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WRITTEN BY LEIGH MACMILLAN
ILLUSTRATION BY MARIA RENDON

  Neuroscientists probe how drugs of abuse take control of the brain's circuitry  
     
 

It starts simply -- a snort, a puff, a drink, a rush of warmth and well-being, a rush of pleasure. For some individuals, the first snort leads to another, then another. Soon it takes more drug to get that same rush, and before long the person may need the drug just to feel normal. Along the way, what started as recreational drug use morphs into compulsive drug use: addiction.

"We're usually in control of our actions and choose not to engage in self-destructive behaviors," says Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience at Vanderbilt. "But once an addiction takes hold, the person is in a sense powerless and is compelled by forces outside of their control. Another person looking at them would say, 'you can prevent this.' They can't."

It's as if the brain is in prison, captive to the neurobiological changes wrought by its chemical jailers. The captive brain somehow drives an addicted individual to continue taking a drug, despite known adverse consequences -- to health, to personal and family relationships, to career.  continued..

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