Last updated: May 29, 2023
The word “drugs” doesn’t usually get written on the list, of course, but someone who is caught up in desperation might actually have done it. As a matter of fact, odds are the person has no intention of actually spending their shopping money on drugs rather than gifts for family and friends. However, they don’t intend to spend all their grocery and bill money for drugs either. In fact, it’s safe to say that they’ve vowed not to spend money for those things on drugs ever again.
That’s just how addiction works.
The mind of an addict
Addiction is a disease and, believe it or not, 50% of addicts are genetically predisposed to become one. This fact was determined by a study that looked at 861 pairs of identical twins and 653 sets of fraternal (non-identical) twins. The study determined that when one identical twin had a drug or alcohol addiction, it was highly likely that the other twin had an addiction problem too. However, when one of the fraternal twins had an addiction, the other twin may not.
The remaining half of people suffering from addiction got that way due to using poor coping skills. It’s easy to think that using drugs that boost your sense of euphoria would be deemed an appropriate way to “help” you through an uncomfortable situation. Some use alcohol in that way too.
At first, it may be easy to limit use. For instance, when you’re around people that you don’t feel comfortable with, your drug of choice lets you easily interact even though you had been feeling like you don’t quite fit in. It’s great because you’re in control of how much and how often you use your crutch.
The problem with that is that after a period of time—which can be much shorter than some people would ever imagine, depending on the drug—a physiological change takes place within the brain. That means that your brain can eventually accept that having drugs or alcohol in the system is a normal occurrence.
That’s called tolerance and it’s a game-changer.
What is tolerance?
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they can’t stop. They may want to stop with every fiber of their being, but they can’t. Even if they’ve been told they are endangering their health or they are causing financial and emotional problems for themselves or their loved ones—they can’t stop. The desire to use drugs consumes their thoughts all day every day.
There’s a difference between drug abuse and tolerance versus drug addiction. When someone is abusing drugs or alcohol, they may have no qualms about how they obtain their fix. For instance, an underage drinker may hang around outside a liquor store looking for someone to approach to make their purchase for them. Someone who abuses drugs wouldn’t hesitate to pop someone else’s prescription medication if offered before heading out for a night on the town. But, the abuser is in control of the when and where of it all.
Building up a tolerance to a drug means that your body has accepted the drug as “normal” so, in order for the person to be able to achieve the desired result, they must continually increase the dosage. And, of course, this puts them at an increasingly higher risk of overdose which can lead to death.
How does using rewire your brain?
When we experience something pleasurable, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When that happens it triggers a feeling of intense pleasure. It happens from all types of experiences from human interaction to the types of food that we eat. It makes us want to repeat the experience to obtain that feeling again.
Over time, though, our brain gets used to the amount of dopamine that’s released and accepts it as being a normal experience. In order to achieve the same type of “high,” you have to up the ante.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t just put someone at higher risk of suffering an overdose. It can cause other changes within the brain’s circuits and chemical systems.
These changes affect the following:
- Ability to learn
Who’s most at risk?
We mentioned above that some people are genetically predisposed to form an addiction. It could be an addiction to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or even food. Some people form strange addictions, such as eating substances that aren’t intended for consumption or “cutting” themselves to release stress or pain that they are holding in due to specific life experiences, perhaps.
That doesn’t mean that everyone who is predisposed to addiction becomes an addict though. Some people choose to never try drugs or alcohol and are unaware of the tendency for addiction that is literally hard-wired into their brains.
If you’re at risk, though, it can happen at any age. Some things that may raise the chances of forming an addiction include:
- Family history—If parents or siblings use drugs or alcohol, it’s more likely that there is a predisposed connection. However, that’s not always the case. If drugs or alcohol are used as a coping mechanism, the child can learn by example.
- Early drug use—A child’s brain is changing rapidly. If they use drugs during the process, it can have lifelong effects.
- Mental disorders—If someone suffers from depression, has trouble paying attention, or worries constantly, they may be more likely to form an addiction. A history of trauma in someone’s life can be an indicator as well.
- Troubled relationships—Someone who grew up in dysfunction and who isn’t close to parents or siblings may be at higher risk.
There are several warning signs to be aware of that point to problems with drugs or alcohol. If you recognize yourself here on this list, seek help now. Waiting will only make things worse.
- An urge to use drugs or alcohol every day
- Taking more drugs than you want to and for longer than you thought you would
- Always having the drug with you and buying it even when you should be spending the money elsewhere
- Using drugs even if they’re causing trouble at work or amongst family and friends
- Spending more time alone
- Not caring how you look
- Stealing, lying, or doing dangerous things, such as driving high or drunk
- Spending the majority of your time using or recovering from the effects of using
- Feeling sick when you try and quit
Help is the first step to healing
If your drug or alcohol use is out of control, talk to your doctor.
It’s possible to recover from drug addiction. It’s not easy, though. Seeking help will make the process more bearable and your odds of success greatly increase. Treatment enables you to learn coping skills that will help you avoid turning back to drugs or alcohol in uncomfortable situations.
Your family will support your efforts. Your friends should too. If they don’t—find new friends. Not doing so greatly reduces your chances of success.
That’s not an option worth exploring—even for a second.