About 10 percent of Americans are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. The top three of these addiction causing drugs are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers, and cocaine. The word “addiction” itself is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” How do people become enslaved to drugs? Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine and overloading it.  Addictive drugs release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and reliably.

When compulsion takes over, the mere memory of a drug causes a desire to recreate the effect. Even after years of abstinence, an addict risks relapse due to the lasting memory formed in their addicted brain—this is known as conditioned learning.

To learn more about the state of the addicted brain, check out the infographic below.

Your Brain on Drugs
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