Many people associate drug misuse and addiction to crime and lack of moral principles or willpower. The decades-long war on drugs of the US only reinforces this mindset. However, drug addiction is a complex chronic disease that does not just involve one person. Drug misuse is a societal issue as much as it is a medical issue, and therefore should not be simplified as a crime to be fought.
In order to see drug addiction as the disease it truly is, this essay explores the causes and effects of drug addiction. The succeeding body paragraphs will discuss the reasons why people use illicit drugs, how addiction develops, and why it’s difficult to simply drop the addiction. Then, the author will tackle the effects of drug abuse on the individual, their family, and society, as well as how the consequences of drug abuse often compound the issue and make it difficult for those with drug addiction to rehabilitate and recover. This cause and effect essay then concludes with the thesis statement that much of the causes of drug abuse is often the result of normal choices that lead individuals toward addiction, and is thus beyond the individual’s control or willpower, and the various effects of drug addiction make it disproportionately difficult to return to a life of sobriety.
Defining Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is the chronic compulsive behavior of seeking illicit drugs. Drug use is categorized as addiction when use is continued despite salient harmful consequences. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) uses the category “substance use disorder” to describe “the problematic pattern of use of an intoxicating substance leading to clinically significant impairment or distress … occurring within a 12-month period” (NIDA, 2020a). SUD has three categories—mild, moderate, and severe.
It is worth noting that there is a difference between drug misuse and addiction. Drug misuse is the unhealthy use of prescribed medication (NIDA, 2020a). This primarily includes use of prescription drugs in ways other than the medical purpose or using someone’s prescription, such as with what happened in the US opioid crisis, often done for the purpose of producing pleasure, alleviating stress, or altering reality (NIDA, 2020a). Drug addiction, on the other hand, is characterized by the inability to control the urge to use drugs despite the negative consequences. DSM-5’s description of Substance Use Disorder corresponds with drug addiction. Despite the differences, both spectrums of drug use have adverse consequences on the individual, as well as on the people surrounding them.
Causes Of Drug Use And Drug Addiction
The problem of drug use and addiction is not new in the US. It has been recognized as an issue since the 20th century (Branch 2011). Why people use drugs is a complex question that is still being explored today. Current research has established various emotional, physical, and psychological factors that contribute to the chances of using drugs and developing drug addiction. There are various reasons that fall within these factors that may serve as risk factors for drug addiction.
Emotional factors such as grief; trauma; chronic stress; pressure from peers, family, or at work; and cumulative adversity may put someone at risk of drug addiction. Individuals under such stress, for instance stress from surviving their first semester in college, may use drugs as a coping strategy for dealing with stress, reduce tension, or self-medicate (Sinha, 2009). Furthermore, chronic stress, especially among youths, is associated with decreased emotional and behavioral control, which is a major contributor to vulnerability to drug use and addiction as well as other maladaptive behavior (Sinha, 2009). Thus, emotional factors that put excessive stress on one individual may push them toward drug usage.
There are also psychological factors that contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to drug addiction. Certain mental health disorders, for instance, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may increase the likelihood of an individual’s likelihood of using drugs and developing an addiction (Frontiers, 2016). In such cases, individuals experiencing the symptoms of a mental disorder may turn to drugs to self-medicate. However, it is also possible for an individual who uses drugs to develop mental health disorders (Frontiers, 2016). Studies have found strong links between mental disorders and drug addiction; however, the reason for this link remains unclear. An emerging reason for the link is the genetic overlap of mental health disorders and drug use. The study by Bogdan found that the genetic risk for schizophrenia and depression are associated with use of cannabis and cocaine (Frontiers, 2016). This study confirms the previous claims that certain individuals have genetic predisposition for drug addiction.
Family plays a major role in an individual’s genes and environment, both of which have a substantial influence on drug addiction. Family history of addiction is another strong cause of drug use and addiction. This is explained by genetic predisposition in some families, similar to a family’s or individual’s predisposition for certain diseases. In addition to the aforementioned study by Bogdan, the study by Bevilacqua and Goldman (2009) shows that genes and environment plays an important role in increasing an individual’s risk for drug addiction. Certain attitudes and behaviors, which are hereditary, play a substantial role here:
Stress resiliency and externalizing behaviors, characterized by disinhibition, aggression, and impulsivity, are both intermediate phenotypes thought to underlie the comorbidity between addictions and other psychiatric diseases, leading to the potential to track shared genetic factors (Bevilacqua and Goldman 2009).
