The science of addiction caused by drugs.

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Addiction is not just a lot of drug use. It is actually a different state of being. In addiction, drugs hijack your brain, your mind, and your life. They literally change your brain — that is why we call addiction a brain disease. Once people become addicted, their focus in life becomes seeking and using drugs. They no longer seem to care about any of the consequences that may result from taking drugs. This is very different from a person who is a drug user or abuser. A drug abuser can choose whether or not to use a drug.
   Addiction —What Is It? Addiction is not just a lot ofdrug use. It is actu-ally a different state ofbeing. In addiction, drugshijack your brain, your mind, and your life. Theyliterally change your brain — that is why we calladdiction a brain disease. Once people become addicted, their focus inlife becomes seeking and using drugs. They no longer seem to care about anyofthe consequences that may resultfrom taking drugs. This is very different from aperson who is a druguser or abuser. Adrug abuser canchoose whetheror not to usea drug. Drug addiction is a compulsion. When peoplebecome addicted to drugs, their brains have fun-damentally changed. Addiction is compulsivedrug seeking and use, even in the face of appalling consequences. How Drugs Work on the Brain Certain drugs make us feel very good — at leastat first — because ofwhat they do to our brains.Drugs that are abused change the way our brainswork by disrupting the delicate mechanismsthrough which nerve cells transmit, receive, andprocess information critical for our daily living.Nicotine, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, forexample, are rapidly carried to the brainthrough our bloodstream regard-less ofwhether they aresmoked, injected, or swal-lowed. Then they stimu-late different circuits inour brain, one ofwhich iscalled the pleasure cen-ter. Continued abuse of drugs, which unnaturallyoverstimulates brain cir-cuits, can change the brainto an addicted state. Theaffected circuits can nolonger function on theirown, but need outsidestimulation to function. The drug addict no longerhas a choice whether to takethe drug or not. We’re stillnot sure whether all thechanges that occur in theaddicted brain can ever be com-pletely reversed. We do knowthat the use ofinhalants literallydestroys brain tissues. Developed by Thirteen/WNET to accompany MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOMEstudent activity card 1 a    P   h  o  t  o  s  :   N   I   D   A   (   N  a  t   i  o  n  a   l   I  n  s  t   i  t  u  t  e  o  n   D  r  u  g   A   b  u  s  e   ) (continued on 1 b)  Recent Discoveries Drug abuse and addiction have been researchedrigorously for more than 20 years. Research is avery slow but thorough and accurate process. Through prevention research, for example, wehave very recently identified 14 principles thatschools and communities can use to successfullyprevent drug use among young people. Theseprinciples include the need for interactive meth-ods for reaching adolescents, the development of age-specific and culturally sensitive programs,and an emphasis on family-focused interventionprograms. Another area in which researchers have invested agreat deal oftime and effort and have made greatprogress is treating drug addiction. We nowknow that addiction is a treatable disease. Wealso know that treatment effectiveness variesamong individuals; what works for one personmay not work for another. You can’t just talksomeone who is addicted to drugs into stopping. Treatment should always include professionals,especially since many times medications need tobe prescribed in combination with behavioraltherapies. Ifyou know someone who is addicted to drugs,it is best that you encourage him or her to seekprofessional care. It is also important to remem-ber that because addiction is a chronic, relapsingdisease, it will not be treated overnight; recoveryis usually a long-term process. Risk Factors &Protective Factors Researchers are finding that some factors canhelp determine whether or not an individual ismore or less likely to abuse drugs. With thisknowledge, you can help yourselfand yourfriends avoid drug abuse and the danger ofaddic-tion. Risk factors, such as pressure from friends to usedrugs, lack ofinterest and involvement from par-ents, a family history ofsubstance abuse, andignorance about the health risks ofabused drugs,create greater potential for drug use. But there Developed by Thirteen/WNET to accompany MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOMEstudent activity card 1 b are also many pro-tective or resiliencefactors, such as goodadult role models,supportive friends, and achievement in school,which can reduce the chance ofsomeone becom-ing a drug abuser. Strengthening protective fac-tors can help you and your friends avoid drug usealtogether, even ifthere are still many risk factorsin your lives. Activities  Work as a volunteer in a local drug abuseprevention program in your community— or start one. NIDA’s new user-friendlyresearch-based publication “PreventingDrug Use Among Children andAdolescents” can help communities andschools establish local prevention pro-grams. Read the guide online at theNIDA Web site (, orcall the National Clearinghouse forAlcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686 or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD) foryour free copy.  