During the past century, scientists studying drug addiction worked in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. In the 1930’s, when scientists began to study addictive behavior, people addicted to drugs were thought to be lacking in willpower and flawed human beings.
Those views shaped society’s responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punishment rather than prevention and treatment.
Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to addiction and other substance use disorders have changed dramatically. There are groundbreaking discoveries about the brain that have revolutionized our understanding of compulsive drug use and face its challenges.
What is Drug Addiction?
As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior.
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.† It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.
Why study drug abuse and addiction?
- Babiesexposed to drugs in the womb may be born premature and underweight. This exposure can slow the child’s intellectual development and affect behavior later in life.6
- Adolescentswho abuse drugs often act out, do poorly academically, and drop out of school. They are at risk for unplanned pregnancies, violence, and infectious diseases.
- Adultswho abuse drugs often have problems thinking clearly, remembering, and paying attention. They often develop poor social behaviors as a result of their drug abuse, and their work performance and personal relationships suffer.
- Parents‘ drug abuse often means chaotic, stress-filled homes, as well as child abuse and neglect. Such conditions harm the well-being and development of children in the home and may set the stage for drug abuse in the next generation.
How does science provide solutions for drug abuse and addiction?
Scientists study the effects that drugs have on the brain and on people’s behavior. They use this information to develop programs for preventing drug abuse and for helping people recover from addiction. Further research helps transfer these ideas into practice in our communities.
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