Addiction is one of the biggest killers in the country right now, but it’s surprisingly little understood by people everywhere, and few realize that it has to do with the way the human brain works.
When most people think of addiction, they think of drugs. But addiction can exist in almost any form. Video games, alcoholism, gambling, sex, even exercise. If it releases dopamine, then it can potentially become an addictive substance.
Now that doesn’t mean that everything is inherently addictive and it doesn’t mean that just anyone can get addicted to anything in particular. In many cases, addiction can be traced back through family lines.
In others, certain personality traits can serve as underlying causes of addiction. Whatever the substance, whatever the history, there’s no denying the impact addiction has on our society and the effect it has on the minds of its unfortunate victims.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is derived from the Latin word for “enslaved” or “bound by”, which makes incredible sense.
In simple terms, addiction is simply the brain becoming dependent on a source of feel-good chemicals created from something it doesn’t actually need to sustain itself. Victims all too often know that what they’re doing is dangerous and destructive, but because of their perceived need for the thing, they literally can’t help it.
History of Addiction Studies
Studies into this problem didn’t really begin until the 1930s, making it a relatively young research topic in the grand scheme of things. Initially, victims of addiction were thought to be morally flawed or else that their wills were just too weak.
It was believed that punishing these ‘miscreants’ would convince them to lay off whatever it was they felt they needed or by simply telling them to ‘buck up’ and get on with their lives. Obviously, this doesn’t work. We’ve since learned that addiction goes far deeper than simply desiring something.
How Addiction Works in the Brain
Addiction is a learned behavior. No one sets out intending to become an addict. Half the time they don’t even realize they are one until it’s too late. Addiction is caused through repetition, constant usage of a certain item, substance or action that releases dopamine in large quantities.
The brain likes this and demands more of it – that’s the mechanism of addiction. The problem is that after a while, it becomes impossible to keep up with. The standards of the dopamine high become harder to reach and the victim tries harder and harder to achieve that goal again.
This is what leads to addiction. Without help, this cycle will keep repeating until the victim is too lost in it to get out on their own.
Any number of mental issues can arise through the onset of addictive behavior. After enough damage has been done, the issues cease being purely mental and start to become physical as well. You’ll start to see signs such as increased heartbeat, nausea, hallucinations, and any number of disturbing effects that often can’t be controlled no matter what the victim tries.
The mental effects create a sort of heavy impulse of needing to satisfy this need, no matter what the cost, no matter what the trials. Impulse control is essentially lost and all that matters is achieving that next high, no matter what. This is because it’s no longer a high — it’s feeling normal again.
Loss of Impulse Control
Because of the loss of impulse control, the brain loses the ability to think rationally. Impulse control is one way we keep ourselves from acting rashly, such as buying whatever we want whenever we want and losing all our money.
When someone is truly addicted to something, they’ll do whatever they have to in order to achieve what they need to get their fix. The substance, the source of their addiction becomes the driving force of their life.
Victims of addiction have been known to completely drain their finances in pursuit of their substance of choice, utterly decimating their lives and destroying their stance in society.
If the substance of addiction is suddenly removed, the brain goes into throes of sorts, a tantrum, if you will. It holds the dopamine hostage in a sense, denying that feeling of happiness and normalcy the addicted victim craves.
The withdrawal symptoms can get ugly, too. They can be both physical and mental — anxiety, cravings, sweating, depression and more. Once it gets to this stage where the brain feels it can’t live without the chosen substance, it often requires professional help to rewire the victim for normal living again.
Without such help, withdrawal symptoms can cause relapses and in rare cases, even stroke or heart attacks.
Prevention of Addiction
Along with learning what addiction truly is, we’ve also learned that certain preventative measures don’t work. The 80’s and early 90’s were chock full of commercials and PSA’s telling kids horror stories of drugs and their effects. People always remember that famous one with the girl, the egg, and the frying pan. But as good as their intentions were, it didn’t work.
Kids and adults alike found themselves hooked on drugs, plus many other substances that wouldn’t be recognized as addictive until many years later. There are even guides available now to help friends and family members recognize signs of addictive behavior and help to prevent it before it becomes uncontrollable.
Summing up the Mechanism of Addiction in the Brain
As mentioned before, addiction is caused by the brain releasing dopamine in a large quantity during a particular action and demanding more and more of that as time goes by. Therefore, anything that causes pleasure can become addictive.
People can get addicted to the rush of endorphins from exercise and wind up damaging themselves. Sex addicts are drawn to the high created from the sensations created during the act. Alcoholics find peace and solace in the drunken stupors where thoughts aren’t as prevalent. Anything that releases dopamine has the potential to become addictive.
Treatment for addiction is definitely possible. It’s important to remember that no one actively seeks out an addiction. It’s a process that’s largely out of their control since they often can’t tell the difference between liking and needs.
But once professional help is sought, they stand every chance in the world of overcoming their addiction and returning to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy dopamine enjoyment.