Why Addiction Doesn’t Care What Drug Is Used

Why Addiction Doesn’t Care What Drug Is Used

Addiction plays no favorites, and can develop, harm, and control an individual no matter what drug led to it

As defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking behavior and use, despite the harmful consequences it is causing the addict and others. [1]

As a brain disease, addiction actually creates changes in the brain’s structure and how it functions during addiction’s development. These changes are what contributes to the destructive, harmful and often reckless behavior that leads to many adverse consequences.

When it comes to drugs there is no drug type or class that is protected from addiction. Addiction can develop, harm and control the affected no matter what drug led to it. Drugs are chemical substances, and different drug types will produce different effects, but overall “all abused substance share one thing in common;” they hijack and alter the normal function of the brain, changing significant processes such as self-control, judgement, emotion, motivation, memory and cognition. [2] This fact can explain the nonsensical and selfish behavior of an addict, as this is how many people view addiction if they do not fully comprehend the disease and its nature.

It does not matter whether a drug is prescribed or illegal, a social drug like alcohol, an upper or a downer. When a chemical substance with addictive potential is misused, abused or taken for a long duration, it can eventually develop into a harmful and consuming addiction, physically or psychologically.

Breaking Down the Mechanics of Drug Addiction

An article published by Common Sense for Drug Policy, compared the dangers of a few commonly abused drugs, including: nicotine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, caffeine and marijuana (no prescription drugs were included). In regards to addictive potential, the study revealed that (based on potential for physiological or psychological dependence) heroin and methamphetamine are the most addictive, however all substances have addictive potential, especially when misused/abused. [3]

Prescription drug abuse can also contribute to the development of addiction. Commonly abused prescription drugs generally fall into three categories: opioids, central nervous system depressants, stimulants. According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, the number of prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the U.S. has about quadrupled since 1999. It is estimated that nearly 7,000 people receive emergency treatment for drug abuse related issues every single day and in 2013, almost two million Americans admitted to abusing prescription painkillers. These drugs, while prescription, are still chemical substances with the potential for adverse, life-threatening effects and the development of addiction.

Understanding the mechanisms of the brain under the influence of chemical substances will help one get a better understanding of addiction and its development; that the drug type or drug class is not what determines the harm and development of addiction.

In short, drugs of abuse impact the brain’s neurotransmitters (which are chemicals that send messages from one brain receptor to another). This will affect the brain’s reward system and can provide the sense of euphoria, satisfaction or the high. The brain’s hippocampus associates the chemical with the sense of reward, which establishes a conditioned response to certain stimuli; i.e. a certain drug produces feelings of reward and the brain will attach these feelings to that drug. In addition, addictive substances stimulate brain circuits related to motivation, memory and reward. Researchers believe this brain circuit connection is what causes individuals to crave, plan and pursue the use of addictive substances. One is motivated to feel good or experience reward, the brain remembers that a particular drug can achieve this, therefore one executes compulsive drug-seeking and drug using behavior to achieve pleasure.

Other things come into play such as tolerance and withdrawal. In its natural manner of functioning, the brain works to maintain a chemical balance and normal function. As a drug begins to disrupt this balance, the brain will then alter its own chemical production to try to achieve balance again. Over time, the brain will work to reduce its own chemicals that slow down brain activity, in the case of alcohol abuse, to accommodate for the drug’s presence. When this happens a person must increase the amount or frequency of the drug they are using in order to overcome the brain’s adjustment. Eventually the brain will have little ability to maintain its normal chemical balance and a chemical dependence (or addiction) is established. The brain now depends on the drug to feel normal, and without it a person will experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can certainly keep a person using as they look to avoid pain, discomfort and intense cravings. This is what can fuel full-on drug compulsive behavior, despite the most terrible consequences. [4]

Ready to Break the Ties of Addiction: We Can Help You Find Treatment

You have acknowledged your addiction and know you need help, so what’s next?

There are many reasons people delay getting addiction treatment, and not knowing what to do or how to find treatment is often one of those reasons. Don’t let a lack of knowledge stop you. Once a person has acknowledged his addiction and his need for treatment, the time to act is now.

Chances are you still have questions, concerns or need more information before selecting a treatment program, and we can assist you that. Our toll-free helpline is available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week where our trained addiction counselors are ready to answer your questions, address your concerns and provide you with all the information you need. When you are ready to find a treatment program, we can help you find the options and services that will work for your needs, as we have connections to numerous treatment programs across the nation.

The “what’s next stage” is simple. You have a trained, experienced person who can guide you and your loved ones through the process of finding the right treatment. Your call is confidential and judgment-free, so if you’re ready to break the ties of addiction, call and speak with an addiction counselor today.


[1] (2014, September). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction-basics.

[2] (2015, April 26). Facts About Drugs. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Retrieved from https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/faq/facts-about-drugs.

[3] Gable, Robert S., (May-June 2006) . “The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs,” American Scientist (Research Triangle Park, NC: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Vol. 94, No. 3, p. 208. Retrieved from http://www.americanscientist.org/libraries/documents/200645104835_307.pdf

[4] Harvard Health Publications, Understanding Addiction. A Harvard Health Publication: Healthguide.org. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm.