What Is Drug Addiction Like?
You know what it's like to be hungry right? You eat, feel normal, and everything is fine. When you don't eat, you get hungrier and hungrier, until it's all you can think about. You start to feel weak, tired, angry, irritable, unhappy. You can't think, can't work, can't really do anything after not eating for a few days, until you get some food.
Now, imagine you have another hunger. Except this one is even more powerful and compelling, and must be fed even more often than the need for food. You need your fix. Everything else you care about gets pushed back from the thought of it. It can even get to the point where you commit crimes and degrade yourself for it. That's what it can be like for drug addicts everyday.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease distinguished by a difficult to control craving for drug use, even if they know it's harmful for them.
People mistakenly think that those who use drugs have a weak willpower and could stop using by just choosing not to. But really it's a complex disease that needs more than just a strong will to stop. Drugs eventually start to change the brain and makes it even harder to quit, even if they wanted to quit. Also, if they did manage to quit, they are more likely to relapse from the undeniable craving.
What happens in the brain when taking drugs?
Most drugs have an effect on the brains "Reward circuit" by engulfing it with dopamine. The reward system controls the the body's ability to feel pleasure and motivates them to repeat behaviors to survive like eating, reproducing, and socializing. The overstimulation causes the pleasurable "high" and causes the repeated use of drugs
After the repeated drug use, the brain adapts to the over abundance of dopamine by decreasing the ability of cells in the reward system to respond to it. So after every use this reduces the high they felt, this is known as tolerance. They may need to increase the intake of the drug to get that same high. It can also can cause them to lose interest in things they used to enjoy like socializing or food because the reduction of pleasure.
Long term use can also change other brain chemical systems like:
- Decision making
Even if the user knew the consequences they would continue taking the drug, because they need it, because of their addiction.
What are we doing to stop addiction?
The War on Drugs, that we've been fighting for almost a century now, has made addiction recovery worse.
Instead of helping people heal and getting their life together we have cast them out of society, we have made it harder for them to get jobs and become stable, we take benefits and support away from them if we catch them with drugs, and we throw them in prison cells. We put people who are not well in a situation which makes them feel worse about themselves and hate them for not recovering.
Is there a different way to fight addiction?
Is there actually a way out of this mess? Well yes, in the 1980s, Switzerland went through a public health crisis, mainly with heroin use. HIV and street crime rates skyrocketed and became a big problem.
Soon the former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss, As the Federal Councillor in charge of public health and social insurance, she implemented a new policy, with the help of heath and police officials, in the fields of drug addiction and prevention of HIV/AIDS. tried a new strategy: harm reduction.