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Brain and Addiction

Your brain is who you are. It’s what allows you to think, breathe, move, speak, and feel. It’s just 3 pounds of gray-and-white matter that rests in your skull, and it is your own personal “mission control.” Information from your environment—both outside (like what your eyes see and skin feels) and inside (like your heart rate and body temperature)—makes its way to the brain, which receives, processes, and integrates it so that you can survive and function under all sorts of changing circumstances and learn from experience. The brain is always working, even when you are sleeping. (Learn more about the brain-body connection.

The brain is made up of many parts that all work together as a team. Each of these different parts has a specific and important job to do.

When drugs enter the brain, they interfere with its normal processing and can eventually lead to changes in how well it works. Over time, drug use can lead to addiction, a devastating brain disease in which people can’t stop using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives.

Drugs affect three primary areas of the brain:

The brain stem is in charge of all the functions our body needs to stay alive—breathing, moving blood, and digesting food. It also links the brain with the spinal cord, which runs down the back and moves muscles and limbs as well as lets the brain know what’s happening to the body.

The limbic system links together a bunch of brain structures that control our emotional responses, such as feeling pleasure when we eat chocolate. The good feelings motivate us to repeat the behavior, which is good because eating is critical to our lives.

The cerebral cortex is the mushroom-shaped outer part of the brain (the gray matter). In humans, it is so big that it makes up about three-fourths of the entire brain. It’s divided into four areas, called lobes, which control specific functions. Some areas process information from our senses, allowing us to see, feel, hear, and taste. The front part of the cortex, known as the frontal cortex or forebrain, is the thinking center. It powers our ability to think, plan, solve problems, and make decisions.

Drug Overdoses in Youth

When a person dies due to a drug overdose the medical examiner or coroner records on the death certificate if the overdose was intentional – purposely self-inflicted (as in cases of suicide) – or unintentional (accidental).

Unintentional drug poisoning deaths can happen when a drug or drugs are taken on purpose (or mixed together). They can also happen when a drug or drugs are accidentally taken or given to a person in the course of a medical procedure. Total overdose death numbers also include cases where drugs are given to a person in a criminal act (a homicide, if a death occurs.) With most drugs, there are more accidental deaths than suicides or homicides.

Some overdoses happen when people leave drug treatment. During treatment, a person goes through a detoxification (“detox”) process—getting the drug out of the body. If a person has gone through detox, and then takes the same amount of drugs they took before, they can overdose because the body is no longer used to the same dose.

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Drug Use Leads to HIV

As of April 17, 2015, Indiana is reporting that 130 people have been infected with HIV as a result of intravenous drug use.

Sharing Needles Spreads HIV. Sharing Knowledge Prevents It.

Health experts say that 100% of the recently diagnosed people were infected by sharing needles to inject themselves with Opana. Opana is a powerful opioid prescription pain medication. You may have heard of other similar prescription opioid drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.

Why Would People Share Needles?

According to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, people who inject drugs often know the risks of sharing needles. But it’s not as easy as you may think to get clean needles and syringes.

  • Injection drug users may not have the money to constantly buy new needles/syringes.
  • They may not want to carry needles/syringes around because they can be considered “drug paraphernalia”—which means the police recognize them as evidence of drug use.
  • Some states require that you have a prescription to buy needles and syringes.

And ultimately, when someone is addicted, they have intense urges to use drugs. Their need to use drugs becomes greater than their concern about the dangers of sharing needles.

It is estimated that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for these drugs in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. Many of these pills get shared or are stolen and used by others to get high. And with this increase in supply there is an increase in the number of people becoming addicted. Some of those who become addicted start using syringes and needles to inject themselves with the drugs—and this creates a huge risk for the spread of HIV.

Needles are not the only link between drug use and HIV. April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month—so take some time to read up on the dangers of diseases that can be transmitted in bodily fluids.

You may read this and think “not my problem.” But problems like drug addiction and the spread of HIV are problems that affect entire communities, using tax dollars and other resources that communities need for other things, like new roads, better hospitals, and schools.

Tell us in the comments: Does this make you think any differently about the risks of abusing prescription pain medications?


Article by DugAbuse.Gov