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Drug abuse or addiction is caused by the habitual taking of addictive substances such as alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, and opioids. Substance use disorder is a disease-causing people to compulsively use drugs despite many consequences. (Gateway Foundation The Physical and Mental Health Effects of Drug Abuse, n.d.)
There are many factors contributing to drug abuse, such as biological and environmental factors. Substance abuse leads to substance addiction with the development of tolerance and dependence, which can lead to one or more associated health issues. Tolerance refers to a condition where the user needs more and more of the drug to experience the same effect. Smaller quantities, which were sufficient earlier, are no longer effective, and the user is forced to increase the amount of drug intake. (Kamlesh Kumar Sahu & Soma Sahu, 2012)
How it works
There are factors that can increase the risk of addiction, which leads to drug abuse, such as taking drugs at a young age and how the drug is taken. Research shows that the earlier people begin to use drugs, the more likely they are to develop serious problems due to the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain. Early use of a drug is a strong indicator of problems ahead, including addiction and other health problems, including mental health. Smoking a drug or injecting it into a vein increases its addictive potential. Drugs that are smoked or injected enter the brain within seconds, producing a powerful rush of pleasure. However, this intense high can fade within a few minutes. Scientists believe this powerful contrast drives some people to repeatedly use drugs to recapture the fleeting pleasurable state. Drug abuse can lead to many health problems, including physical and mental health.
The human brain is the part of the body that will be most affected by the usage of drugs. Drugs will interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter in the body. This allows the drugs to attach to and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being sent through the network. Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters. This, too, amplifies or disrupts the normal communication between neurons. There are three parts of the brain that are affected by the use of drugs the prefrontal cortex, extended amygdala, and basal ganglia. (Drugs, Brain, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, 2020)
The prefrontal cortex is one of the brain areas that are still maturing during adolescence. It is part of the brain that powers people’s ability to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and exert self-control over impulses. The fact that this critical part of a teen’s brain is still a work in progress puts them at increased risk of trying drugs or continuing to take them. Introducing drugs during this period of development may cause brain changes that have profound and long-lasting consequences.
The extended amygdala is an emotional processing center. It plays a role in stressful feelings such as anxiety, irritability, and unease, which characterize withdrawal after the high drug fades and thus motivates the person to seek the drug again. This circuit becomes increasingly sensitive with increased drug use. Addicted users will use the drugs just to get relief from the stress instead of looking for the current high.
The basal ganglia, which play an important role in positive forms of motivation, including the pleasurable effects of healthy activities like eating, socializing, and sex, are also involved in the formation of habits and routines. These areas form a key node of what is sometimes called the brain’s “reward circuit.” Drugs over-activate this circuit, producing the euphoria of the drug high. But with repeated exposure, the circuit adapts to the presence of the drug, diminishing its sensitivity and making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug.
Different drugs have different effects on the users. For example, people who smoke marijuana gain pleasant euphoria and a sense of relaxation. Other common effects, which may vary dramatically among different people, include heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite. When a person takes too much marijuana or is inexperienced, they can experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced.
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