Drug Abuse and Addiction

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Who can become addicted to drugs?

Is continued drug abuse a voluntary behavior?

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.

Who can become addicted to drugs?

No single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. The overall risk for addiction is impacted by the biological makeup of the individual, as well as his or her gender, ethnicity, developmental stage, and the surrounding social environment (e.g., conditions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood).

Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person's vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function. Adolescents and individuals with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population.

Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research also shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs the more likely they are to progress to more serious abuse. This may reflect the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain; it also may result from a constellation of early biological and social vulnerability factors, including genetic susceptibility, mental illness, unstable family relationships, and exposure to physical or sexual abuse.

Still, the fact remains that early use is a strong indicator of problems ahead, among them, substance abuse and addiction.

More information on Drug Abuse and Addiction

  • Drug Abuse and Addiction Overview
  • Symptoms of Drug Abuse
  • Why do people take drugs?
  • Drug Abuse in Teenagers
    • Learn about drug abuse in teenagers and why introducing drugs while the brain is still developing may have profound and long-lasting consequences.
  • Prognosis and Treatment of Drug Abuse
    • Drug abuse addiction is a treatable disease. Learn more about various evaluation and treatments of depression through psychotherapy and neurofeedback.
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