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How Does drug & alcohol Addiction Occur?

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Dopamine and Addiction

Alcohol and some drugs typically cause the brain to release dopamine, which is a chemical messenger that produces euphoric feelings in the brain’s “reward center.” However, chronic substance use can deplete dopamine in the brain and cause people to crave more alcohol or drugs, leading to addiction.

How many drinks per day make someone an alcoholic?

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s problematic for women to regularly drink more than three drinks per day and for men to regularly drink more than four drinks per day.

Hover on the dots to see how drugs and alcohol affects your body organ.

Warning Signs of Addiction

  • It takes more and more of the substance to get the desired effect
  • Secretiveness or lying to conceal drinking or drug use
  • Unpleasant symptoms when not using the substance
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions
  • Decreased socialization
  • Significant changes in sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Inability to stay away from the desired substance even if it’s causing you harm

Effects of drug abuse on your short-term and long-term health:

In the short term, drug misuse can be deadly. It can also change a person’s heart rate, appetite, and blood pressure and can have behavioral impacts, such as anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, irritability, psychosis, and depression.
Prolonged drug misuse can cause cancer and have permanent impacts throughout the body, including on the heart and lungs. It can also weaken a person’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to a range of other diseases and illnesses.

What do drugs do to your body’s systems?

Long-term drug use can change the way your brain works and interfere with multiple bodily functions.

How addiction affects the brain

Substances, such as alcohol, stimulants, sedatives, and nicotine, stimulate the brain’s reward system. As a person uses these substances more often, their brain’s function changes. It might take more of the substances to stimulate the same kind of positive response or good feelings, meaning the person might need to drink or take the drug to just feel normal.

Hover on the dots to see how drugs and alcohol affects your brain.

If you think your loved one might be suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, asking them questions such as these below might help identify what’s going on and give you the chance to help them.

  • Do you often drink or use drugs more than you intend to?
  • Has substance use interfered with your responsibilities at work, school, or home?
  • Have you ever tried quitting before, but you were unable to?
  • Do you spend excessive time dealing with hangovers or looking for opportunities to drink or use drugs?
  • Are you building a tolerance to alcohol or drugs, or is it taking longer for them to have the desired effect?
  • Has your drug use or drinking led to arguments, betrayal of trust, changes in who you hang out with, or otherwise interfered with your relationships?
  • Have you noticed that your substance use is causing health issues, but you still can’t stop?
  • Do you crave drugs or alcohol? Has drinking or drug use become your favorite activity?

If you notice any of the signs of addiction in yourself, here are some steps you can take to get help:

  • Recognizing that you might have a problem is often the first step in getting the help you need.
  • Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at
    1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free and confidential help 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • Tell a trusted friend or family member what you’re going through and ask for their support.
  • Remind yourself of your motivation for changing your behavior.

The Cost of Alcoholism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use costs the U.S. almost a quarter of a trillion dollars
  • Icon 72% of this amount is from lost wages from reduced workplace productivity.
  • Icon 11% comes from expenses to treat health problems caused by excessive drinking.
  • Icon 10% is from law enforcement and criminal justice costs.
  • Icon 5% comes from motor vehicle crashes involving drunk drivers.

Some of the other ways that alcohol abuse costs the U.S. include:

  • Over 10,000 people die in drunk driving accidents in the U.S. each year.
  • More than 1 million people are arrested each year for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Tickets for driving under the influence of cost offenders dearly. Even a first-time offense typically costs more than $10,000 in fines and legal fees. Not only do drunk drivers have to pay hefty fines, but many offenders also serve jail time, lose their license, and find it difficult to keep or find a job due to their record.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse can put a strain on people’s work and social relationships. For example, addicts often hide their alcohol or drug use from friends and family because they feel ashamed of their use or fear their loved ones will judge them. These lies or secrecy can lead to further relationship issues, such as addicts resenting their loved ones or their family not feeling like they can trust them.
Additionally, an addict might start missing work, showing up late, or underperforming at work when they are hungover. They might also start to drink or use drugs during the workday, which can lead to significant workplace accidents with serious injuries or deaths.

How to Help

If your loved one is suffering from an addiction, some of the ways you can help support them include:
  • Learn about addiction, how it can impact the body, and what challenges that your friend or family might face while they try to recover.
  • Express concern over their harmful actions and let them know you are available to support them in a sober and non-judgmental environment.
  • Avoid ignoring or enabling the problem.
  • Understand that you likely cannot force them to quit. Addicts often cannot start to recover until they make up their own minds that they are ready to do so.

Some free resources for addicts in the Las Vegas area include:

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