Addiction is a complex disease of the brain that is manifested by obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences. Addiction begins when an action or substance is communicated as pleasurable to the brain. Once a mood or mind-altering substance has been given to the addict, the brain begins to seek out and attempt to recreate the pleasurable experience by sending out signals within neurological pathways. This process is what initially urges an individual to use the substance or action again in an attempt to recreate the same desired effect. Addiction can begin when those same neurological pathways become more permanent. This is a clinical, neurological process and if left untreated can be fatal.
Addiction may come in many forms such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex, shopping, and many other compulsive behaviors. The most common form of addiction is typically present in the abuse of alcohol and/or drugs. Changes in the brain’s wiring from prolonged substance abuse will affect the brain’s judgment, decision making, learning, memory, behavior control, and coping skills. Individuals who struggle with addiction tend to develop distorted perceptions and this disease is progressively fatal in nature.
It would be fair to say that most individuals consume drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, some of the reasons include the following:
Addictive substances stimulate the pleasure center of the brain through neurotransmitters such as Dopamine or GABA. These molecules send messages of pleasure across the brain’s reward center. The individual may experience a feeling of pleasure and reinforces behavior critical for survival like eating food, sleeping, or having sex. Once the substance is ingested, the brain is flooded with an influx of these chemicals which provides the addict a great sense of relief and overwhelming euphoria. Often times, this is where addiction comes to play. The brain seeks to maintain a constant state of euphoria and the individual will be willing to go to any lengths to maintain the desired effect. Once the individual has become addicted, a tolerance will build – requiring larger and more frequent use of the substance to produce the desired effect.
There is no single factor that predicts if or when a person will become an addict. However, there are a number of factors that predispose an individual to the risk of developing an addiction. The more risk factors a person is predisposed to, the more likely the individual is to develop an addiction.
There are many factors that play a role in the predisposition to addiction. Biological, psychological, and environmental factors have been reported to play an equal role in the onset of addiction. According to NIH, genetics accounts for approximately 50% of an individual’s potential risk of becoming susceptible to addiction. In other words, some individuals are more genetically predisposed to addiction than others. Other factors such as gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental health disorders may also influence the risk of addiction.
Environment can also play a major role in developing an addiction as well. An individual’s interaction with his/her environment can provide a key catalyst to the onset of addiction. Some environmental factors that may link an individual to developing an addiction are:
Development of an individual may also increase the susceptibility of an individual and addiction. If an individual experiences conflict between his/her environmental and biological factors during their developmental stages, he/she may be at greater risk of becoming addicted. Consuming drugs and alcohol at any age can lead to addiction. However, the earlier the drug use begins, the more likely an individual will become addicted.
Nurturing relationships, stability, and a loving environment can help develop strong architecture within the brain as the individual is in the developmental stages. This can reduce the risk of addiction and potentially prevent mental illness from developing later in life.
Self-indulgence, on occasion, is not classified as an addiction. Addiction involves an obsessive-compulsive ritual, despite negative consequences. If an individual goes out every once in awhile, he/she is not necessarily an alcoholic. However, if an individual needs substances to function or partake in social activities, he/she may be on the verge of struggling with addiction.
Addiction must meet at least three of the following criteria:
Do you use more alcohol or other substances/behaviors overtime to produce the same desired effect?
Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you stop using the substance? Do you experience anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, vomiting, or hopelessness? Emotional withdrawal symptoms are as significant as physical withdrawal.
Do you consume drugs or alcohol more than you’d like? Do you intend to have a few drinks but find yourself always drinking to get drunk? Do you regret how much you used the day before?
Do you find yourself drinking or using drugs despite negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, relationships, health, or job?
Have you ever reduced or avoided social, recreational, or household activities in order to consume more alcohol or other substances? Have you noticed a shift in your priorities because of your use?
Do you find yourself spending a significant amount of time using, concealing, planning, obsessing, or recovering from your use? Have you spent a lot of time thinking about using? Do you find yourself scheduling your day around your use? Do you spend a lot of time and energy covering up your use from loved ones and friends?
Have you ever considered cutting down or attempting to control your use? Have you ever unsuccessfully attempted to cut down your use?
Addiction affects every aspect of an individual’s life. Treatment does not only encompass the substance abuse, but also includes health, relationships, career, spirituality, and overall well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with any addiction, it is important you find the right drug rehab for you. Treatment modalities typically include an entirely new way of living while also addressing the reasons an individual turned to substances to self-medicate. There are a ton of individualized rehabilitation and therapies for individuals struggling with addiction – seek professional help today.