All primate brains contain a pleasure center with unpredictable and highly individualized responses to a variety of stimulants. Much of our knowledge of how it functions has been derived from monkey studies that show very disturbing response patterns that are clearly extrapolated to observed human behavior. Put a chimpanzee in a cage with buttons to push with a variety of reward options and the chimp will randomly select buttons for food, water and a cocaine fix for a very short period of time then exclusively and selectively begin hitting only the cocaine release. He will stop eating, stop drinking and even avoid sleeping. Put a female in the cage and he will ignore the basic reproductive urges and continue banging away at the cocaine releaser until he drops from exhaustion or dies of an overdose. With time, the duration of pleasure will shorten and the chimp will require higher doses for the same measured level of euphoria. If denied this pleasure, the chimp becomes irritated, angry, violent.
That substance abusers have damaged brains is readily demonstrated on standard EEG brain wave analysis. The damage produces behavior changes and irrational responses to situations requiring judgment skills. At this point, the drug is now prioritized above family, career, friends, even the basic drive for food and shelter. What we haven’t yet gained full understanding regarding is why some individuals are addicted after single exposure though some people require weeks or months to reach a noticeable level of dependency.
In Stage One of misuse, there is an emotional and mental connection with the substance, the dangerous phase with little down side and primarily pleasure reward. This was my reason earlier for red flagging early childhood dalliance.
Stage Two involves changes in life patterns including relationships as the user attempts to deceive the world around him or her that there is no dependency issue.
Stage Three is a critical point where emotional and physical dependency exists and tolerance to the substance is evolving. It takes more drug more often to achieve the same escape. At this level, the user is inevitably defensive and paranoid about questions regarding their behavior and begins to withdraw from contacts and become secretive. The final Stage Four has been reached when any attempt at withdrawal from using creates violent body reactions that can include seizures cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.
Does any of this sound like ANYONE in your family or friend circle?
Help is available through numerous substance abuse support groups, treatment facilities and (court ordered/employer required) mandatory screening assessments.
Without intervention, ALL substance abuse is inevitably fatal. What must be emphasized is these are unwell people and should be treated, not criminalized.
Dr. David Carr