Understanding Addiction How Addiction Hijacks the BrainScientific advances over the past 20 years have shown that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that results from the prolonged effects of drugs on the brain. As with many other brain diseases, addiction has embedded behavioral and social-context aspects that are important parts of the disorder itself. Therefore, the most effective treatment approaches will include biological, behavioral, and social-context components. Recognizing addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use can impact society's overall health and social policy strategies, reduce the “stigma” of addiction, and help diminish the health and social costs associated with drug abuse and addiction
What Causes Addiction?
The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction or has tried to help someone else to do so understands why. Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.
For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that certain pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can also co-opt the brain.
New Insights Into A Common ProblemNobody starts out intending to develop an addiction, but many people get caught in its snare. Consider the latest government statistics: nearly 23 million Americans—almost one in 10—are addicted to alcohol or other drugs; more than two-thirds of people with addiction abuse alcohol; and the top three drugs causing addiction are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers, and cocaine.
Avoiding The Pain Of WithdrawalOver time, one a person has developed enough tolerance, the ability to experience pleasure from addictive substances is no longer an option. This is due to the brain responds of producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors. At this point, the addicted individual becomes more concerned with avoiding the horrific pain of withdrawal. The addict is now caught in a never ending quest to “just feel normal.” Once this point is reached, the addict will require repeated doses of the addictive substance every 3 to 4 hours to prevent painful withdrawal. It is no longer about feeling good – that is not an option anymore – it is all about avoiding feeling bad. The mental and physical pain of withdrawal is what drives addicts to do things that they never thought they would in order to prevent being “pill sick.”