Drug addiction is the most severe form of a substance use disorder (SUD). An SUD develops when a person’s continued use of alcohol and/or drugs causes significant issues, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. An SUD can range from mild to severe. Addiction is a complex, chronic brain disease characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of devastating life consequences. Addiction results largely from brain changes that stem from prolonged drug use—changes that involve multiple brain circuits, including those responsible for governing self-control and other behaviors. Drug addiction is treatable, with medications (for some addictions) and/or behavioral therapies. However, relapse is common and can happen even after long periods of abstinence, underscoring the need for long-term support and care. Relapse does not signify treatment failure, but rather should prompt treatment re-engagement or modification.
There is no easy answer to this common question. If and how quickly you become addicted to a drug depends on many factors, including your biology (your genes, for example), age, gender, environment, and interactions among these factors. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may overdose with the first use or become addicted after a few uses. There is no way of knowing in advance how quickly you will become addicted, but there are some clues—an important one being whether you have a family history of addiction.
Some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others, but it’s important to remember that anyone, at any age, can become addicted to drugs. This is because one’s brain is still developing as a teen, and drugs and alcohol change the chemicals in your brain. They disrupt how you think, how you act, and how your brain works. It only takes a few hits or few pills to start this cycle. I know you may think it won’t happen to you, but sometimes you just can’t predict it.
Each drug of abuse is unique and will act on the brain in a different way. However, all drugs share a something in common – a chemical called dopamine. When a person uses a drug, their brain releases dopamine to produce the feeling of being “high.” But when a person uses drugs repeatedly, their brain adjusts to the surges of dopamine that occur. In time, their bodies get used to this chemical and demand more of it. This is where an addiction starts. The user starts to crave more drugs and less of the once pleasurable things in life, such as good food or friendships. The user also begins to lose the ability to resist these bad cravings, making it harder for him or her to quit.
Yes, you can. Most people of your age only have the intention of using a drug once or “once in a while.” They do not intend to develop an addiction, but many do. This is because addictive drugs chemically change a person’s brain with each time of use. Progressively, your occasional use may turn into frequent use which may turn into regular use over time. This is the cycle of addiction.
Every day we make choices that affect our health. People take drugs for a lot of different reasons, like to deal with life’s challenges, to escape from reality, to relieve pain, or to try to fit in—just to name a few. Some people can be aware of the negative effects of drugs on their health and in their life and still struggle to stop using them. This is because repeated drug use can lead to changes in the brain that make it hard to stop using them, even when people want to stop. When this happens, the person is experiencing a medical problem known as substance use disorder. Addiction is a severe form of substance use disorder. People take drugs as a form of experimentation or to garner social acceptance or as a coping mechanism to deal with an unpleasant reality or self image. Addiction is also hereditary. People with parents or relatives who have a history of addiction are more prone to become addicts themselves. Poor social environment and improper nurturing also leads to addiction.
If your doctor prescribes you a medication, you may take it safely and legally as it is directed. However, it is important to remember that prescription drugs are still drugs, they are addictive, and they are both dangerous and illegal if used nonmedically. You can die from using a prescription drug that was not prescribed to you.
There are many different signs of addiction, and every drug has its own, unique symptoms and side effects. If you think that someone you know has an addiction, pay attention to how he or she acts and looks. If you notice any of these behavioural or physical signs of drug addiction, it is important to talk to your friend as well as tell a trusted adult who can help.
If you think your friend has a serious drug problem, the most immediate thing you can do is offer him or her support. Talk to your friend and let them know that you are concerned and that you are there for them. Encourage them to seek help from a trusted adult, such as a school counsellor, a doctor, a psychiatrist, or an addiction professional. You can also talk to me, and together we can figure out how to find professionals who can get your friend healthy again. If you feel that your friend is in danger, this is especially important. You can help save your friends’ life if you recognize there is a problem. You can be a positive influence.
Many substances, including alcohol, nicotine, medications, and illicit drugs, can have negative effects on the developing fetus because these substances reach the fetus through the placenta. For example, nicotine has been connected with premature birth and low birth weight, as has the use of cocaine. Heroin exposure can result in dependence in the newborn, requiring treatment for withdrawal symptoms. Drug use during pregnancy is also linked to brain and behavioral problems in the baby, which may lead to cognitive challenges for the child. It is often difficult to tease apart the various factors that go with drug use during pregnancy—poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, stress, and psychiatric comorbidities—all of which may affect a baby's development.
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