09 Feb UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION
Addiction is a complicated topic with many varied opinions on it worldwide.
There are a range of questions people often ask like:
- Are some people more prone to becoming addicted?
- How do you know if you are addicted?
- What are the signs of addiction?
- Does addiction happen because of mental illness?
- What things can people be addicted too?
- What does dopamine have to do with addiction?
- What are the root causes of addiction?
- How does addiction rewire the brain?
“Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation.” (Harvard Health Article).
In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. The brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud.
Reach Out Australia mentions that addiction is caused when an individual compulsively engages in activities such as drinking, drug taking and gambling. Often people who have addictions are unable to stop doing what they are addicted to without proper help and support.
ARE SOME PEOPLE MORE PRONE TO BECOMING ADDICTED?
Addiction is a complicated topic with many varied opinions on it worldwide. What can be said, is that addiction does not discriminate – it can affect individuals of any ages, background or intelligence level.
Despite significant amounts of studies by scientists and psychologists, it is still difficult to ascribe exactly what makes an individual more prone to addiction that others; although, some of these studies have found that a combination of factors may play a part. These factors include family background, genetics, stress, environment, personality traits, as they all make someone more or less likely to try specific substances or behaviours in the first place, which may therefore lead to addiction.
Children of Addicts
Life Works Community mentions that the risk of addiction increases significantly for individuals who have parents that are drug addicts or alcoholics. Studies have found that the children of addicts are 45-79% more likely to abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs in comparison to the general population.
Those who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions are more likely to participate in substance abuse. Often those who suffer from poor mental health use substances such as alcohol and drugs to numb symptoms that are associated with their conditions. Therefore, this puts them at much higher risk of developing an addiction throughout their lifetime.
People with Higher IQ’s
Often people misconceive that addiction is more likely to affect the less educated, but in fact, many addicts are highly-paid and have successful careers. Due to the stress, isolation and failed relationships some of these professionals are faced with due to their occupations, some fall victim to substance abuse.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE ADDICTED?
Frequently, the signs of addiction can be hard to spot. Something that starts as a way to relax or socialise, can quickly become a significantly unhealthy habit. Within no time, our behaviour can get out of control.
So how do you know if you are addicted? Start by answering the following questions:
- Do you rely on alcohol or other substances to relax or enjoy yourself?
- Do you forego responsibilities or commitments to engage in an activity or addictive behaviour?
- Do you find it difficult to say no or stop the substance use or behaviour once you start?
- Are you engaging in an activity or behaviour more than you used to?
- Have you had to increase the amount of substance consumed or increase activities to achieve the same effect? Have you become tolerant?
- Do you feel ashamed of how often you are engaging in these behaviours, or do you complete these activities in secrecy?
If you or someone you know related to the questions above, you may benefit from seeking help.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ADDICTION?
Often an individual may or may not know that they have an addiction. As humans, we often justify certain behaviours as they help us relax or enjoy ourselves. For example, turning to a substance due to stress or pressure at work, or engaging in activities to make yourself feel happier in your current situation.
There are a number of signs to look out for that may signify that you, or someone you know, have an addiction.
- Repeating a behaviour even though it interferes or has a negative impact on your life.
- Participating in dangerous or risky behaviour.
- Stealing or selling things to be able to afford the addictive behaviour.
- Losing interest in things that are not associated with the addictive behaviour (e.g. work, family, hobbies, sport, socialising).
- Changes in mood- becoming angry, violent, depressed or moody.
- Noticing changes in weight, eating habits or sleep.
WHAT THINGS CAN PEOPLE BE ADDICTED TO?
Realistically, there is a possibility that an individual could be addicted to almost anything, as addition is a physical or psychological need to engage in an activity or behaviour, to the point where is can be harmful to you.
Addiction is commonly associated with substance abuse such as alcohol, and drugs, along with gambling and nicotine. Although it is possible to become addicted to anything, such as:
- Negative Self-Talk
- Sexual Intercourse
- Plastic Surgery
WHAT DOES DOPAMINE HAVE TO DO WITH ADDICTION?
Harvard Health Publishing suggests that the brain registers all pleasures in the same way. Whether this pleasure comes from a satisfying meal, a sexual encounter, a monetary reward or drugs and alcohol. Pleasure has distinct signature in the brain: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex, which can be seen below.
Brains Reward Centre
All drug abuse causes a significant increase in the amount of dopamine produced, as dopamine is directly associated with pleasure there is a much higher chance that these increases in the chemical will lead to addiction.
Psychology Today’s article mentions that dopamine creates a reward-seeking loop in the sense that people will repeat these pleasurable behaviours, from checking their phones to taking drugs. Although dopamine is a motivator, Healthline suggests that is not the sole cause of addiction and its motivational properties are said to play a role in addictive behaviours.
HOW DOES ADDICTION REWIRE THE BRAIN?
Through repetitive exposure to an addictive behaviour or substance, this causes the nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that is involved in planning and executing tasks) to communicate in a way that couples liking something with wanting it, in turn driving us to go after it. This ultimately influences the brain to manifest in three distinct ways:
- Craving for the object of addiction.
- Loss of control over its use.
- Continuation of involvement despite the adverse consequences.
Today we recognise addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function, ultimately causing the brain to be rewired.
WHAT ARE THE ROOT CAUSES OF ADDICTION?
In many individuals’ cases, addiction is just the tip of the iceberg. Steve Rose PHD Counselling suggests that typically, there are underlying causes of addiction that are generally invisible but comprise the vast majority of the issue. To effectively deal with and treat addiction, it is important to first understand the root causes of the addiction, some root causes include:
- Family and genetics
- Unmet needs such as purpose, belonging, and self-esteem
You can read more information about understanding addiction here:
Reach Out Article: https://au.reachout.com/mental-health-issues/addiction
Health Direct Article: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/what-is-addiction
Psychology Today Article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/basics/dopamine
Australian Drug Foundation Article: https://adf.org.au/insights/substance-mental-health/
Harvard Health Publishing Article: https://www.health.harvard.edu/%E2%80%A6/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain
Healthline Article: https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-addiction#motivation
Steve Rose PHD Counselling Article: https://steverosephd.com/what-are-the-root-causes-of-addiction/
The Dawn Rehab: https://thedawnrehab.com/addiction/major-causes-of-addiction/
If you or a family member are experiencing issues with addiction of any kind, please reach out. We would love to chat to you. We are here to support not judge.
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