The Drug Chokehold

We live in a society filled with education including mathematics, grammar, physical health, etc. but further, our society teaches the young population about the negative effects involved in drug and alcohol abuse. We even go as far as to offer classes and information for parents so they can be better informed about the negativities involved in drug abuse and how to help prevent their children from doing drugs. However, there is a still a large population involved in drug abuse in our society. And despite the intensely devastating lifestyles these people live, they are still doing drugs. As a society we are left with some questions.

How does drug use take control over people’s lives despite the negative consequences?

First, let’s discuss the physical process behind drug addiction because it is quite important in understanding the motives of drug abusers.

A Biological Perspective of Drug Addiction

Step one: Take any addictive drug of choice (i.e. alcohol, opioids, methamphetamines) and experience the brain’s reaction.

Step two: The brain’s initial reaction to drugs involves a large amount of dopamine produced in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), simply a region in the brain, and released in a different region of the brain, the nucleus accumbens (NAc). The NAc is an important region of the brain because it contains the dopamine receptors necessary to produce a reaction. There are two types of receptors dopamine binds, D1 and D2. When dopamine binds D1, a direct pathway is activated and initiates reward sensations in the brain. When dopamine binds D2, an indirect pathway is inhibited and stops punishment or pain sensations in the brain. This means maximal reward is occurring in the brain and on the street is called a “high.”

Step three: The brain begins to physically change after prolonged use and sometimes even after the first drug use. The neurons and connections in your brain begin to morph into a drug addicted pathway (spines, larger surface areas for reception, etc.) and stay like that even after drug use stops. Therefore, relapse is something that is inevitable, not for the lack of trying. Some of the changes that occur in the brain cause the body to 1. react to certain cues in everyday life that trigger drug use by increasing dopamine in the brain, 2. reduced sensitivity to non-drug rewards, and 3. spine growth on dendrites of neurons in the brain, creating a size and shape change (not good).

What Does This Mean?

Drug addiction is a serious mental health issue that is not a matter of choice because the brain physically cannot choose anything but the drug. The brain has been physically morphed and takes a lifetime, if ever, to change back to normal. When someone breaks a bone, we do not expect them to walk or move normally because they have been physically changed. Well, the same goes for drug addiction. Therefore, drug addicts experience a “chokehold” and must tap out – revert to drug abuse over and over again.