Individuals who adopt the behaviorally focused perspective of addiction may also erroneously believe that those misusing alcohol and drugs can "decide" to quit at any time based on good intentions and willpower. This is one of the most prevalent misconceptions concerning addiction or SUD.


Although a person who uses drugs may initially consciously decide to engage in the behavior, we now understand that substance misuse causes brain alterations over time. These brain alterations impair a person's capacity to deny themselves and resist the strong want to continue drug usage.


By interfering with how neurons send, receive, and process messages, drugs create euphoria and disturb regular brain communication. Various drugs evoke different reactions in the brain, which they do by:


  • Imitating the brain’s natural neurotransmitters. Drugs like heroin and marijuana imitate natural neurotransmitters and trick the brain’s receptors into activating nerve cells. As the drugs latch onto and activate neurons, they send distorted or exaggerated messages to the central nervous system. (4)


  • Flooding the brain’s “reward circuit.” Drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine cause a hyper-release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward system. As drugs produce a surge of dopamine, they powerfully “reinforce the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine ‘teach’ the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.” (4)


  • Disrupting the brain and the body’s chemical systems that govern learning, memory, judgment, behavior, stress, and decision-making. (5) Even when a person understands the consequences of excessive drug or alcohol use, SUD leads them to ignore these consequences in the continual pursuit of drug-induced pleasure or the desire to fend off withdrawal symptoms.



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