No one actually sets out to have an addiction. However, participating in a pleasurable experience (drinking, getting high on drugs, sex, winning money through gambling, etc) can create certain feelings and trigger the brain in certain ways causing addiction to slowly set in.
At one point, addiction was seen as a moral flaw of those who did not have the ability to resist their temptations. Often, judgment was involved in treating someone with an addiction, sometimes requiring a person to attend church or adopt a religion in order to get sober. However, it’s clear now that addiction is a disease of the brain. There are patterns in the brain that continue to fire, particularly in the pleasure center of the brain, slowly contributing to an addiction.
For instance, let’s say someone begins to use cocaine. The high of the drug affects the brain, flooding it with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. That activation is so strong that the cocaine becomes the sole focus of that person’s life. In addition to dopamine, the brain also stimulates glutamate neurons in a specific region of the brain, which in turn activates the dopamine-containing neurons in the brain’s reward circuit. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter whose receptors are important for communication, memory formation, and learning.
Ingesting cocaine causes a surge of dopamine, which trigger feelings of pleasure, and in turn, creates more need for the drug. Once addicted, the brain requires that substance to the point of needing it like you would need other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking. Changes in the brain interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control behavior, and feel normal the substance, in this case, cocaine.
In fact, the rush of dopamine that cocaine releases when an individual chooses to ingest it is dangerous, leading to permanent alterations in the way the brain processes dopamine in the future. Studies at Yale University indicate that neurons in the brain and their synaptic connections change shape when first exposed to cocaine. The structural changes point out that that neurons are attempting to protect themselves when the presence of cocaine enters the body.
Yet, no matter what substance (or behavior) a person is you’re addicted to, the importance of having that substance in his or her life on a regular basis becomes more important than friends, family, career, and health. The yearning to use becomes so strong that your mind will find numerous ways to deny the addiction and underestimate the severity of the addiction. And when this level of yearning for the substance is present, then using becomes compulsive. It becomes something you do although your conscious awareness knows that you shouldn’t be – you’ve lost power over it.
Although no one sets out to develop an addiction, the mere pleasure of experiencing a drug or a particular behavior can grow intensity. And when this happens, the body and the brain yearn for it. However, research shows that the likelihood of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it leads to a dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release. These factors play a significant role in the development of an addiction.
Knowing this makes it clear that the development of an addiction is not due to a personal flaw, but rather the type of drug or pleasurable activity and its affect on the release of dopamine in the brain.
If you’re struggling with an addiction, it’s not your fault. Despite the stigma that addiction still carries, experts are aware that addiction is not due to a personal flaw. It’s simply an illness that needs healing. To get the support you need to heal, contact a mental health professional today.
If you are reading this on any blog other than Transcend Recovery Community or via my RSS Feed, it is stolen content without credit. You can find me on Twitter via @RecoveryRobert Come and visit our blog at http://TranscendRecoveryCommunity.com/blog