Addiction: How Drugs Change Lives


From the media to movies to music, drugs are stigmatized as harmless and fun to do. It seems like every time I turn around a new celebrity is getting arrested for drug related incidents. There is always a new song being produced that promotes a lifestyle that involves always being high off of drugs. These are the sorts of things that are seen in day to day life, and children are being exposed to it at younger and younger ages.

 My Experience and Education on Addictions:

Though I have personally never tried drugs, I have seen various friends and family members lives change because of them. I have seen how fast drug use can change someone’s personality, and I have experienced how hard it is to stick around in said person’s life. Addictions not only affect those who are addicted, but everyone around them as well. A book entitled Beautiful Boy written by David Sheff, talks about his (Sheff) own son’s methamphetamine addiction. In the book he not only talks about how the addiction developed, but what it was like as a parent of an addict. Sheff explains how he blames himself for his sons addiction and how him and his wife getting divorced (many years before the addiction started) is the reason why it occurred. This is a true story, and it is true for many families of loved ones that have an addiction. Taking the blame for another persons mistake and asking questions like “why did I not see this sooner” or “how could I have prevented this” are not uncommon thoughts.

One thing that friends and family members of an addict don’t realize is that the addiction is an actual mental illness. Addictions can change the physiological and anatomical aspects of the brain, making it harder to overcome said addiction. 


The High

There are many different factors that go into how someone becomes addicted to drugs. The dopamine reward circuit plays a big role in the formation of addictions. When a drug is administered, dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain) is released which causes that “feel good” affect of the high. In regards to addictions, the dopamine receptors D1 and D2 come into play. When the D1 receptors are activated, this turns on the direct striatal pathway which is associated with reward and reinforcement. These receptors become more prevalent in the brain during addiction.

D2 receptors, when activated, turn on the indirect striatal pathway which is associated with punishment. In the addicted brain, there are fewer D2 receptors, which results in a increase of DA (decrease in dopamine inhibition of the pathway). These two receptor types are not independently controlled, if one is activated the other is inhibited. Since there is a decreased amount of D2 receptors in the addicted brain, there is an imbalance between the two pathways. This imbalance is said to be what causes the behavioral changes that are associated with addiction. This is just one way that the brain changes during addiction.

As someone takes a drug more frequently, soon there body will get used to the levels of dopamine that are being released and they will no longer feel that “high”. This causes them to take higher doses of the drug, these higher doses will result in the release of even more dopamine, therefore giving them that same high they felt with the lower dose previously. This need to increase a dose of a drug means that they have developed a tolerance. Overtime, this new dose will stop producing that high and will require another increase in dose. This tolerance will slowly occur for each dose that the addict uses, causing them to take harmful quantities of a drug in the long run.

Another factor that goes into changing the brain, is the different cues that are associated with the drug. If someone takes the drug in the same environment or around the same time of the day, they will slowly form memories of the drug use and associate it with those cues. Through forming these memories, when that person is in that environment or it gets to be that certain time of the day, they will start to crave the drug. That crave is triggered by those cues (the environment or time of day). These memories strengthen over time, and are essientally permanently embedded in the brain. This makes it hard to withdraw from drug use, because all of these different cues will continue to cause that crave feeling. If that crave is not satisfied, withdrawal symptoms will set in and people will take the drug to avoid those symptoms.

Overall, drug addictions change so many different aspects of someones life and they are extremely hard to overcome. By becoming more empathetic to addictions, it will be easier to understand and help those dealing with one. If you would like to read more on the topic click on one of the links below and you will be brought to other articles. Also, check out the book Beautiful Boy, it is a quick and interesting read. This book will help provide a better perspective on the social implications of addictions like how it affects family members, and how society deals with it.

Links to other readings: (Beautiful Boy)

Sources used:

Volkowab1, N. D., Wangc, G., Fowlerc, J. S., & Tomasib, A. D. (n.d.). Addiction: Beyond dopamine reward circuitry. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from

Volkow, N. D., & Morales, M. (2015). The Brain on Drugs: From Reward to Addiction [Review].