Drug addiction occurs when the reward center in the brain is rewired by the surge of dopamine and serotonin brought on by the use of certain substances. This rush of feel-good chemicals compels the desire to continue to use drugs. Individuals who use drugs are most often seeking ways to relieve physical or emotional pain, even to self-medicate a mental health condition. But drug abuse quickly turns from the perceived solution to a multi-faceted problem.
When users take a lot of a certain drug, they become tolerant to its effects and even experience painful symptoms of withdrawal when substance use has stopped. This rewiring of the brain’s reward center, and the pain that follows lack of drug use, compels individuals to seek out drugs without regard for adverse consequences.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in people becoming dependent on drugs that were prescribed to them for a medical reason, such as painkillers after a surgery or injury, or anxiety medications given by a psychiatrist. As their tolerance to these medications built up — and the physical or emotional pain returned — they may have started taking more in order to experience comfort or pain relief. Overuse or misuse of drugs can cause dependence, which may quickly turn into addiction — driving individuals to steal from others, sell their belongings, or engage in risky behaviors in order to obtain more of the drug.
Drug addiction can happen to anyone, and it is happening more frequently in the US because of prescription drugs. Synthetic opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl have been the most harmful, accounting for 67% of accidental overdose deaths.