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NIDA. (2009, December 28). Real Life: The Choices We Make. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
December 28 2009
Chalkboard showing multiple choices that can be made
Image Courtesy of Garland Cannon

A lot of celebrities are making headlines lately for all the wrong reasons. First we hear about tennis star Andre Agassi admitting to meth (a toxic stimulant drug) use when he was on the tennis circuit (what was he thinking?) and now Tiger Woods, with everyone speculating about his personal problems.

All of this news has made SBB think a lot about how we make choices in our lives. Why do intelligent, successful people make bad choices when they have so much to lose—even (and maybe especially) superstars?

Taking a Risk

We look at this question of personal choices and self control a lot at NIDA while we study drug abuse. Initially, taking drugs is a choice. Over time, drug abuse can become a disease we call addiction. But what makes us risk the consequences of making the choice to try drugs? Not everyone becomes addicted to them, but many do. So why do people risk it?

To find answers, scientists are studying the brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine gives us a feeling of euphoria, a physical surge of pleasure in response to things we enjoy, which are different for different people. From healthy pleasures, like eating a good meal or scoring a goal, to unhealthy ones, like doing drugs or stealing from stores.

Once you become addicted to that rush of dopamine, it's hard to stop the behavior. And, once you become addicted, it's hard to feel pleasure from the simple things in life—like a great piece of music, holding hands with someone you really like, spending a fun day with the family, or having a laugh with friends.

Making a Different Choice

So how do we avoid making bad choices in the first place?

SBB suggests focusing on the genuine pleasures in your life. Fill your day with them. Go shopping with a friend, watch a game with friends, join a club at school, watch a movie, read a great book…Protect the simple pleasures in your life—and when it comes to drugs, maybe think about what you might lose.