Drugs and Addictions

To everyone who  is struggling with addiction, & especially your parents:

I am drawn to write this because we have friends and family that have lost their children to drugs.  I am truly sorry.

As an Emergency Room RN, in an area that has a lot of methamphetamine and heroin patients, I see this terrible disease many times in a twelve hour shift.  Patients that don’t seem to recognize the power drugs have over them.  Their amygdala, a basal region of their brain overriding their prefrontal cortex (higher region of brain).

I want to try to somehow lessen your grief & guilt.  Parents are fiercely protective of their children, but kids ultimately make their own decisions.   Like migratory animals that travel thousands of miles every season………..baby we were born to run; or at least walk.  Just as you cannot stop a baby from walking,  some studies state “because it involves basic brain functions, everyone will become an addict if sufficiently exposed to drugs or alcohol.”  And, in many cases, the effect drugs have on human’s innate physiological processes in the body, addiction cannot be overcome, even for love.  The information provided below is meant to show how, down to the cellular level this disease works.

“Drugs of abuse co-opt the very brain functions that allowed our distant ancestors to survive in a hostile world.  Our minds are programmed to pay extra attention to what neurologists call salience – that is, special relevance.  Threats, for example, are highly salient, which is why we instinctively try to get away from them.  But, so are food and sex, because they help the individual, and the species survive.  Drugs of abuse capitalize on this ready-made programming.  When exposed to drugs, our memory systems, reward circuits, decision-making skills and conditioning kick in – salience in overdrive -to create an all-consuming pattern of uncontrollable caring.”  I quote this again, “some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction because it involves these basic brain functions.  But, everyone will become an addict if sufficiently exposed to drugs or alcohol.” Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA and pioneer in the use of imaging to understand addiction.  (TIME: Your Body A User’s Guide, Time Inc. Special, 2008)

In addition, young people exhibit pleasure seeking behaviors many times over adults that are a little older.  They are the age group most susceptible to addictive and harmful behaviors.

Below is a link (Scan0050) to a diagram from The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) for TIME by Kristina Dell, Massey and Joe Lertola.  This article and diagram have stuck with me for 11 years.    Notice how the heroin and morphine block the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters and cocaine blocks reuptake of dopamine in the third synapse picture.  “If dopamine receptors are the gas, the brain’s own inhibitory systems act as the brakes.  But in addicts, this natural damping circuit, called GABA appears to be faulty, so the brain never appreciates that it has been satiated.” (same TIME article)

Scan0050