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Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

This is arguably one of the most difficult questions to answer regarding drug addiction without being met with contention and passionate opposition. The troubling part is, despite the fact that the medical community, including the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has taken a strong stance on classifying addiction as a disease, others still argue that it is a condition that only exists out of lack of personal responsibility or moral willpower. Stigma against addicts was the driving force behind the way the world understood addiction for so long that now it is an uphill battle at times trying to detach from those old ideas.

Beyond the assumptions most people adopt as fact, science and psychology have taught us that addiction is far more complex and misunderstood than most can imagine.

Still, the great question is the “why” of it all, which is a far more debatable way to ask the question than the “how” of it. Even more debate could surround the perceived motivations, and more controversy comes from the “addiction is a choice” conversation. At first, let us look at what the research tells us.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Brain

Now first, let us look at how addiction is defined according to medical science, offering the evidence from the ASAM.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) gave the most recent definition of addiction as a chronic brain disorder after a four-year process involving more than 80 experts. The ASAM definition notes that two decades of advancements in neuroscience convinced ASAM officials that addiction should be

defined by the activity present in the brain.

For instance, research has shown that addiction affects the brain’s reward circuitry to the point that memories of previous experiences with food, alcohol and other drugs or even sex can activate cravings and induce more addictive behaviors. Also, the brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is altered in the brains of addicts.

Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the ASAM committee on addiction’s new definition states:

“The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them,”

“Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”

Dr. Hajela did, however, add that the idea of choice is not completely off the table, but that it is not about choosing addiction, but choosing recovery.

To be fair, there are also neuro-scientists like Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself; author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” who believe that the brain is definitively reshaped by addiction, but do not think it should be classified as a ‘disease’. These scientists recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns. While they do disagree with the specifics of the ‘disease’ term, they stand by the neuroscience of addiction.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: Chronic Medical Condition

Further exploring the definition of addiction as presented by the medical and scientific communities, we find that the American College of Physicians (ACP) calls addiction a “substance use disorder” and states that addictions to drugs should be considered a serious public health issue. The ACP states that substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition.

Several agencies have supported this definition of addiction, including:

  • The American Medical Association
  • The American Psychiatric Association
  • The Institute of Medicine
  • The World Health Organization

And if we are going to get really technical, the basic definition of “disease” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

-a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms

Examining this logic, it is clear that addiction meets all the criteria to be considered a disease. In fact, most definitions of disease are pretty spot-on with the nature of substance use disorder.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Formula

Now that we have explored how addiction can qualify as a disease, let us look into the “why” of it. Some insist there is an ‘addiction gene’ that dooms people to addiction. Others say the reason people become addicted is because of their circumstances in life.

One might say there is a kind of ‘formula’ for addiction, but it would be one like X+Y=Addiction.

X= Genetics

Research has pointed toward biological differences that make people more or less susceptible to addiction. Certain genes, or combinations of genes, may result in someone’s brain and body developing dependence much faster than others with the same consumption.

So when someone says they drank the same as someone else, or did the same amount of drugs for the same amount of time, we need to understand that it doesn’t mean they will have the same reaction to those drugs. One of the main arguments people use to oppose the idea of addiction being a disease is comparing an addict to other people who drink and use drugs without being addicts… but science has shown us that is not how it works.

Then there is epigenetics, the study of functional, and sometimes inherited, changes in the regulation of gene activity that are not dependent on gene sequencing. In short, it means to examine how environmental exposures or choices people make can actually remodel (mark) the structure of DNA at the cell level or even at the level of the whole organism.

Y= Environment/Actions

Here is where we openly admit to the actions (i.e. choices) of individuals to influence the development of addiction. Someone’s environment and the way they react to it does contribute to developing an addiction. In general, research has shown that an individual’s health is the result of interactions between their genes and their environment. Of course the likelihood of addiction can be increased by factors like:

Studies from the Nation Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) support that an individual’s surroundings also have a particular impact on drug use. According to the NIDA,

“Exposure to drugs or stress in a person’s social or cultural environment can alter both gene expression and gene function, which, in some cases, may persist throughout a person’s life. Research also suggests that genes can play a part in how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some people at higher risk for disease than others.”

When someone starts addressing external issues with drugs or alcohol, it magnifies the problem. Those who are exposed to a different life-style will also have a different risk of developing a substance use disorder. This impacts those epigenetics we were talking about.

