Addiction is the intense urge to have something, having no control over the use of it, and continuing to use it even after you have ascertained that there are adverse consequences with it. Addiction is hard to beat as it changes the brain. First, addiction subverts how the brain registers pleasure, then corrupts the drives considered normal which are such as motivation and learning. Even though it is challenging to break an addiction, it does not mean that it can’t be done. There is help available in the form of relationship addiction therapy.
The three ways mentioned above are how addiction to something manifests itself.
New Insights into a Common Problem
Most people who develop an addiction do not start off wishing to get addicted to the particular thing. This is as shown by government statistics:
- One in 10 people in America is addicted to either alcohol or other drugs.
- More than two-thirds of the population of the USA has an addiction to abuse alcohol.
- The most common drugs that cause addiction are opioid pain relievers/narcotic, cocaine, and marijuana.
Any pleasure that the brain feels is interpreted the same way, be it a pleasure from a psychoactive drug, a sexual encounter, a great meal, or monetary rewards. All the pleasures that the brain experiences have a distinct signature, which is that they initiate the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. It is a cluster of nerve cells located underneath the cerebral cortex. When a person finds something pleasurable, it is because of the release of dopamine in the brain, a region that neuroscientists refer to as the brain’s pleasure centre.
Abuse of drugs such as nicotine, heroin, marijuana, and others causes a powerful surge of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure centre. The reason these drugs become addictive is the speed at which they initiate the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The intensity of the release and the reliability are also factors that affect addiction to substances.
Scientists previously believed that the pleasure that substance users experience was enough to encourage the continued use of drugs and other addictive substances. However, recent research shows that the situation is not that easy. Dopamine contributes to learning and memory-two key elements that influence the alteration from simply liking something to becoming addicted to it.
The research shows that there is another neurotransmitter involved in addiction. Dopamine together with glutamate hijacks the reward-related part of the brain. This system is important in all humans as it connects tasks needed by humans to survive(e.g sex, eating) with reward and pleasure.
Development and Tolerance
With continued use of drugs and other addictive substances, the brain changes the way it interprets pleasure from the activity. In nature, pleasure and rewards are felt after an effort and time has been spent doing something useful. Addictive substances and behaviours give a shortcut that leads to too much dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. The brain does not cope well with this.
Compulsion Takes Over
Once the brain finds it hard to cope with the flood of these neurotransmitters, the person feels compelled to take the substance or engage in the behaviour causing the addiction. The pleasure produced from the intake or involvement in an addiction becomes less, but the brain has the memory and feels the need to re-create the feeling. The brain’s normal function is interrupted.
Additionally, the learning process comes into play. The brain stores information about environmental cues related to the substance/behaviour and the effect they have so that it can be replicated. These memories create a conditioned response(craving) whenever an addict is in the right environment for the addiction.
Conditioned learning is a good explanation of why people that have addictions are at risk of relapse even after abstaining for long periods. That explains why an alcoholic may feel the urge to drink when they see a whisky bottle.