For all the years that we’ve been dealing with the issue in an official medical capacity, addiction is still relatively difficult to describe, and harder to truly understand. Many don’t, and controversies on the nature of addiction still exist. While many agree on how to treat it, it’s harder for us to come to terms with how to explain it. However, there are a few things we generally comprehend and have a solid explanation for, such as how people get addicted to begin with.
Science is, in every aspect, a learning process. This is not any different for addiction. As the years go by, we will have a better understanding of how it works both from the standpoint of neurochemistry and psychology, and with time, even the public will have an accurate understanding of what does and does not work when dealing with addiction personally, or in the family, or as a problem in the community at large.
The key question to ask is how addiction works – how a people get addicted to a substance, to begin with. When we know why something happens, we can prevent it. But with addiction, it isn’t quite that simple. Here’s why.
The Allure To Get Addicted
An addiction can be most simply defined as an unhealthy obsession, one that even with the willingness of the individual cannot simply be stopped. This obsession might be with a behavior or a substance, and in the context of addiction recovery and the various methods used to address addiction, this is something that happens on both a physical and emotional level.
When you get addicted to something, you can’t simply stop yourself from doing it, despite the harm it’s doing to you and their family. Sex addicts often endanger not just their relationships, but their careers and reputation engaging in increasingly dangerous and controversial behavior, despite the absence of addictive substances. In much the same way, someone hooked on an opioid may go through extreme lengths to obtain another dose, even if the source is questionable, or the consequences include run-ins with the law.
It’s important to highlight the dangers people are willing to go through to get high. Once this is understood, you will see that there is no logical sense or real reasoning behind addicted behavior. It’s tied to a malfunction of the brain, a problem with a person’s way of thinking under the influence, separate from their character or their ability to make decisions as a person. More directly, it’s not just that a certain kind of person can get addicted. It’s not a matter of a weak will or lack of trying to get better.
Addiction Can Affect Anyone
While there are risk factors that increase someone’s chances to get addicted, some of them can apply to any person. For example: suffering a trauma or heavy loss can contribute to a kind of unresolved grief that makes it easier for someone to self-medicate to escape their feelings.
Anyone can find themselves at such a point of emotional despair that, without the proper help, their only options become finding the quickest way out of the pain either through medication or a more final option.
There are other factors to consider, but the point is that addiction, while certainly harmful and capable of ruining lives, doesn’t “just happen to people who make bad decisions”. Those who get addicted and struggle with it are going through an incredible internal conflict, and they need support, not judgment.
It’s In The Brain
Addiction is a malfunction of the brain’s reward system. This is a relatively complex system in the brain that relies on the release of certain neurotransmitters meant to induce pleasure, and reinforce behavior. In simple terms, this is part of our base programming, and gives us inherent preferences.
Most people, for example, like food. But we often prefer fatty, salty, or sweet food. These tastes are indicative of a highly valuable food item in nature. Nowadays, these items are easy to come by – and we must exercise greater restraint to ignore these urges, and develop a greater palate. Kids have trouble with this, because they have trouble understanding restraint in general.
Addiction is a little like how kids love sugar, but massively amplified. When a drug passes the blood brain barrier into our brain, the drug interacts with certain receptors in our neurons, causing the release of transmitters that induce pleasure, far greater than normal. The repetition of this type of pleasure can lead a person to get addicted, to the point where things they used to enjoy – like playing games or reading books – don’t measure up, and fall to the wayside.
This goes for certain behavior, as well. Sex, video games, TV, gambling, and even adrenaline-inducing extreme sports – people can get addicted to these activities, but in a different manner. While behavioral addiction also involves the reward pathway, there are deeper psychological issues attached here. However, the real trouble begins when someone tries to stop using.
A Terrible Cycle
When someone is addicted, they can’t simply say no to drugs. They’re past that point. And there’s a reason for it. Addiction traps you in an emotional and neurological cycle that is hard to break out of – incredibly hard without help. Continuous use of a drug not only reinforces the behavior, but it also dulls its effects. This is the same for behavioral addiction, where someone needs an even greater stimulation each time to feel the same amount of pleasure.
You can’t always feel amazing. Your brain gets used to it. And one day, you take too great a risk or take too much of a drug, and it kills you. That’s the trouble with addiction. But stopping induces cravings, intense emotional shifts, and sometimes, it can even bring about physical symptoms called withdrawal symptoms. These often include nausea and headaches, and in the cases of certain drugs such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, a sudden withdrawal from heavy use can lead to death.
The typical tale of addiction is not a sudden one. It takes time, and the reasons aren’t simple, or few. Everyone has a different story. Some are tragic, others are unfortunate. But with help, and a willingness to forgive yourself when you make mistakes, you can find your way out of addiction and onto a better life.