In the end, we can say that people use drugs and alcohol as a solution. It is the resource they turned to for escape, for excitement or for a feeling of ease and contentment. It was a powerful element they were able to reach to, that ultimately rewired their brain and changed their DNA.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

Some people will say that the Y of X+Y=Addiction model proves that addiction is a choice, not a disease. Well, to argue that choices can still create diseases, we can point out that in 2014 it was noted for the first time in history, “lifestyle diseases” killed more people than communicable diseases. Health care providers and public health officials have recognized for a very long time that unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are the root cause of several diseases, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Some forms of cancer

Choices influence these conditions, which the medical community categorized as modifiable risk factors, including:

  • Poor dietary habits
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol overuse

People would argue still that someone who uses hard drugs knows the high risk and chooses. Well, don’t people who eat foods with low nutritional value and over-indulge in smoking while never exercising know the risks?

Recovery Works

Why do people become addicted to drugs? There are so many factors unique to the individual with that formula. Genetics, environment, actions, along with physical and mental health all play a part in how a substance use disorder develops, just like numerous other conditions. That is precisely why it is so important we start to recognize addiction as a disease; as a chronic medical condition and one that people should not be shamed and stigmatized for. All these elements of substance use disorder literally rewire the brain and rewrite the DNA.

Though this may seem like a lot of information, it covers barely a fraction of the research on this subject. There is no easy “why” to it, but there is enough to know why recovery is so important. Real recovery is not just removing the drugs, but also working to create new coping skills. Recovery takes work, and a great foundation can make all the difference.

Understanding addiction is one thing. But learning how to make the life in recovery that you deserve takes a strong beginning. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

E-Cigs and Vapes: the Undercover Gateway Drugs?

E-Cigs and Vapes: the Undercover Gateway Drugs?

Author: Justin Mckibben

This article is probably going to draw a bit of attention, and I’m sure that there will be a great deal of opinions seeing as how I have personally witnessed how popular ‘vapes’ and ‘e-cigs’ have become, especially in the recovery community. I have friends who dedicate more time and money to customizing their ‘vape mods’ and mixing their ‘vape juices’ than anything else, and it is kind of funny to see this hobby sprout up out of nowhere and become a notable trend. With all the innovations, artsy styles, and various flavors electronic cigarettes are making a lot of waves, but is it possible this new fad is actually a gate-way drug that is just disguised as a helpful alternative to nicotine?

Studies on the E-Cigs

One study conducted some time ago by the University of California, San Francisco found that using these devices is actually associated with the heavier use of conventional cigarettes. One of the lead authors of that study, Stan Glantz who is the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, expressed growing concern with the increase of e-cigarette use among adolescents.

“We are witnessing the beginning of a new phase of the nicotine epidemic and a new route to nicotine addiction for kids.”

In a more recent study that has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, neuroscientist Eric Kandel and his wife, Dr. Denise Kandel are raising a few eye-brows, red-flags, and arguments after they issued claims following their data that warned readers and consumers alike that electronic cigarettes, vapor cigarettes and their variations, are very likely to be considered undetected gateway drugs for adolescents.

Based off the findings of the two researchers on recent studies performed on mice, the results reveal that e-cigarettes prime the brain for the use of illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana. As e-cigarettes deliver highly addictive “pure nicotine” to the brain, the chemistry of the brain was altered in all the mice that the researchers used for the study. These noted alterations did what these scientists say geared up the animals brains for a cocaine addiction. Professor Kandel went on to explain,

“One drug alters the brain’s circuitry in a way that enhances the effects of a subsequent drug.”

Basically saying that by adolescence using e-cigs or vapes, they are conditioning their brains so that when the individual comes into contact with other illicit drugs, it is already more vulnerable and likely to develop a serious substance abuse habit or life threatening addiction.

Cause for Concern

Kandel and his wife, both from Columbia University, wrote extensively on the subject of the heightened risk to young people and how using electronic cigarettes can affect the developing mind and precondition it for using more dangerous drugs. At the end of their report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the two blatantly caused a bit of a surprised uproar when they wrote:

“Our society needs to be concerned about the effect of e-cigarettes on the brain, especially in young people, and the potential for creating a new generation of persons addicted to nicotine. The effects we found in adult mice are likely to be even stronger in adolescent animals. Priming with nicotine has been shown to lead to enhanced cocaine-induced locomotor activity and increased initial self-administration of cocaine among adolescent, but not adult, rats… Nicotine clearly acts as a gateway drug on the brain.”

