Addiction is a disorder of the brain involving its reward and memory mechanism. It affects millions of people and has been referred to as a global crisis. Addiction is a chronic disease that alters your brain structure, functioning, willpower, decision-making abilities, and how you perceive and understand things.
Addiction is related to the biochemistry of your brain, and it feeds on activities that make us happy. It could be any of your usual activities like exercising, gaming, or watching TV and harmful practices such as drinking, gambling, or taking drugs. It begins with the craving of the addictive object to losing control over its use and eventually increasing its use regardless of the adverse outcomes. But the question arises why do we get addicted to things? Are some people or activities more inclined to cause addictive patterns?
You must’ve encountered people around you with addictions, or you may be battling them yourself. Addiction is described as losing control over certain behaviors or using drug or non-drug substances to a point where it harms your life and the people around you. Even though it is most often associated with drug abuse, it also includes other habits like exercising, gambling, or drinking that are labeled as addictions once a person cannot consistently abstain from that behavior or substance. Addiction induces an impulsive behavior in the person to seek reward regardless of the consequences. Like cardiovascular diseases damage the heart, addiction similarly hijacks your brain. Addictions can be substance addictions like caffeine or nicotine or behavioral addictions like gambling or eating junk food.
Technological advancements have led us to now see the changes an addict’s brain goes through. Addiction causes alterations in the way your brain processes information and impacts your brain’s reward system. Your brain’s reward system is a deep neuronal pathway in your brain that helps in repeating behaviors that are beneficial to our survival. A chemical neurotransmitter known as dopamine is the primary element released in this pathway.
A burst of dopamine is released in your brain following an appropriate action directly linked to your survival. This gives you a feeling of satisfaction and gratification that, in turn, leads to an increased probability of repeating that behavior. Dopamine also helps you remember what ‘feels good and satisfactory,’ making it easier to perform that action next time.
Winning at a game or having a nice meal causes your brain to release bursts of dopamine typically. At the same time, indirectly, certain opioid painkillers and alcohol lead to suppressing your brain’s specific neuronal pathways. Blocking these pathways leads to a feeling of calm and peace through a spike in dopamine release. This paves the way for both substance and behavioral addictions.
Excessive gambling, watching pornography, eating lots of junk food, and overconsumption of drugs can trigger your reward system into overdrive and release enormous amounts of dopamine. Addictive drugs can release anywhere from twice to 10 times the amount of dopamine usually released and more rapidly than expected. This overstimulation of the brain leads to an intense feeling of euphoria and joy, which motivates people to repeat that behavioral pattern. Suppose these patterns continue for a long time, with your nervous system constantly flooded with dopamine. In that case, your brain eventually adapts to these chronically elevated levels by reducing the number of receptors available for dopamine. This development of tolerance by your brain leads to seeking more substance to release the same amount of dopamine as before therefore causing addiction to worsen.
But not everyone engaging in excessive gambling or drug abuse gets addicted to it. So, what factors determine who gets strongly addicted and who doesn’t?
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Here three factors come into play: your genetics, your social environment, and your development. The likelihood of addiction depends more than 70% on your genetic makeup. These biological differences can influence your vulnerability to addiction. Behavioral disorders like anxiety or depression can also increase your possibility of falling prey to it.
Your social environment is also of importance here. People who have unstable relationships or lack a social support system have neglected and understimulated reward pathways. They then often resort to other ways to stimulate it to get ‘high’ and the feeling of euphoria. Exposure to traumatic environments is also responsible for the under-stimulation of the reward system. Whereas people in stable environments or good workplaces are much less likely to fall for it as their reward system is already firing up appropriately.
Coming to development, addiction rates and vulnerability to it are higher in different age groups.Your brain is still in its development phase till your mid-20s. The earlier in life someone engages in drug or substance abuse, the more they increase their chances of getting addicted. Hence, adolescents and teenagers are at greater risk due to their curiosity about trying out new things and their natural risk-taking behavior. Intervention at this stage is vital to improve their quality of life in the future.
No one chooses to be addicted, and there is no single factor involved in why people get addicted. However, it is a widely spread and highly stigmatized issue that needs to be addressed globally. Addiction is a highly treatable disease, but it needs to be modified according to the individual needs and triggers of the patient to achieve a favorable outcome.
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!