A Drug and Alcohol Facts Week Q&A

January 25, 2017 Providence Health Team

National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is an annual observance intended to deter teen drug and alcohol abuse by destroying myths about their use. Let’s tackle some common questions about drugs and alcohol.

Question: Why are drugs addicting?

Answer: Scientists believe people develop a craving for drugs with the release of dopamine, a neurochemical that fuels the brain’s reward system. The release of dopamine is what causes a high. Over time, as the brain adjusts to surges of dopamine, it takes more and more of a drug to produce the same high.

Q: How likely is it that using drugs will make me addicted to them?

A: It’s hard to know. Some people become addicted and some don’t. Much depends on your family history and genetics. But all addiction starts with experimentation, and the nature of addiction means that the habit is extremely difficult to quit.

Q: What are the signs of addiction?

People with drug problems may act differently from the way they used to. Signs of drug problems may include: spending a lot of time alone; sleeping in unusual rhythms; missing key appointments; eating more than usual; marked moodiness, both with periods of high energy and periods of depression and fatigue; losing interest in things that used to interest you; a change in peer groups. If you can’t stop taking a drug on your own, you are addicted.

Q: How much drinking is too much?

A: You are at risk of drinking too much and should talk to your doctor if, generally speaking, you are a woman who has more than three drinks at one time or more than seven drinks a week, or a man who has more than four drinks at one time or more than 14 drinks a week. A standard drink is one can of beer, one glass of wine, or one mixed drink.

Q: How can I tell if I have a drinking problem?

A: Here are some signals that you have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol: drinking in the morning, often being drunk for long periods of time, or drinking alone; changing what you drink, such as switching from beer to wine because you think it will help you drink less or keep you from getting drunk; feeling guilty after drinking; making excuses for your drinking or doing things to hide your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores or disposing of your bottles in different places; not remembering what you did while you were drinking; and worrying that you won't get enough alcohol for an evening or weekend.

Q: How can I help a friend who has a drug problem?

A: A friend’s drug addiction is not something you can fix. But you can help him or her get professional help. You can find a trained physician at the website of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and in Providence’s directory. If practical, offer to accompany your friend to an appointment. And encourage your friend to keep walking the difficult path to rehabilitation and recovery.

Sources used in this article

If you’d like to learn more, these sites explain the science of drug addiction, provide more information on alcohol abuse and answer teens’ questions about addiction.

The Providence Health Library »
The National Institutes of Health’s DrugAbuse.gov site »
The British Science Museum »
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention »

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