How Continued Drug Use Leads to an Overdose

How Continued Drug Use Leads to an Overdose

The cycle of addiction will end in an overdose if something is not done to stop it

There is a continuum on the path of drug use. It starts with an introduction to a particular drug, usually alcohol or marijuana. The use of this starter drug continues to increase in frequency and amount, until it no longer satisfies the need. From here, a new drug is added to or replaces the starter drug, and the drug use continues to increase. Eventually, the efficacy of any drug is reduced, resulting in the need for more and more of a given drug, or experimentation with combinations of drugs, to achevie the same high as before.

This Story Sounds Familiar – But Why is it True?

Any drug addiction[1] affects the brain by impacting the way in which neurons send, receive and process information. Some activate neurons by replacing a naturally occurring neurotransmitter. Others open neural pathways to allow for an unnatural number of chemicals to be transmitted.

The key neurotransmitter is dopamine.[2] This neurotransmitter has been referred to as the pleasure center, because its presence or absence in the brain is largely responsible for feelings of pleasure. Most drugs impact the dopamine levels in the brain in one way or another. As drug use becomes the new normal for a person, the brain and body begin to expect and even require this adapted level of dopamine for proper functioning.

It is important to understand this, because it lays the foundation for this powerful truth – addiction is not fundamentally the result of being weak-willed or lacking character. While the choice to begin taking a drug is always the choice of an individual, at some point the brain’s neurochemistry has been altered, making it much more difficult to manage daily functioning independent of the drug.

How Do I Know if I am Addicted?

Maybe you are thinking that you are not addicted, only a casual user. One consideration to help you determine if you are struggling with an addiction is to take an inventory of your symptoms against these commonly occurring symptoms of addiction:[3]

  • Feeling the need to use the drug or perform the specific activity regularly, up to several times each day
  • Experiencing intense urges or desires for the drug or activity
  • Needing more of the same drug or activity over time to achieve the same high
  • Spending money you don’t have in order to have the drug or activity on hand
  • Missing work, school or family responsibilities due to the addiction
  • Making poor choices, such as stealing, to facilitate your drug or behavior

Another consideration is how you feel when you have gone a considerable period of time without a drug. If you experience any of these common withdrawal symptoms, you may be battling an addiction:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Vivid dreams
  • Insomnia
  • Severe depression
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Suicidal thoughts

Again, it is possible that you may experience one or more of these symptoms when you choose to stop an addictive substance or behavior. The existence of these symptoms does not guarantee that you are addicted, but the lack of them may indicate that you are not addicted.

Why Take a Chance With Your Life?

The cycle of addiction will end in an overdose if something is not done to stop it. It is not because you lack willpower or the desire to change. Drug addiction changes the way the brain works, and causes the body to yearn for more and more of a drug. Eventually, you will arrive at the point where your desire for a drug will exceed your body’s ability to process it. You will overdose, and you may die.

There is no other alternative here. You either need to quit using drugs, or you will continue to increase the chances of an overdose with each use of a drug. Why take a chance with something so precious, your very life?

If you saw yourself in these descriptions above, it may be time to come to grips with the fact that you do have an addiction. But remember this: you are not alone. If you need help, there is support available. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about your addiction. They can help you find your way.


[1], “Drugs and the Brain,” accessed January 11, 2016

[2], “Why Do People Abuse Drugs,” accessed January 11, 2016

[3], “Symptoms of Addiction,” accessed January 11, 2016