Defining The Issue

Ultimately, dependency on a substance relates to the state of being that repeat users get from the chemical reaction the drug manifests within the body. Typically this reaction is due to specific ways in which drugs signal the pleasure centers of the brain and force the release of unnatural amounts of dopamine, serotonin and other “feel good” chemicals through neurotransmitters.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug dependence as:

“A state in which an organism functions normally only in the presence of a drug. This is manifested as a physical disturbance when the drug is removed.”

A photo of Prescott House Licensed Associate Counselor MEd, MA, LAC,.

Jeff Martin
Licensed Associate Counselor
Specializing in Substance Abuse

While many drugs have decidedly unique effects on the body – the mind in particular – the science behind addiction and dependence is distinctly systematic in that, no matter the drug, the way in which dependence works is the same. What starts as casual often turns into repeated use or even addiction. Once you reach this stage, your body starts to depend on the drug in order to maintain baseline levels of the same naturally occurring chemicals and hormones that one left you feeling “high.” Now, these chemicals are required just to function and a cease in using often leads to painful and disorienting withdrawal effects.

The science behind drug dependency is the same regardless of the actual substance, but it’s important to understand some of the most common drugs and how they affect users outside of the addiction itself.

Let’s take a closer look.


Cocaine is typically sold in two forms: rock or powder. Powder cocaine is the substance that is typically snorted, smoked or injected, while rock cocaine – also known as crack cocaine – is most often smoked.

The effects of both drugs are similar, but crack is cocaine’s cheaper cousin. Mixing the drug with baking soda (or other additives) and water and then cooking it leads to a cheaper and fast-acting high that makes it affordable, readily available, and effective at producing a euphoric state and heightened sense of invincibility and increased energy levels in its users.

Benzodiazepines & Other Prescription Drugs

Benzodiazepines – or benzos – are typically pharmaceutical tranquilizers. The most familiar of this class of drugs are Valium and Xanax, both of which have legitimate prescription uses such as treatment of depression and anxiety. While users often start the course of benzos with a doctor’s prescription, abuse or continued use often leads to a difficult-to-break dependence on the drug. From there, addicts feed the need to use by purchasing it on the street or seeking additional prescriptions from healthcare professionals.

Benzos aren’t the only prescription drugs with high risks for abuse. Painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin were once taking over the nation due to the relative ease of accessing such powerful drugs by young adults and teens. Often they had to look no further than their parent’s medicine cabinet in order to find a powerful substance that led to feelings of euphoria and an overall sense of well-being.A graph of Dependency Percentages showing tobacco, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, cannabis and caffeine.


Heroin is a drug synthesized from the poppy plant, which is most commonly grown in the Middle East, particularly Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. While it goes by many names (H, smack, horse, brown, black, tar, or dope), the drug is always a synthesized derivative of the poppy.

Ingestion methods vary, but the most common ways to use the drug are snorting it through the nostrils and shooting it via syringe directly into your bloodstream through a vein. Heroin was once thought of as a drug used by the down and out, the beatnik generation, or musicians, but now we’ve reached a full-blown epidemic in the United States due to an influx of the drug, which lowered street prices due to supply and demand principles. While prescription medication was once the drug of choice for America’s youth due to easy access to the drug via their parents or other family members, heroin has now taken over the role due to a readily available supply and a cheaper high than Vicodin, Percocet or Oxycontin.


Methamphetamine – also known as ice, crank, meth, or crystal – is a powdered substance that users snort, shoot, or smoke to increase energy levels and gain a full body high accompanied with a sense of euphoria. Meth has proven to have a devastating effect on the body, and is arguably the most dangerous drug in the world due to high risk of addiction and the symptoms accompanying addiction such as skin rashes, missing teeth, infection, and premature aging.

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"I help families and men struggling with addiction by reassuring them that they are not alone throughout this process. I am always here to talk." - Tim Scanlan
A photo of Prescott House Admissions & Outreach Coordinator, Tim Scanlan.


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