Drug addiction and dependence are complex issues, with individual differences in the risk of developing different drug addictions. Several factors influence a drug’s addictive potential, including a person’s genetic makeup, environmental and social influences, and how the drug interacts with neurotransmitters in your brain. Here are the addictive drugs.
Amphetamines are a class of drugs that increase dopamine neurotransmitters in brain circuits associated with pleasure and motivation. Amphetamines cause the brain to release higher than normal amounts of dopamine, producing feelings of intense euphoria and joy. Pleasurable activities seem more enjoyable, while unpleasant activities become less unpleasant.
Because amphetamines produce intense pleasure relatively quickly, they are highly addictive when used repeatedly. This is especially true in people who have brain circuits that are already “wired” to release dopamine in response to other activities. People predisposed to becoming addicted to amphetamines may become addicted to them even without taking the drug regularly.
Opiate compounds are members of a class of drugs called opioids that bind to receptors in the brain and nervous system. The most potent opioid compounds include opium, heroin, and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and oxycodone. Opiates produce their effects by binding at opioid receptors in the brain. When opioids are taken regularly, they can cause changes to brain circuitry that produces pleasure. The more you take the drug, the more pleasure you feel in response to even low doses of the drug. Over time, these changes in the brain can lead to addiction.
Nicotine, the principal component of tobacco, is an addictive substance found in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. Tobacco contains numerous substances besides nicotine that are also potentially addictive. However, the addictive potential of nicotine is so great that tobacco use has been called a “gateway drug” by some researchers. When a person smokes or chews tobacco and then uses other drugs, it is “hardening.”
Caffeine is a stimulant drug found in many different products, including coffee, tea, and soft drinks. When caffeine hits the bloodstream, it stimulates the adrenal gland to release the hormone epinephrine. Epinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, temporarily warding off drowsiness. Caffeine also blocks adenosine receptors in brain circuits associated with sleepiness. Caffeine is also known to increase dopamine levels in the brain slightly. Over time, caffeine can cause tolerance, which means you need more and more drugs to get the same effects.
Like nicotine and amphetamines, cocaine acts as a stimulant by increasing levels of dopamine in brain circuits associated with pleasure. Cocaine triggers a flood of dopamine by inhibiting an enzyme that normally breaks down dopamine after it is released. When a person takes cocaine, they experience euphoria and increased energy. Over time, the brain adapts to regular use of cocaine, making it increasingly difficult to achieve the same intense feelings of pleasure.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that affects coordination and judgment and mood, and perception. Drinking alcohol over a long time can affect brain chemistry, increasing the risk for addiction. Research has found that people who later become dependent on alcohol in some ways share personality traits and neurobiological profiles with those who are addicted to other drugs. One theory suggests that genetic factors influence an individual’s risk for developing addictions based on their physiological response to drugs.
Clear-Cut Definitions Difficult
Although addiction is a clearly defined disease, figuring out whether a person has a drug addiction can be difficult. There are no universally accepted definitions of what makes someone addicted. Most researchers and treatment professionals agree that addiction involves an overpowering desire to take drugs and the inability to control how much of a drug is taken or when it is taken. Addicts typically spend an excessive amount of time trying to get their drug of choice, using the drug or recovering from the effects of the drug.
It is estimated that about half of a person’s vulnerability to addiction is inherited. Researchers are now looking for specific genes that increase a person’s risk for developing an addiction. Stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine seem to affect certain people differently than others, making them more vulnerable to addiction.
The other half of a person’s risk for addiction is thought to be due to environmental and social influences. For instance, some people may be more prone to drug addiction if they have heavy drug users. In addition, a stressful or traumatic childhood may lead to an increased risk of drug addiction in adulthood.
This article describes the different types of drugs that can lead to addiction. It also discusses how drug addiction affects people’s ability to function normally in society and be happy. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, seek help right away. Call us at 833-846-5669.