Substance Abuse | Overview

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Why do people use alcohol and other drugs?

People use substances such as alcohol and other drugs because they like the way these substances make them feel. Pleasure is a powerful force. Your brain is wired so that if you do something that feels good, you will probably want to do it again. All drugs that are addicting can activate and affect the brain's pleasure circuit.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a disease that affects your brain and your behavior. You have control over your choice to start using drugs, but once you start, their pleasurable effect makes you want to keep using them. When you become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, your brain actually changes in certain ways so that a powerful urge to use drugs controls your behavior. Someone who is addicted uses drugs without thinking of the consequences, such as problems with health, money, relationships, and performance at work or at school.

What drugs can cause addiction?

People can become addicted to illegal drugs and to drugs that doctors prescribe. People can also become addicted to things they may not think of as drugs, such as alcohol and the nicotine in cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. Some drugs may cause addiction more easily than others.

Are prescription drugs safe?

When prescription drugs are taken the right way, there is much less chance that you will become addicted to them. But prescription drugs can be dangerous if they are abused (for example, taking more than your doctor prescribes, taking them when they're not needed or mixing drugs).

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/11
Created: 09/00

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