Psychological Disorders

Substance-Related Disorders

Summary Substance-Related Disorders

Just as biological factors may make a person susceptible to dependence, heavy use of drugs can affect a person’s biological makeup. For example, excessive drug use can reduce the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. Since dopamine is involved in feeling pleasure, the reduced number of receptors can then make a person dependent on the drug. The person will crave more of the drug in order to feel the same amount of pleasure.

Environmental Influences

Research findings suggest that certain environmental factors play a key role in substance dependence:

  • Cultural norms: The pattern of drug dependence varies according to cultural norms. For example, alcohol dependence is rarer in countries where children learn to drink responsibly and in moderation and where excessive drinking by adults is considered improper. Alcohol dependence is more common in societies that condone adult drunkenness and forbid children to drink.
  • Social policy: Governmental policies that totally prohibit alcohol consumption tend to increase rates of alcohol dependence.
  • Variation in symptoms: The existence of withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing a drug depends on many factors, including a person’s expectations and context. This suggests that dependence is not just a biological phenomenon.
  • Reasons for drug use: A person’s tendency toward drug addiction depends not only on the properties of the drug but also on the reasons a person uses the drug. For example, people who receive prescription narcotics in hospitals for postsurgical pain may not become addicted, while others who use narcotics to escape stress may become addicted.

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