Visit World Wide Web sites (such that provide accurateinformation on drug abuse and addiction. Keep in Mind: Once a person becomes addicted, his or her top priority in life becomes obtaining drugs,taking drugs, getting high, and then gettingmore drugs. Everything else — family,friends, job, the future — loses importance.When a person first takes drugs, it is a vol-untary decision. But there is a point whenthe person’s decision to take drugs may nolonger be voluntary. It is as if a “switch”goes off in the user’s brain, and the personbecomes addicted.  Tools of the Trade  Just as carpenters, engineers, and doctors havespecialized tools for their jobs, so do drug abuseand addiction researchers. Much oftheir work isdone in a laboratory setting, where they use testtubes, beakers, pipettes, and computers to testtheir hypotheses. More advanced technologiessuch as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) andpositron emission tomography (PET) are alsoused to understand how drugs work in thehuman brain. With this technology, researcherscan observe the activity ofthe brains ofindividu-als experiencing drug addiction while they areawake. Researchers can also use MRIs and PETscans to see the immediate and long-term effectsofdrugs on the brain. Goals for the Future As we enter the 21st century, drug abuse andaddiction researchers will continue to use scienceto understand addiction, as well as to alleviateaddiction’s pain and devastation. They will workto develop effective treatment interventions, espe-cially a medication to treat cocaine addiction. They also will work to unravel the mystery of drug craving — a major cause ofrelapse evenafter years ofsuccessful abstinence. Drug abuseand addictionresearchersare alsoworking toachieve another goal — to change thepublic’s understanding ofaddiction andto remove the stigma that is associatedwith this disease. Science has alreadybrought us a long way in our under-standing ofaddiction, but it may still besome time before the general publicaccepts addiction as a genuine healthproblem. Developed by Thirteen/WNET to accompany MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOMEstudent activity card 2 a    P   h  o  t  o  s  :   N   I   D   A   (   N  a  t   i  o  n  a   l   I  n  s  t   i  t  u  t  e  o  n   D  r  u  g   A   b  u  s  e   ) (continued on 2 b)  How About a Career in Drug  Addiction and TreatmentResearch? Because drug abuse and addiction are such com-plicated problems, there are many ways we arecombatting them, from identifying emergingdrug use patterns to discovering new addictiontreatments. There are brain researchers (neuro-scientists) who study the brain and how itbecomes altered once a person uses drugs; andthere are treatment researchers who use scientificapproaches to determine the best ways to treatdrug addiction. Some may be involved in devel-oping new medications, while others might bedeveloping psychological or behavioral approach-es for treating drug addiction. Prevention researchers focus on identifying fac-tors that can help to prevent drug abuse, particu-larly among young people. HIV/AIDSresearchers study the overwhelming link betweena drug-using lifestyle and the spread ofHIV andconduct research to determine the best strategiesfor reducing its spread. The bottom line is thatthere are many career opportunities for someonewishing to enter this exciting and important fieldofresearch. Most drug abuse and addictionresearchers hold a doctoral degree or a medicaldegree. But the best time to start exploring andworking toward a career as a researcheris while in high school. Developed by Thirteen/WNET to accompany MOYERS ON ADDICTION: CLOSE TO HOMEstudent activity card 2 b Activities  Call NIDA Infofax at 1-888-NIH-NIDA for fact sheets on a variety ofdrug abuse topics. (The hearing-impaired can call 1-888-TTY-NIDA.)  Contact the Office ofScience Educationat the National Institutes ofHealth, (301) 402-2828, to find out about researchand training opportunities for high schoolstudents.  Visit someone who is working in an addiction research laboratory or clinic.  Visit libraries and Web sites to find outmore about careers in science — startwith a visit to Research and TrainingOpportunities at the National Institutes of Health ( andSnapshots ofMedicine and Health( Keep in Mind: Many of the tools that drugabuse researchers use, such as PETmachines, demonstratethat there are observablechanges in brain function thattake place after drug use. Wecan now see that the brainsof addicts are different fromthe brains of non-addicts.And it is very difficult, insome cases impossible, toreturn the brain back tonormal. Scientists, likethose who work at or aresupported by the NationalInstitute on Drug Abuse(NIDA), are working todevelop better treat-ments to help peoplewho are addicted todrugs.    P   h  o  t  o  :   N   I   D   A   (   N  a  t   i  o  n  a   l   I  n  s  t   i  t  u  t  e  o  n   D  r  u  g   A   b  u  s  e   )
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