The death of Amy Winehouse is a powerful example of how drug and alcohol addiction can take hold of and destroy people’s lives. Every year abuse of alcohol and illegal substances contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans.
So how do drugs work in the brain to produce pleasure? Most drugs cause the brain to release excessive amounts of dopamine. Flooding the brain with dopamine causes an intense state of euphoria and this response strongly motivates people to take drugs again and again.
We now know that if one continues to use the drug there are real changes that occur in the brain. First, the brain adjusts to the overwhelming surges in dopamine by producing less of it on its own. As a result the drug abusers brain loses the ability to experience pleasure without the drug. There are also profound changes in the brain circuitry that can actually be visualized on brain imaging studies.
But addiction does not have to be a life sentence. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Because addiction impacts so many areas of people’s lives including their ability to function at work, with family and in the community, a treatment plan must address the needs of the whole person. Typically a comprehensive program with a variety of rehabilitative services such as counseling, vocational services, medication and legal support is necessary.
If you think your drug use is out of control get help. The sooner you seek help the greater your chances are for a long-term recovery.