Drugs & Health Blog

“Getting High” Is Really About Not Feeling Low

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The NIDA Blog Team

We’ve described before how drugs can change the way the brain’s “reward system” works, so that a person has to use more of a drug to get the same high they experienced the first time. It also makes them less able to enjoy other things that used to make them feel good—like friends, food, sports, and other activities.

That’s only part of the drugs-and-brain story, though.

Downward spiral

With drug use, other brain changes occur that lead a person to feel depressed and anxious. When that happens, the person may want to use the drug again—just so they can escape the bad feelings the drug helped cause.

In short, people who use a drug over and over may not be trying to get “high.” They may be trying to escape feeling very low, the state called withdrawal.

A broken video game

NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora D. Volkow, compares this painful situation to a broken video game. When a person has a substance use disorder, they want to be free of the drug, but their whole world has become “like a threatening virtual environment.” Drugs, and reminders of drug use, are like threats “around every corner.”

However, the person is playing the video game “with a broken controller.” No matter how hard they try to avoid the temptation to use the drug again, “their game-world avatar heads straight for the drug” that will keep the downward spiral going.

The good news is that as researchers discover more about what drugs do to the brain, they’re learning more about effective treatments for addiction—and how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Of course, the best way to prevent addiction is to not use drugs to begin with. 

Categories: 
Brain Science
Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

I really enjoyed reading the small piece that was posted on the brain and how it functions on drugs. One key to preventing drugs use and abuse is being educated on just what it does to the body.

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