If someone is addicted to drugs and alcohol, why do they keep using them?

Most addicts believe that they can stop using drugs and alcohol when they decide they don’t want to use them anymore. However, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) states, long-term substance abuse can alter brain chemistry, which leads to behavioral consequences including an inability to exert control over the impulse to use substances despite knowing they will cause negative consequences. Understanding that addiction is tied to the functioning of the brain explains why so many individuals struggle to overcome addiction on their own. This is why getting involved in outside support groups and treatment programs is so important for maintaining sobriety.

What are the medical consequences of drug abuse?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), drug addiction can weaken the immune system and lead to a variety of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and lung disease. Prolonged use and high dosages often lead to these diseases but first time occurrences can trigger them as well. Drug use can also lead to nausea, vomiting, effects on the musculoskeletal system (stunted bone growth & muscle weakness), kidney & liver damage, hormonal imbalance, and prenatal issues such as premature birth, miscarriages and low birth weight.

How do drugs chemically affect the brain?

According to WebMD, drugs are chemicals that infiltrate the brain’s communication system and alter the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. For reference, neurotransmitters are chemical transmitters that are naturally produced by the brain. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar structure to these chemical messengers, which enables them to fool the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages to the body. Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters. In other words, they prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals, which is a process that is needed to shut off certain signals between neurons. This disruption causes an amplified message, which results in altered communication patterns.

Drugs can also overstimulate the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is present in different regions of the brain and responsible for controlling movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. Nearly all drugs target the brain’s reward system and flood the circuit with dopamine. An overstimulation of this system normally occurs in behaviors linked to survival and other intense situations. Therefore, when drug use causes the brain’s reward system to be flooded with dopamine, it produces euphoric effects, which individuals then associate with drug use. As a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain then adapts to the influxes of dopamine by producing less dopamine or reducing dopamine receptors. As a result, an addict is forced to keep abusing drugs in order to return dopamine functioning back to normal or even worse, use excessive levels of drugs to achieve a dopamine high.

What drugs are the most commonly abused?

Each year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) tracks drug use trends among high school students (8th, 10th and 12th grades) through the “Monitoring the Future Study” (MTF). The most commonly abused drugs among 12th graders are (most frequent to less frequent): marijuana, adderall, vicodin, tranquilizers, cough medicine, sedatives, hallucinogens, MDMA/ecstasy, oxycontin, cocaine, salvia and ritalin.

Does the age of when you first start drinking alcohol matter?

According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, when you start drinking alcohol before the age of 15, you are 4 times more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol then if you wait until you are 21. A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that 47% of those who began drinking before age 15 experienced alcohol dependence at some point in their life, compared to 9% of those who began drinking at age 21 or older. Teens are also less sensitive to alcohol’s sedative qualities, meaning they are able to stay awake longer and drink larger quantities of alcohol, which in turn increases the chance of brain damage.

Does smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol lead to the use of other drugs?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term studies have shown that high school students who use other drugs often times have first tried marijuana or alcohol. Although there isn’t substantial evidence that says marijuana use or alcohol consumption makes individuals more biologically/physically susceptible to use other drugs, it is important to note that they often times put people in contact with others who either use drugs or sell drugs, which in turn increases the likelihood of experimenting with other drugs.

How does substance addiction start? Can I become addicted even though I only tried it once?

Most people who start using alcohol and drugs have the intention to only use them “once in a while.” No one decides that they want to become addicted to alcohol and drugs but addiction is a process, not an event. According to Addiction Solutions of South Florida, addiction occurs in four phases, often times at a much faster pace in adolescence vs. adults. The first phase is experimentation, which is usually triggered by curiosity, peer pressure, and rebellion against authority (i.e. parents). The second phase is regular use, in which drug use becomes more frequent and begins affecting relationships with friends and family. During this phase, individuals usually gravitate towards others who are also using drugs on a regular basis. The third phase is problem use, which involves more noticeable changes in mood, personality, and behavior. A individual may start to miss school or work and may even begin to steal money in order to fuel their drug use. The fourth and final phase is the addiction stage, which means an individual cannot function without using and will do anything to keep using. When the addiction phase is reached, there is often denial of their condition and a worsening of legal problems and illegal behaviors. As addiction becomes stronger, individuals can begin having suicidal thoughts as well.

