulant), crack (stimulant), MDMA (ecstasy/molly; stimulants and hallucinogen) and opioids (depressants and stimulants depending on the drug) (“The 12 Most Addictive Drugs. 2016).
Stimulants: Stimulants increase alertness, attention and energy (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). Stimulants are typically used to treat respiratory problems, obesity, narcolepsy, and ADHD (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). Most stimulants surge dopamine (the feel-good man) and increase blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose, and breathing (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). When stimulants are taken, but not medically necessary, it causes addiction because of the reliance on the increases focus and energy.
Depressants: Depressants target the central nervous system (CNS) and often include sedatives, hypnotics, or substances that slow down brain activity (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). This category of drugs are often to treat anxiety, seizures or sleep disorders (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). Often, these drugs are prescribed only for a short term because of their highly addictive qualities. Alcohol is also a depressant but it doesn’t work in the same way, meaning it’s not prescribed and doesn’t treat health issues. Majority of depressants influence the brain by increasing certain inhibitory neurotransmitters to produce a calming effect. Depressants also increase the dopamine that’s released in the brain creating a general feel good feeling.
I’ve included a deeper explanation in some of the most addictive drugs if you would like to further understand how some of them work. I included an explanation for a stimulant, depressant, and opiates which depends on the drug. Depressants can cause addiction while being taken medically or recreationally.
Amphetamines are also known as speed, meth, or methamphetamines. These drugs excite your central nervous system(CNS), which can be taken orally, snorting or by injecting. These drugs act on your “brain’s production of or response to neurotransmitters like dopamine causing an over-production of chemical messengers that make you feel good [which] creates a rush of euphoria” (Why Certain Drugs Are Addictive). Additionally, with stimulating your CNS gives you increased mental focus and energy (Why Certain Drugs Are Addictive). Imagine an energy drink in a powder/paste form that gives you unbelievable, superhuman energy and focus, where you could finish a week’s worth of homework in a night. Instead of coffee, which could stain your teeth. You begin taking this caffeine aid, motivation supplement and you figure you could take it a few times to finish your finals or to clean your house while being exhausted from having children. Sounds great, right? You don’t realize that these stimulants are altering your brain and literally rewiring your brain to become dependent on these ‘aids’ for energy, motivation and joy. Depending on the person, their brain might begin rewiring after the first use, while someone else could use the drug twenty times and their brain not rewire anything. It all depends on the individual and their susceptibility to addiction. Amphetamines rewire your brain by causing your brain to become “accustomed to the rush of neurotransmitters that you need more of the drugs to get high or stay alert” (Why Certain Drugs Are Addictive).
These drugs also aid in weight loss.
Benzodiazepines, Valium/Xanax, are prescription drugs that help treat a person’s anxiety or insomnia (The Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines). These drugs can be taken as prescribed but still cause a person to become dependent/addicted. If a person is fighting anxiety, a mental health illness, with Xanax, their brain is more susceptible to becoming addicted. Benzodiazepines also alter the levels of certain neurotransmitters in one’s brain. Typically, people who are prescribed this class of drug suffer from an over activity of nerves, in their brain and spinal cord, causing them to have anxiety, be overly excited, muscle spasms, trouble sleeping or panic attacks (The Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines). Think of when you’re trying to go to sleep before a big vacation, graduation or something you’re excited about, your heart beats faster, you can’t sleep and you can’t get your mind off this event. People who are prescribed benzodiazepines suffer from these feelings every day and this overstimulation causes you to become exhausted but it also causes you to not be able to sleep. Imagine how frustrating. These drugs produce calming effects by decreasing the “excitability of neurons” resulting in a ‘calmer brain’, allowing these people to perform everyday tasks (The Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines). People suffering from these symptoms also, typically, lack dopamine because they’re solely focused on excitement or over thinking. Benzodiazepines increase the amount of dopamine that’s released so these people feel good, happy, lively. However, with this drug altering these individual’s natural over-production (by natural I mean natural for this individual’s brain) creating a more relaxed, happy person, the brain quickly rewires their brain to being accustomed to this new feeling resulting in the person becoming dependent on the drug. If these individuals go without the drug, their symptoms are intensified because they’ve been suppressed. Also, since these drugs suppress parts of their brains these individuals cannot just stop taking these drugs because it’s highly influencing their brain. Stopping these drugs ‘cold turkey’ can result in death.
Opiates, heroin/OxyContin/Vicodin/fentanyl/codeine, are used to reduce and block pain, some opiates are used for anesthesia during surgery, or to relieve coughing. When someone suffers from chronic or severe pain one’s body cannot produce enough natural opioids to relieve the pain. Therefore, prescribers often require an opiate such as Vicodin or Percocet to ease pain. Opiates mimic the body’s natural opioids so the body gets deceived by these drugs, allowing them to send “abnormal messages” throughout the brain (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). Prescription opiates target the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract and other organs throughout the body (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). These synthetic “opioids target the brain’s reward system by overflowing the circuit with dopamine”, therefore sending the individual in a euphoric state, while numbing any physical pain they were experiencing (NIDA. Which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused). Some users take their prescribed dose of Vicodin or codeine but are sensitive to the dosage and experience this euphoric state or numbness to pain. While, some users may take their prescribed dose and still be in agonizing pain so they may take more than recommended to not feel the pain. This increased amount often results in the brain’s reliance of this drug to get rid of the pain they’re feeling and the increased dopamine. This brain’s reliance causes the brain to rewire to rely on this substance because it helps the person feel better and not be in pain. When the substance is stopped, the pain may continue causing their brain to crave the drug because the brain’s interested in what makes you feel good. If you get into a car accident and suffer from arthritis or something didn’t heal correctly causing you to have a constant ache or pain after your prescription ends, you’ll research what can make it better whether this is being surgery, natural remedies or additional prescriptions. You know the prescriptions work because you were on them so you will probably stick to what you know works to relieve the pain immediately. However, your body starts to need these substances because it cannot function properly without them. Opiates can be in pill form, liquid, powder, syrups, you name it. Heroin is known to be the most addictive and deadly drug in the world and it comes in multiple forms.
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