01 March 2024 Understanding Addiction

Drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is an illness that affects a person's brain and behavior, causing them to lose control over the use of legal or illegal drugs or medications. Drugs include substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine. Drug abusers tend to continue using the substance despite the harm it causes once they are addicted as addictions grow over time.

Addiction vs. Dependence

It is important to understand the difference between dependency and addiction. Dependence is usually referred to as a physical dependence on a substance. Physical dependence can occur as a consequence of long-term drug usage, even when it is guided by a prescription. Physical dependency on a drug is not the same as addiction but it often presents with addiction . Addiction is defined as a behavior change caused by the biochemical changes in the brain as a result of continued drug abuse. One of the outcomes of behavior change is that it increases the desire to engage in dangerous acts, such as when a drug addict will go to any extent to obtain money for drugs. Furthermore, drug addicts have poor anger management skills. When they are not under the influence of drugs, people like this may rage, scream, or even lash out with physical violence. An addiction causes people to act erratically when they do not have the  drug in their system. While it is possible to have a physical dependence without being addicted, addiction can always happen. When people become dependent on the drug, they develop drug tolerance.

  • Drug tolerance means that the body has adapted to the presence of the drug. It is a reduced response to the drug when it is used frequently and the body adapts to its continued presence. As a result, more of the drug is needed to attain the same euphoric effects, leading them to become delusional.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs, while others do not?

As with other diseases and disorders, the likelihood of developing an addiction differs from person to person, and no single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. In general, the more risk factors a person possesses, the greater the likelihood of drug use and addiction. Protective factors on the other hand, reduce a person's risk. Some example of risk factors and protective factors are as below:

Risk Factors

Protective Factors

Aggressive behavior in childhood

Self-efficacy (belief in self-control)

Lack of parental supervision

Parental monitoring and support

Negative social interactions

Positive relationships

Drug experimentation

Good grades

Availability of drugs at school

School anti-drug policies


What environmental factors increase the risk of addiction?

Environmental factors play the most important role in addiction. Environmental factors are related to relationships between the family, in school, and neighborhood. Factors that can increase a person's risk include the following:

  • Home and Family- A home environment is a very important factor, especially in childhood. Parents and older families who abuse drugs and alcohol or violate the law may increase their children's risk of future drug problems.

  • Peer and School- Friends and other peers can become very influential during their teens. Teens who use drugs for the first time can sway even those without risk factors. Academics struggles and poor social skills can further increase a child's risk of drug use and addiction.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

Most drugs interfere with the brain's “reward circuit”, causing euphoria and flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat those behaviors repeatedly.

As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the “reward circuit” to react to the drugs. This lowers the person's high compared to when they initially started using the drug, an effect known as tolerance. To attain the same high level, they would take more of the drug. These brain adaptations make it more difficult for a person to experience previously enjoyable activities such as food, sex, or social activities.

Prolonged use can cause changes in other chemical systems and circuits of the brain, affecting function that includes:

·         learning

·         judgment

·         decision-making

·         stress tolerance

·         memory

·         behavior

Despite being aware of these negative consequences, many drug users continue using them. This is the nature of addiction.

Tucker Woods, DO, an Addiction Medicine Specialist and Chief Medical Officer of Restorative Management Corp says “Addiction signs and symptoms differ from person to person, but if you're asking yourself if you need help, the chances are you do". Therefore, if you have some of the signs of drug dependence or addiction, it is best for you to get yourself examined for a treatment.


Addiction can be treated, but there are distinct approaches to recovery. Since relapses are common, the process may take some time. There are a range of services to which you can be referred for addiction treatment, depending on your condition. Listed  are some of the most frequent treatment approaches: 

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to address cognitive and behavior patterns that lead to addiction. Contingency management, family therapy, psychological treatment, counseling and group therapy are some of the other therapies that are beneficial too.

  • Medications: Medications help with addictions and withdrawal symptoms, as well as other treatments to address underlying mental illnesses like anxiety or depression, may be included. Methadone, buprenorphine, nicotine replacement therapy, and naltrexone are among the medications that may be prescribed.

  • Hospitalization: In some cases, people may need to be hospitalized  to treat potentially serious complications for detoxifying of the substance.

  • Support groups and self-help: As people discover new ways to deal with recovery, direct and online support groups can be a helpful source of knowledge and social support.

Anyone struggling with an addiction should discover how to gain independence from the substance. Fortunately, addiction is treatable and there are measures that can be taken to help oneself. While quitting is a tough process and understanding how to overcome addictions is key, it is an important first step toward recovery.  

For additional information and to learn about your personal traits and behaviors, search up to agtgenetics.com.


Felman, A. (2018, October 26). Addiction: Complications and consequences. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323461 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, October 26). Drug addiction (substance use disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20365113

McGuire, J., & Pham, L. (n.d.). Dependence vs addiction: What's the difference? WebMD. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/dependence-versus-addiction 

NIDA. 2020, July 13. Drug Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction on 2022, May 19

NIDA. 2018, June 6. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction on 2022, May 19