Are alcoholism and drug addiction genetically inherited?

According to research sourced by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the risk for developing alcoholism and drug addiction does run in families. That being said, genetic predisposition to substance addiction doesn’t guarantee that the child of an alcoholic or an addicted parent will automatically become alcoholic or addicted to drugs. The same is true for families with no substance abuse in their history. Just because parents are not alcoholics or drug addicts, doesn’t guarantee that their kids will not abuse substances.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol while others do not?

Like other conditions and diseases, substance addiction can vary person to person. However, there are common risk factors that are associated with substance addiction. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the common risk factors for becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs include: (1) Genetics or family history; (2) Age when you start using alcohol or drugs; (3) Any abuse, neglect and/or traumatic experiences from childhood; (4) The social environment you had growing up, which includes accessibility to alcohol and drugs; (5) Types of drugs used.

Are illegal drugs the most harmful or should I concerned about alcohol and prescription drugs too?

You should be concerned about alcohol and all other types of drugs, regardless of whether they are legal or illegal. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), there have been significant increases in the non-medical use of prescription drugs amongst adolescence. In fact, after marijuana, the next three most commonly abused drugs are the prescription pain medications vicodin, oxycontin and adderall.

What are all of the alcohol-related risks for college students?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), an estimated 1,900 adolescence under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol-related automobile crashes. However, car accidents are not the only type of danger connected to alcohol consumption amongst adolescence. Approximately 600,000 college students per year are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol. In addition, approximately 700,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking. Finally, roughly 100,000 students per year are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault.

Is Marijuana really that dangerous?

While some people think that marijuana is a “harmless drug,” the reality is that more teens are in treatment for marijuana dependence than for all other illegal drugs combined (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence).

What is a “standard drink” of alcohol and how long does it take alcohol to leave the body?

A standard alcoholic drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (0.6 ounces):
• 12-ounces of Beer or Cooler
• 8-ounces of Malt Liquor
• 5-ounces of Wine
• 1.5-ounces or “shot” of Distilled Spirits/Liquor (e.g., rum, gin, vodka, or whiskey).

Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the Kidneys eliminate 5% of alcohol in the urine, the Lungs exhale 5% of alcohol, which is detectable by a Breathalyzer, and the Liver breaks down the remaining 90% of alcohol. The standard rate that alcohol is broken down by the liver is equal to one standard drink per hour. It is important to note that nothing can speed up this process, including drinking non-alcoholic fluids (i.e. coffee or water) or eating food (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence).

How do I know if my teen or if my friend has a substance abuse problem?

If an individual you know (child, friend, parent) starts behaving differently for no apparent reason, with behaviors such as acting withdrawn, constant fatigue, prolonged depression, or hostility, then he or she may be developing a drug-related problem. Other warning signs include:

• A change in peer group
• Carelessness with appearance and grooming
• Decline in academic performance
• Missing classes, skipping school/work
• Loss of interest in favorite activities
• Trouble in school or run-ins with the law
• Changes in eating or sleeping habits
• Deteriorating relationships with family members and friends

Sourced from: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH)

What are some things you want to avoid when it comes to supporting someone who is going through recovery?

If an individual you know is going through recovery (child, friend, parent), it is recommended to avoid the following things:
• Don’t lecture, threaten, bribe, or preach to them
• Avoid emotional appeals that could increase feelings of guilt, and in turn, the compulsion to drink or use other drugs
• Don’t cover up, lie or make excuses for them and their behavior
• Don’t take over their responsibilities. This will protect them from the consequences of their behavior
• Arguing with the person when they are using alcohol or drugs is not helpful. In this state, they will not be able to have a rational conversation
• Don’t feel guilty or responsible for their behavior, it’s not your fault
• Don’t try to keep up with them by drinking or using yourself. This only enables their behavior

Sourced from: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)