Most of us fail to understand the underlying chemical and psychological combination of factors that contributes to substance abuse and how these factors will ultimately override the common sensibilities and logical thinking of a user, leading to a state of addiction.

Society as a whole generally view substance abuse as a social and moral issue, despite the fact that modern medicine has established the neurological impact and disruptive stimuli these substances generate among the common users. This is especially more evident for cases involving drugs, regardless of whether it is obtained through a prescription or through illicit means. Perhaps, to a certain extent, society’s lack of tolerance can be attributed to the massive economic cost that these substance abusers place to the society. In addition, mainstream media tends to romanticize the issue, without fully portraying the mitigating factors that play a role in here. A recent study concludes that substance abuse cost the American economy over $500 billion annually, a figure which admittedly includes secondary effects such as loss of earnings, family welfare support and grassroots education.

Definition of Substance Abuse

While the initial decision to consume drugs are made with a user’s full mental faculty in place, repeated usage will build up a neuro-chemical stimuli in the brain that will inevitably lead to the user’s failure in making rational and sounds judgment, which will continue to deteriorate as long as the substance abuse goes on.

The neuro-chemical stimuli are the primary reason why abusers face exceptional difficulty in halting their habit. However, advance in modern medicine has opened up a completely new treatment method for substance abusers. In a move away from conventional cold turkey treatment, the medical community have published impressive success rate with a new approach in combating substance abuse. Individually designed behavioral therapies, coordinated with ingestion of selected type of drugs, appears to cause immediate and powerful interruption in residual neuro-chemical activities in a user’s brain. Coupled with a carefully managed psychological follow up therapy, user’s relapses are a very rare occurrence, no different from any other well-managed chronic disease.

Substance Abuse Effect On The Brain

While the nutrients and miscellaneous compounds carried within the blood to the brain complements (nourishes, repairs, regenerates) it, the psychoactive substances in drugs on the other hands, attempts to assume control of their operation, and in the process, disrupts the nervous system’s standard operating procedures.

This attempt to override the nervous system control over the brain’s management of processes can take two forms:

The drugs either eerily imitates our brain neurotransmitters, sending near identical signals to brain receptors that contains different message or instruction contents, often to the detriment of the user
It enhances the reward pay-offs during regular nervous system activity loops, sometimes by a hundred fold, perhaps more intense (in some cases) than an orgasm. This is achieved by over flooding the neural network with great amounts of neurotransmitters to one specific pathway, or targets.


The common culprit here is dopamine, present in large quantities among most psychoactive substances. Dopamine is generally known as the pleasure neurotransmitter, which as the name implies, are the chief agent for the brain’s pleasure generation processes.

This stimuli, almost immediately, begins to train users to repeat their consumption of the substances. Gradually, as more and more imitation dopamine is flooded into a user’s brain, the brain in turn starts to produce dopamine in decreasing quantity. However, the demand for the dopamine remains the same in the immediate moment, and will gradually increase over time in the brain, which requires an even more regular infusion of external dopamine as the subject’s tolerance level increases. The cycle propagates, and a dependency effect is produced, and the user becomes an abuser.

Continuous abuse over a period of time will slowly cause the neuro-chemical effects to spread into other areas of the brain. The most affected are the glutamate neurotransmitters, which plays an important role in the cognitive process of our brain. A brain dominated by dopamine will neglect the production of the glutamate neurotransmitters, which will consequently affect a user’s ability to learn new processes and experiences. Studies have shown that the effect will eventually spread to areas in the brain responsible for memory, judgment and behavioral conditioning – major changes that will accelerate the dependency symptoms on the subject.

Abuser Profiling

However, it is worth noting that on an individual level, the effect varies across the demographics. While it is comforting and easy to attribute the resistance of some members of the society to morality and other subjective factors, the truth is far more simple and measurable. Genetics, socio-economic environment and biological and psychological development have been pinpointed as the most likely culprit here. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to take each of these factors on its own, as a confluence of events involving each individual factor will create the necessary fertile condition for a substance management failure.


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