"Drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated.” Nora Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
From scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior. Many of the biological and environmental factors that contribute to the development and progression of the disease have been identified. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families, and communities. Understanding the basics of addiction will empower you to make informed choices about your life.
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs actually change the brain— both its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and they can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.
In general, people begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons:
At first, people may perceive what seem to be positive effects with drug use. They also may believe that they can control their use; however, drugs can quickly take over their lives. Consider how a social drinker can become intoxicated, put himself behind a wheel and quickly turn a pleasurable activity into a tragedy for him and others. Over time, if drug use continues, pleasurable activities become less pleasurable, and drug abuse becomes necessary for abusers to simply feel “normal.” Drug abusers reach a point where they seek and take drugs, despite the tremendous problems caused for themselves and their loved ones. Some individuals may start to feel the need to take higher or more frequent doses, even in the early stages of their drug use
The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary. However, when drug abuse takes over, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired. Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works, and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health