Addicts can be defined as “an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity.” While this definition leaves room for things we colloquially consider pleasurable but not addicting, (gambling, sex, Thai food) the focus of this blog post will be on the addiction of psychoactive drugs. These are chemical substances that alter thinking, perception, memory, or some
combination of the abilities. When discussing words like addict and drugs, the word defendant usually comes to mind. While you might be able to guess the definition, there is a slight nuance in dependence from the physical to the psychological.
Physical dependence is the body’s need of the drug in order to function at a normal level. People with physical addiction might be tired during the day, forget to eat, or may attempt to use other drugs in order to sooth symptoms. Psychological addiction is the addict’s belief that the drug is needed because it produces positive effects like euphoria or a sense of meaning. This belief is not always true, because sometimes the psychological addiction can be a trick of the mind. All drugs can psychological dependent, but some drugs lack the physically addicting qualities. While physical addiction has immediate and detrimental consequences, one of the downsides of psychological addiction is that psychological dependencies can last a lifetime.
The chances of physical and psychological addiction can depend on two things; the type of neurotransmitters the substances uses and the type of substance. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are released as neurons communicate with each other. Drugs can mimic or inhibit these receptors, messing with the natural production of them. Dopamine is an example of a neurotransmitter that has a ‘reward pathway system’ in the brain, and often leads to dependence. Substances that mimic dopamine are nicotine and cocaine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can inhibit or excite your nervous system, but lacks a reward pathway. This may explain why substances like LSD or magic mushrooms, which control serotonin receptors, have virtually no physical addiction.
Three general types of drugs are stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Stimulants like cocaine and caffeine excite the nervous system (you may have heard the street term “uppers”), depressants like tranquilizers and alcohol slow down the nervous system, and hallucinogens like PCP and LSD create false sensory images, stemming from the 5 senses.