How does the brain work during drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic brain disorder characterized by the compulsive consumption of a certain drug despite the negative aftermath of consuming it. Drug addiction provokes functional changes on our brain circuits, where reward, stress, and self-control are involved. According to the Drug World Report, 275 million adults between 15 and 64 years old consumed drugs at least once in 2016; that is approximately the 5.6% of the world population.
There is a myriad of reasons why a person would want to consume drugs, among them are: to feel good, to produce a sensation of pleasure, to feel better, to relieve social anxiety, stress, depression and to feel less anxious, to function better, to relieve pressure or improve concentration at school, work, or other activity. Other people decide to try drugs out of curiosity and social pressure. Teenagers have higher risk, as they are more likely to act to impress friends or challenge social norms.
The problem is that if a person starts to use drugs, aside from experiencing the positive effects of the drug, he/she will start to feel dependent to that drug. He/she will think that he/she can control the use, but overtime these seemingly pleasurable activities will stop, causing the person to keep consuming this drug to maintain their “normal” state, putting their lives at risk to consume higher quantities of the drug and consuming it more frequently to overcome that state.
An individual has a higher probability to become addicted to his/her risk factors. Biological factors that can increase risk are: genes, the developing stage they’re in, including even gender or ethnicity. On the other hand, environmental factors also play a big role related to family, school, and community; for instance, if substances like drugs or alcohol are consumed at home or if teenagers are influences by friends or other people.
Studies show that Afghanistan has the higher number of opioids users in the world. A research performed at a drug treatment hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan identified the factors associated with addiction treatment on male users, and also explored the Motivational Interviewing (MI) at the end of the treatment. According to the results, it was concluded that participants that assisted MI or used heroin, had more chances to complete the addiction treatment. This study emphasized relapse problems among male drug users that challenged drug addiction treatment in the world.
Drug use at any age can cause addiction, but research show that the younger a person is, the more possibilities of become addicted and suffers severe health problems he/she has. One of the brain areas that still is developing during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex: a part of the brain that allows to evaluate situations, decision taking, and emotion and whishes control. The fact that this part of the brain is still developing during adolescence puts teenagers on a higher risk of taking bad decisions like trying drugs or continue consuming them.
The first interactions of kids with the family are crucial to a healthy development and to know the risks that consuming drugs have.
Reviewers: Brenda Giselle Alvarez Rodriguez (Public Health Research), and Cassandra Saldaña Pineda (Knowledge Management Unit).
- Article: “Associations of treatment completion against drug addiction with motivational interviewing and related factors in Afghanistan”. Nagoya J Med Sci. 2018 Aug; 80(3): 329–340.
- Article: “Insights from Preclinical Choice Models on Treating Drug Addiction”. Trends Pharmacol Sci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 Feb 1.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Advancing Addiction Science.
- Drug World Report 2018.