Drug addiction is a serious problem in the United States. 23.5 million Americans suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. That’s almost one out of every ten people.

What is it about drug addiction that makes it so difficult to overcome? Why do people become addicted to drugs in the first place? This article will explore the roots of addiction and why addictive behavior ultimately leads to drug abuse.

What is Addiction?

“Addiction” refers to any condition in which a person is either compulsively ingesting a substance or engaging in a behavior that interferes with the person’s ability to maintain an ordinary lifestyle.

For example, a non-alcoholic can exercise self-control when he or she is drinking at a dinner party. An alcoholic, on the other hand, is a compulsive drinker. He or she is unable to exercise self-control and will continue to drink even if his or her job, relationships, or life are in jeopardy.

Many people who use drugs believe that they can quit on their own, without receiving any treatment. However, to think that you can simply “will” your addiction away is to misunderstand the nature of addiction.

Overcoming addiction has nothing to do with willpower or morality. Addiction is a disease that affects the brain. Although the right kind of treatment can help a person overcome an addiction, it’s important to understand that addiction isn’t just about behavior. It’s also about biology.

How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain

When a person uses drugs for the first time, they are usually doing so voluntarily. Over time, however, chronic drug use impacts the brain to such a degree that it no longer feels like a choice to use drugs. It feels like it’s something you have to do.

Most drugs affect the brain’s reward centers by boosting the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is responsible for regulating the body’s movement, emotions, and sensations of pleasure.

Your body naturally releases dopamine when you’re engaged in behaviors necessary for survival such as eating and social bonding. When dopamine is released in this manner, it helps to reinforce those necessary behaviors. When a person uses drugs and dopamine is released into the brain, this, unfortunately, reinforces the drug-related behavior.

Each time a person uses drugs, the brain responds to this abnormally high dopamine production by creating less natural dopamine. It also creates fewer dopamine receptors. As a result, the addict must either continue to use drugs just to keep their dopamine levels at “normal” or increase his or her drug use so that they can continue to feel “high.”

Studies show that long-term drug use can negatively affect the parts of the brain that deal with decision-making, judgment, and behavior control.

Given these factors, it’s easy to see why a drug addict feels powerless in the face of his or her addiction. Even if the person genuinely wants to quit, the changes that have been made to the addict’s brain make it extremely difficult.

History is full of examples of men and women who have overcome addiction. However, it’s important to understand what’s happening inside of an addict’s brain. Having this knowledge not only helps facilitate treatment, but it also encourages compassion.


H. (2012, December). Why Do Drug-Addicted Persons Keep Using Drugs? Retrieved December 01, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/why-do-drug-addicted-persons-keep-using

Wilcox, S. (2015, July 25). Understanding Addiction. Retrieved December 01, 2016, from https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/drugs/understanding-addiction

New Data Show Millions of Americans with Alcohol and Drug Addiction Could Benefit from Health Care R – Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (2010, September 28). Retrieved December 01, 2016, from http://www.drugfree.org/new-data-show-millions-of-americans-with-alcohol-and-drug-addiction-could-benefit-from-health-care-r/

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