Scientists call it a “reward.” In layman’s terms, it is called pleasure. Pleasure is a compelling, primal force. Doing something pleasurable hardwires the brain to seek out further sources of reward. This is how addiction takes hold of an otherwise healthy person’s mind.
Most people do not understand why some individuals become addicted to drugs or how drugs alter the brain to pursue unbridled drug abuse. They erroneously view substances abuse and addiction as a social problem and may even consider those who use drugs as morally weak people. They believe that an addicted person can stop using drugs at any moment simply by using their own willpower. They tend to undervalue the environmental and genetic factors involved in drug addiction. Some even refuse to believe that addiction is an actual disease that alters the brain.
Your brain allows you to drive a car, savor a meal, breathe, feel the texture of a coin or a scrap of cloth, ponder the meaning of the universe, and revel in everyday activities. This three-pound organ is the most complicated part of the human body. It is involved in all voluntary human activity and also regulates many of the body’s functions. The brain enables you to communicate to others and remember what you’ve seen, and it plays a vital role in your emotions and behavior.
Drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine can lead the body to secrete massive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which causes the body to feel good and relaxed. Dopamine is a “pleasure chemical” that gives the sensation of pleasure and physical wellbeing. Overwhelming the system with dopamine produces dreamy effects which can be highly addicting, prompting the user to keep taking drugs. People addicted to drugs come to value a high over natural pleasures such as eating and sleeping. The major problem is that, over time, as the body builds up tolerance to the drug in question, less and less dopamine is released each time the person uses drugs. As a result, many patients begin to take progressively higher and higher doses of their drug of choice, and this can lead to poisonous overdoses.
Drug abuse over a long period of time can alter the brain’s chemistry. The user may experience irresistible cravings when they see something or someone associated with their drug of choice. Addicted individuals may find that the areas of their brains involved with perception, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior are all subtly changed. These alterations can lead a drug user to chase down drugs at any cost, and consume them ravenously despite the negative consequences. It’s vital that a person get help if they suspect that they or a loved one might be addicted to a substance, before addiction takes its final toll.