We all know where addiction can lead. Broken relationships, loss of jobs and ultimately self destruction. But addiction surely doesn’t start this way. At first, alcohol and drugs mean more energy, a better mood and ease in socialising. At first, drugs make people happy and life seems more enjoyable.
Later on an addicted person will try to relive those good moments, but it becomes harder and harder. They increase the dose, they use more and they develop “tolerance”. They spend more time, money and energy to get their drug of choice — and all the important things in their life start to slip away. But often it’s the people around the addicted person who see the real effects of addiction.
How drugs affect the brain
“Our brain is hardwired to respond to pleasure”, says Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the United States. “This is a very intelligent design by which nature makes us do behaviours that are indispensable for the survival, both of the individual and of the species.”
In order to ensure that we are going to procure the food necessary for survival, nature has linked the behaviour of procuring food to pleasure. A similar association exists in order to ensure the reproduction of the species. This is a primitive system of reward which can be identified even in flies.
Volkow goes on to explain how this system of survival gets “hijacked” by drugs.
“All drugs of abuse have a common effect in the brain – they increase the concentration of a chemical called dopamine, in limbic areas of the brain, where the reward centre is located.” Once the dopamine is released, the brain perceives the drugs as “rewarding”.
To hear more of Volkow’s explanation about why we associate drugs with pleasure, watch the short video below:
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | July 31, 2013