So one might say that the real target of this last accusation is aimed more toward nicotine itself and not e-cigs, so technically big tobacco should be more concerned and vapor cigarettes should actually be safer, right? Now even though the typical e-cigarette user is a long-term smoker who has been unable to quit, more and more young people, who may not even have been smokers initially, are taking up the habit as it has evolved into a popular trend with all the variations in styles, and asking about someone’s ‘vape mod’ is apparently a good ice-breaker.

One huge problem is that nicotine has a much more powerful and influential effect on the adolescent brain, which according to this study will lead to later problems with being susceptible to drugs. Professor Kandel, who in 2000 shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory, stands firm on his assessment of the situation. Even more disturbing is that many people actually exploit vapes and e-cigs to consume other drugs because they make it easier to fly under the radar while smoking narcotics in public places.

So the question is, how much can actually be said about the contribution of e-cigs and vapes to the development of addiction or addictive qualities in adolescence who use them? The study published is geared toward identifying the vape and e-cig as a possible epidemic that will end up creating more addicts than ever. Either way this just goes to show that as new drug threats are exposed, along with other health risks being realized in some substances people currently exploit, there is a greater need than ever for awareness as to the devastation of the disease of addiction, and more attention needs to be given to the possibility or recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.



Nation’s Acting Drug Czar is a Recovering Alcoholic

Nation’s Acting Drug Czar is a Recovering Alcoholic


By Cheryl Steinberg

The nation’s top drug-control official, Michael Botticelli, just might be the person for the job, considering his first-hand experience with substance abuse.

As the Nation’s acting drug czar, Botticelli is tasked with spearheading the Obama administration’s drug policy, which is largely established on the idea of shifting the practice from the criminal justice system as the go-to to helping people with addiction by making treatment and support programs more accessible to them. Traditionally, the position has been held by law enforcement officials, a military general and physicians. But for now, it is occupied by a recovering alcoholic.

Botticelli’s story is the epitome of the policy, and a view that he credits with saving his life.

Botticelli, 56, the nation’s acting drug czar is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 25 years. He decided to seek help and recovery after experiencing a series of events, common to alcoholics in their active addiction, namely waking up handcuffed to a hospital bed after a drunken-driving accident and a financial collapse that left him facing eviction.

A New Strategy

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy approach has been, Botticelli said, a “very clear pivot to, kind of, really dealing with this as a public-health-related issue of looking at prevention and treatment.” He heads an office that has now shifted away from the antiquated and highly-flawed “war on drugs” ideology and is instead expanding access to treatment for addicts and preventing drug use through education.

Previously, Botticelli was director of Massachusetts’ Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and is currently trying to expand on some of the programs he enacted at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Programs such as allowing police to carry naloxone — a drug commonly known as Narcan that can reverse an opiate overdose — and helping people who have completed treatment find housing and jobs are his focus as acting drug czar.

Botticelli’s Story

After several hardships including financial ruin and having his license suspended due to a drunken driving accident, Botticelli was finally ready to get help.

When he received an eviction notice, he called his brother for support. It was during that phone call that Botticelli’s brother asked if him was an alcoholic. “I finally said yes,” he said. “I remember distinctly thinking to myself, ‘If I say I’m an alcoholic, there’s no going back.’ ”

A friend brought him to his first 12 Step meeting.

“That’s the first time that I raised my hand and said that my name was Michael, and I was an alcoholic, and that I needed help,” he said. “At that point, people kind of rally around you.”

Botticelli took suggestions by staying in the middle, attending meeting after meeting, and changing people, places, and things. He said he learned something then that has guided him since: Identify with people who have a problem, but don’t compare yourself.

“When I first came here, all I wanted to do was not drink and have my problems go away,” he said, choking up. “I’m standing here 25 years later, working at the White House. And if you had asked me 25 years ago when I came to my first meeting here if that was a possibility, I would’ve said you’re crazy. But I think it just demonstrates what the power of recovery is.”

Has alcohol become a problem for you? Are you drinking just to feel normal? Have you ever experienced “the shakes” or any other withdrawal symptoms when you try to go without drinking? These are signs that you may have a drinking problem, alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction issue. The good news is that help is available and that recovery is possible. Life can be amazing when you recover from your addiction. Call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist.

5 Reasons Recovery is So Scary for Prescription Pill Addicts with Legit Medical Problems

5 Reasons Recovery is So Scary for Prescription Pill Addicts with Legit Medical Problems

For those addicts who struggle with the abuse of prescription pills, especially powerful painkillers, it is an uphill battle trying to find treatment and escape out of that vicious cycle and into recovery. Discomfort doesn’t even come close to articulating some of the pain that is involved in detoxing from painkillers cold turkey, and the longer you have been using the worse it gets. So when you throw into the mix a legit medical problem that consists of a fair amount of pain, the concept of giving up the only thing that you believe can help you because it is causing you a different kind of pain can be terrifying. Here are 5 reasons recovery is so scary for prescription pill addicts with legit medical problems.

