The Tabers medical dictionary defines drug addiction as a compulsive and maladaptive dependence on a drug that produces adverse psychological, physical, economic, social, or legal ramifications(5). In the U.S., the abuse or misuse of prescription drugs has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a growing problem. In 2007, for example, the CDC reported that more than 27,500 Americans died of drug overdose, an increase of more than 100% in the preceding ten years(1). More than five times as many people died from misuse of prescribed opioids as from heroin.
It is often misunderstand why people become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain to lead to habitual drug abuse. Quite often people view drug abuse and addiction as merely a social problem while characterizing those who take drugs as morally or mentally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior(6).
What is often underestimated is the complexity of drug addiction, which is that it is a disease that impacts the brain and its neurochemical processes(4), and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower. Scientific advances we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives.Drug addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the drug addict and those around them(7). Drug addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain(5). Although it is true that for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person's self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time create an intense impulse to take drugs. Many people experiment with potentially addictive drugs. About 60% of Americans sample an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime, and even after excluding marijuana, the lifetime prevalence for illicit drug use is about 32% (8). If alcohol is included, the percentage of Americans exposed to a potentially addictive drug rises to over 90%, but few of these people become addicts(8).
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person who is addicted to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, there are treatments that help people to counteract addiction's powerful disruptive effects and regain control. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medications, if available, with behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for most patients(2). Treatment approaches that are tailored to each patient's drug abuse patterns and any concurrent medical, psychiatric, and social problems can lead to sustained recovery and a life without drugs(1).
As with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed effectively(2).Yet, it is certainly not rare for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. However, relapse does not signal failure; rather, it indicates that treatment should be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed to help the person regain control and recover(8).
Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar structure to chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain(3). Because of this similarity, these drugs are able to "fool" the brain's receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages. Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters (primarily dopamine and norepinephrine), or prevent the normal recycling of these brain...
Cited: 1) Beers, Mark H.. The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy. 18th ed. Whitehouse Station, N.J.: Merck Research Laboratories, 2006. Print.
2) Rubin, Richard H.. Medicine: a primary care approach. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1996. Print.
3) Butcher, James N. Abnormal psychology + new mypsychlab. S.l.: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.
4) Narcotics Anonymous. Chatsworth, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services, 2010. Print.
5) Venes, Donald, and Clarence Wilbur Taber. Taber 's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 2013. Print.
6) "New Releases." How Addiction Hijacks the Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
7) "Drug Abuse & Addiction." Drug Abuse and Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
8) Kremling, Janine. Estimating Drug Use: The Effect of Sampling Methods and Policy Implications. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
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