In everyday life, you may hear friends or family say that they are addicted to sugar, shopping, or the hottest television show. In this case, they are trying to say that they love these things, but it is not a true addiction. Substance use disorder, or addiction, is a brain disease that is manifested by the compulsive use of a substance despite the harmful consequences.
Why Do People Begin Taking Drugs?
People begin using drugs for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:
- To feel good
- To relieve stress
- To improve performance
- Peer pressure
Certain drugs affect the brain’s reward center, making the person feel good by releasing dopamine, a hormone, and neurotransmitter. This substance can change how a person feels pleasure, as well as to think and plan. Substance use can rewire the brain’s reward system. According to a recent study published in the scientific journal PNAS, and described in Harvard Health, “Researchers demonstrated that a type of small infectious agent (a type of RNA virus called human endogenous retrovirus-K HML-2, or HK2) integrates within a gene that regulates activity of dopamine. This integration is more frequently found in people with substance use disorders, and is associated with drug addiction.”
Unhealthy use of alcohol, drugs, and other substances can also come about through self-medication of other mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
Is Addiction Genetic?
Some people are more vulnerable to misuse than others thanks to both genetic and environmental factors. If a person has a close family member that has a substance use disorder, there is a chance that they could also be prone to developing one as well.
With that in mind, it is important to remember that substance use disorder is a complex disease and genetics are not the sole determinant of if a person will misuse alcohol or other drugs. Many people who experiment with substances do not progress to misuse, but evaluating risk factors helps to gauge whether or not a problem may develop. Behavioral or impulse control problems, exposure to trauma, environmental factors like easy access to substances, and age of first use can all contribute to the risk. Some substances like nicotine are so addictive that frequent use can lead to addiction in anyone. It is also important to note that people who have no known risk factors can still develop a substance use disorder.
PreventEd Works With The Community To Prevent Misuse & Addiction
PreventEd helps reduce substance misuse and addiction in our communities through education and outreach. We begin as early as Kindergarten to teach kids essential life skills like building friendships, handling emotions like anger, respecting others, and managing conflict. Youth Leadership Programs such as Teen Institute and Red Ribbon reach thousands of kids across the St. Louis region, working to prevent substance misuse, participate in community events, and teach essential life skills.
We educate parents about the signs and symptoms of substance misuse, peaceful problem solving, setting boundaries, and more.
Resources, including support groups and advocacy, can be found here.