  1. Afraid of the pain of detox

For prescription pill addicts, the thought of detox is scary enough. When you add the pain of detox to a regularly scheduled agony from medical problems it only makes it harder to stick through that detox process without giving up, and many addicts who use pain killers have a hard time telling the difference between their own pains and the discomforts caused by withdrawals.

  1. Afraid detox will make medical problem worse

Sometimes when someone with a serious medical condition considers the idea of going to treatment for use of a prescription pill that has developed into a serious addiction they are afraid that the physical toll taken on the body from the detoxification process will actually create more complications with their current condition. Especially if their condition is the actual reason why they have been prescribed the medication in the first place, the addict can become even more worried that without it their problem will progress.

  1. Afraid of being ‘black listed’

A lot of times a prescription pill addict will avoid going to treatment or getting involved in their own recovery because they are worried that when they admit to having a serious problem with narcotics and abusing their medications that they will no longer be able to be prescribed medications. Many addicts believe that by going to treatment they are automatically ‘black-listed’ from being able to receive specific medications and they are scared that if they do so and their medical problem persists that they will no longer be able to get the treatment for that condition. They may fear that once they admit to a drug problem that doctors will assume in the future that they are just trying to manipulate the system in order to get these medications, when they really do have a more serious problem.

  1. Afraid of new medications

When taken off of you prescribed medication to try and resolve an issue with substance abuse, there can be some fear in recovery that your new medication may not be as helpful or healthy as you had hoped. It is possible that these new medications may not be as effective, or they may include their own list of side-effects or long-term effects that make them just as detrimental as the original medication you were taking.

  1. Afraid of relapses

Probably the worst fear of prescription pill addicts with legit medical conditions in recovery is relapse. Once in recovery a prescription pill addict will probably start off with a pretty legit fear of their condition because if they know already that they have issues with substance abuse and painkillers then it is understandable when they are hesitant to be prescribed new medications to help with their health problems because they are not familiar with the effects of these medications. Being an addict in recovery who has a legit medical issue and must be on some kind of medication, it can seem scary to have to remain vigilant as to your medications. At the end of the day though, all addicts must maintain self-awareness and vigilance.

For those with medical issues, the fear of getting off harmful medications can seem scary when you don’t know how else to navigate your illness without the help of your prescriptions. Some addicts don’t realize how much worse their illness may actually be as a result of the medications they abuse, or how it may be as simple as a new medication that could mean the difference between addiction and recovery, which for most means life or death. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Are Creative Types More Prone to Addiction?

Are Creative Types More Prone to Addiction?

Author: Justin Mckibben

Is it a muse to self-medicate? Do artists, musicians and other innovative thinkers have a defective piece of the personality puzzle that makes us more vulnerable to drinking and drugs? Creativity is an art of the imagination that some believe may be both an amazing gift and a self-destructing curse, due to the fact that so many suspect creative types may be more susceptible to developing addictions. Scientists and psychology researchers have pondered for years the link between creativity and mood disorders and mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder. And in the same light there has been much speculation as to the roll of addiction and alcoholism in the lives of great artists, writers, actors and other inspired minds.

Addiction is very frequently considered to be a mental illness in many respects. Most experts say mental illness does not necessarily cause creativity, nor does creativity necessarily contribute to any specific mental illness, but a certain deliberating personality type may contribute to mental health issues, behavioral disorders, addiction and art.

The Creative Genetics

Part of the body’s internal rewards system is regulated and stimulated by neurotransmitters that experience activity through dopamine, a pleasure chemical released into the brain through certain activities. It has been suggested that both creativity and addiction are both created by diminished dopamine functioning.

According to neuroscientist David Linden of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine there are several factors that weigh in on both addiction and creativity, but this is in no way a sure fire formula for addiction. So as far as Lindens theories are concerned there is no direct link, however he states there is a noticeable connection between addiction and things which are typically perceived as a prerequisite for creativity.

