A person doesn't make a conscious decision to become a drug addict and to accept all the negative things, like damaging relationships, failing at a career, or committing crimes, that often go along with it. Some have a genetic predisposition to addiction.
Other times, drug addiction starts with simple curiosity or a desire to experiment, especially with prescription drugs. Abuse of these medications has become a full blown epidemic here in America, with one in five Americans abusing prescription drugs at least once in their life.
There are several factors that experts believe are responsible for this growing trend. One factor that everyone can agree on is the availability of prescription drugs. It's possible to find prescription opioids in almost every medicine cabinet in the country, with more powerful versions of painkillers and tranquilizers being released every few years.
Doctors may be over prescribing these drugs to patients for pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other common conditions, which in turn creates prescription drug stashes in homes across the country. The most prescribed, and also the most abused, prescription drug is the painkiller Vicodin.
The drug is especially popular among teens who abuse prescription drugs, with one in ten high schoolers reporting that they've taken the drug recreationally in the last year. Drugs like Vicodin, along with the many others that are meant to treat pain and anxiety, are more readily available than ever before.
These prescription drugs work like other opioids by affecting the parts of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure. The resulting sense of euphoria and heightened well being is what gets so many people hooked the first time.
The feeling produced by taking these drugs not only feels good, it can also guide a person's sense of purpose or direction. This is because taking these drugs releases large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that rewards behavior.
When we eat, have sex, and perform other activities that contribute to our survival, small amounts of dopamine are released to encourage us to do more of that behavior. Because using drugs creates the same effect in an even more dramatic way, it's easy for someone to become addicted.
Using these drugs can even become something that the brain thinks is necessary to survive, like eating food and drinking water. Repeated use of opioids will even change the brain's nerve endings, to the point where taking the drugs will seem necessary for survival.
The changes that occur in the brain with drug addiction is why a drug abuser's behavior will change drastically. A drug addict will neglect their friends and family, perform poorly at work or even lose their job, and lose interest in the things they were once passionate about. The changes in the brain created by these drugs causes a dramatic shift in a person's priorities, to the point where they can completely lose control of their life.
Despite all this, there are still millions who regularly use and even abuse prescription drugs without getting addicted. How are these people different? The answer is that they may not have the genetic predisposition to addiction that causes them to abuse drugs again and again.
There are environmental factors that contribute to addiction as well. These include economic status, social standing, peer pressure, family life, and a history of abuse. Already having a history of abusing other substances can make someone more likely to abuse prescription drugs as well.
A co existing mental condition like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder will raise the risk of drug abuse. Using drugs to self medicate a mental disorder that is not being treated can often lead to a serious addiction.