Thus, individuals with a blood relative with drug addiction are at greater risk for developing the same due to certain characteristics that make them vulnerable to drug addiction. However, an equally important factor is the environment, specifically, the availability of drugs (or other addictive agents) (Bevilacqua and Goldman 2009). These factors interplay with emotional and psychological factors, increasing an individual’s risk for drug addiction. Individuals with higher risk for drug addiction tend to develop addiction faster than others.
Each person has their own reasons for using drugs. More often than not, these factors come together to contribute to increase the individual’s risk. Ultimately, there is no one reason causing drug addiction, rather there are multiple, interconnected reasons that may lead one individual toward drugs.
Effects Of Drugs On The Individual And On Everyone Else
Drug addiction is a disease that drastically affect’s the individual’s brain and behavior. These changes in the brain caused by drugs remain even after the person has stopped using drugs. It should not be forgotten, however, that while drugs are done by an individual, it could have equally devastating effects on their family and friends.
Drugs alter brain chemistry. The “high,” which is essentially a flood of dopamine (the chemical that helps regulate emotions and feelings of pleasure), is the main cause of drug addiction (NIDA, 2020b). Flooding the brain with dopamine interferes with the brain’s performance, particularly with decision-making. This is why cravings for the drug becomes too intense and drug use becomes compulsive and difficult to stop. Besides this, drugs also disrupt the brain’s communication pathways, and therefore affect cognitive function, mood, and behavior (NIDA, 2020b). These changes in the brain are permanent, and will continue to affect the individual long after they have quit drugs.
Additionally, drug addiction has an adverse effect on health. Drug addiction weakens the immune system and causes various diseases like heart disease, lung disease, liver damage, as well as seizures and brain damage. Furthermore, as mentioned, drug addiction may cause or worsen mental health diseases. In worst cases, drug addiction may lead to overdose and death.
Unborn babies may also sustain effects from drug addiction. Aside from poor nutrition, possibly linked to lifestyle choices associated with drug addiction, unborn babies may suffer from premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, and learning or behavioral problems later in life. Some infants also exhibit withdrawal symptoms after birth and thus require treatment.
The impact of drug addiction is not limited to one individual. The people surrounding the individual is inevitably affected as well. Various research has proven that drug addiction within the family causes “severe and enduring stress” on family members as they often have to cope alone with the drug problem (Barnard 2006). Problematic behavior associated with drug addiction, such as impulsiveness, risky behavior, and aggression, also take a toll on family relationships, which further cause distress on members of the family.
Children of parents with drug addiction are also more likely to be physically abused and neglected those children of parents without drug addiction. As Barnard narrates, children are likely left not properly fed, cleaned, clothed, or supervised by their parents during periods of drug use (2006). Likewise, medical and dental needs of these children are likely neglected as well. Aside from the neglect of children’s basic needs, their emotional needs are also likely neglected as parent-child relationship is left strained by the parent’s drug addiction. Parents with drug addiction are more likely to be emotionally disengaged and unresponsive to infants (Barnard 2006). Such behavior has detrimental effects on the child’s development later on.
While one of the often-cited symptoms of drug use addiction is changing friend groups or reduced number of friends, another impact of drug addiction is the individual influencing their friends to use drugs as well. This is especially true among adolescents, for whom face-to-face interactions with other adolescents who use drugs have a strong influence on their decision to also use drugs (Branstetter, Low, and Furman 2011). Thus, one of the effects of drug addiction is spreading or encouraging drug use among friend groups, thereby amplifying the problem of drugs further.
This cause and effect paper confirms that there are various risk factors to drug addiction. These factors include emotional, such as stress and trauma; psychological, such as mental health disorders; and genetics and environment. These factors are deeply interconnected, and often interplay in leading an individual to use drugs and develop addiction. On the other hand, the effects of drug addiction are not limited to the individual who used drugs. Family members, children, and friends are also affected by drug addiction. Drug addiction in the family causes distress on the other family members, while friends become vulnerable to peer pressure to try drugs. Perhaps the most adversely impacted are the children of parents who have drug addiction as they are often neglected physically and emotionally. They, therefore, take the toll from childhood, and possibly to adulthood. Understanding the factors that led an individual toward drug misuse and addiction as well as its effects is important and should be considered in formulating treatments and rehabilitation programs.
Barnard, M. (2007). Drug addiction and families. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Bevilacqua, L. and Goldman, D. (2009 Apr). Genes and addictions. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 85(4): 359-361. doi: 10.1038/clpt.2009.6
Frontiers. (2016, Oct. 6). Mental illness genetically linked to drug use and misuse. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161006103242.htm
NIDA. (2020, June 25a). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics
NIDA. (2020, July 10b). Drugs and the Brain. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
NIDA. 2018, June 6. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
Sinha, R. (2008, Oct.). Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1141: 105-130. doi: 10.1196/annals.1441.030