Very specific genetic variants make for the low-functioning dopamine system, specifically the brains D2 receptors. If you carry these variants, you are more likely to exhibit behaviors like:

  • Tendency to act impulsively
  • Tendency to value nonconformity
  • A need for regular stimulation or excitement
  • Being prone to attention seeking
  • Enjoyment of taking risks

None of the above listed characteristics are exclusively credited to creative thinkers, but they are attributes that are symptoms of creativity and addiction. Luckily there is the upside to these traits that come from having low dopamine function, because they can contribute to people having great success in the world out of a thirst for fulfillment through actively creating and striving.

Genetics is not 100 percent of the source of creativity, or addiction. In fact genetics maybe contributes to about 40 percent of the equation in any respect. It’s possible to carry the variants and not be an addict, and it is possible be an addict without these variants. The individual’s environment always factors in. So in a matter of science thus far there is no evidence that addiction is a product of creativity, although chemically they have very similar designs.

Artistic Assumptions

There are a lot of indications that creative types on average have a great possibility to develop substance abuse issues, but to say it is the reason for addiction is not true. Sadly this pattern is a self-fulfilling prophecy because many artists and creators believe that they are more inspired when intoxicated, and so they spend more time drinking and using drugs because they feel they need it in order to produce quality work.

Many artists fear giving up their addictions based on the belief that their imagination and muse comes from their substance abuse, and that once they sober up they will lose their creative character. Historically this is typically the opposite. Whenever there has been an artist who spent a great deal of time creating while in active addiction and then they gave it up, their work actually got exponentially better. When author Stephen King gave up his alcoholic life, he wrote his best work to date. Painter Jackson Pollock shaped his most famous pieces during a 2 year period of sobriety.

Ultimately there is not enough concrete evidence to support the idea that creativity enforces addiction, but there is most likely a connection in the creative types and the personality types that statistically become addicts considering the links between mental illness and creativity, and the generic parallels between addiction and creativity. Like being creative is actually the most beautiful form of mental illness.

Creative Passion in Recovery

Creative passion and that mode of out-of-the-box thinking is commonly credited to individuals who are said to be more thoughtful and original. Their ability to create and express themselves in many ways that give the rest of the world new music, art, poetry or even science is very much a product of their ability to perceive the world in a unique way, and develop new ideas based off the appreciation they show to the things others often miss.

Essentially, because addiction is also a disease of perception it is easy to see how people would relate the causes and the effects of addiction closely to creativity. Both blaming creativity for addiction, while persisting that creativity is a bi-product of substance abuse. That second thought is most definitely NOT the case. Drugs and alcohol actually damage the minds capabilities to generate new and unique concepts.

In order to maintain creative passion in sobriety, there is plenty of work you can try to use to stimulate those senses you may have told yourself you have lost.

  • Meditation– even just some quiet time alone is healthy for the mind to wonder and try new ideas with itself
  • Exercise– going on walks, jogging, etc. can help to stimulate the mind and body by activating your energy and taking in the world around you
  • Journalism– not just to give your mind a back-up for reminding you of your new ideas, but to get the creative mind working on itself by starting with those ideas and expanding on them, taking notes on thoughts and letting them evolve

All in all it is understandable why people would assume to relate addiction so closely to creativity. With so many celebrities and artists in the world notorious for substance abuse, and with countless tragic deaths of talented men and women over the years from drugs and alcohol it is natural that people would wonder if the individual with an active imagination is more prone to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. With the stigma that substance abuse also inspires creativity this also makes sense, but at the end of the day there is only a slight indication that it really matters at all. Addiction, mental illness, and creativity are all about perception, and how our perspective influences us to live our lives.

Personally I used believe I was doomed to addiction because I was creative. My passion for art and music must have meant I was destined to be an alcoholic and drug addict, but once I found recovery I realized that this was just another cop-out I gave myself to not stop drinking and using. If that were true, I should have started up an ‘Artists Anonymous’ group. Then when I got sober I was terrified I had lost the inspiration needed to do those things, but I actually rediscovered a new-found respect and passion for the arts and music I loved so much that are such a big part of who I am as an individual. So in theory it may be that artists statistically are prone to depression, and depressive people are more prone to addiction. However I know that these conditions can exist all on their own, and I can exist on my own now without drugs or alcohol, and I see life through an artist perspective more than ever.

Having an inventive or artistic muse is not a requirement or a result of addiction. While it may be true that a noticeable amount of people experiencing addiction are creative and talented individuals, there is still a vast majority of creatives who are not addicts or alcoholics. Either way, whether a creative type or not, an addict or alcoholic is in the grips of a disease that diminishes the mind, body and spirit and deconstructs the most unique parts of our perspective and personality that make us who we are. By taking action to get help you are taking the steps needed to save not just who you are, but your life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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