Man has battled with addiction to drugs as early as 5000 B.C. when the people of Asia Minor were know to use a “joy plant” derived from the poppy seed (Hansen, Venturelli, & Fleckenstein, 2010). It is estimated that the illicit use of drugs and addictions between “medical, economic, criminal, and social impact” costs Americans nearly half a trillion dollars a year. In addition, 100,000 people lose their lives every year due to the illicit use of drugs (Volkow, 2010).
Chronic, relapsing, compulsive, urge, and impulse are just a few of the words used to describe the “brain disease” commonly known as addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2011). Addiction knows no boundaries and affects male and female at every age and socio-economic level. Babies, adolescents, adults, and parents are all negatively affected by the use and abuse of legal and illicit drugs (Volkow, 2010). “Morally flawed and lacking in willpower” is no longer the norm when it comes to describing the addict. The consequences of continued abuse of a drug may lead to a higher tolerance as well as a serious addiction (Volkow, 2010). The initial choice to take a drug is voluntary but the disease that it inflicts on the brain is sometimes a life-long battle that destroys the body from the inside out as well as family and friends (NIDA, 2011).
Addiction and the Human Brain
There are several areas of the brain that are affected by the abuse of drugs. The brain stem is in control of our heart rate, breathing, and sleep (Volkow, 2010). The limbic system drives our ability to receive and enjoy pleasure. This is significant because pleasurable and repetitive actions encourage such behavior as eating which is vital to sustaining life. Normal behavior triggers the limbic systems as well as certain drugs when abused (Volkow, 2010). Finally, the cerebral cortex controls our ability to perform such things as feeling, hearing, taste, and sight. The abuse of drugs causes significant or long-term damage to these areas of the brain (Volkow, 2010).
Our brain uses neurons, neurotransmitters, receptors, and transporters to communicate. Electrical impulses called neurons send and receive messages. The electrical impulses are made of chemicals called neurotransmitters to send messages while the receptors are a chemical that receives messages. The neurotransmitter and receptor work together to ensure that a specific message is transmitted accurately. To end the process of communication, neurotransmitters are finally recycled by transporters. The transporter carries the neurotransmitter back to the original cell from which it was released. By doing this, the signal between neurons is eliminated (Volkow, 2010). The use and abuse of drugs seriously affects this network of communication in our brain.
What do Drugs do to the Brain?
Brain function is based on chemical interactions. The introduction of drugs – whether illicit or licit – changes the brains chemicals and therefore changes the...