It is very easy to become addicted to drugs.  An addiction is a disease that could affect anybody and can be difficult to control, making the need to obtain further drugs a priority for the user.

Many people find it difficult to understand how others become addicted to drugs. They often believe that those who use drugs lack willpower and control and they should stop their drug use simply by choosing to.

Drug addiction is a complex disease.  For a user to become clean, they will need interventions from support groups and in many cases a lifestyle change. Drugs affect the brain and make stopping taking them extremely hard.

There is a fine line between regular use and drug abuse and addiction. Very few addicts are able to recognize when they have crossed that line.

Experimenting with drugs

Drug abuse may start as a way to connect with friends through peer pressure.  It can often be a way to shut out pain or other forms of abuse or depression.  The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.

Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit” by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. This reward system controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivates a person to repeat behaviours needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. This over-stimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable “high” that can lead people to take a drug again and again.

As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adjusts reducing the ability the reward circuit to respond to them. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug. They might take more of the drug, trying to achieve the same dopamine high. It can also cause them to get less pleasure from other things they once enjoyed.

Who becomes addicted?

As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. Your genes, mental health, family and social environment all play a role in addiction.

Risk factors that increase your vulnerability include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Early use of drugs
  • Method of administration—smoking or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential

Signs that a person is using drugs

There are many signs, both physical and behavioural, that indicate drug use

  • Sudden change in behaviour
  • Mood swings; irritable and grumpy and then suddenly happy and bright
  • Withdrawal from family members
  • Careless about personal grooming
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, sports and other favourite activities
  • Changed sleeping pattern; up at night and sleeping during the day
  • Red or glassy eyes
  • Sniffly or runny nose

Getting Help

When a person is using drugs they will often do whatever is required to get access to further drugs.  This can include stealing, growing drugs on behalf of others, prostitution and grooming.  There are also significant health risks to the individuals using these substances. There are a number of support services available who can help users become clean and provide support and advice to family members and loved ones.