How Does Addiction Work?- The Myths And Reality

The fact that the the word “addiction” traces its roots back to the Latin words with meanings such as “handed over” or “bound to” shouldn’t come as a surprise. For that’s exactly how you feel like when every last atom of your body seems to have a singular object of devotion- whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, food or something that doesn’t generally pop up in conversations regarding addiction.

Is being an A-Class jerk the only reason for getting addicted?

Emotional addiction | Source: harborvillageflorida.comSource:

Sometimes, society has a peculiar way of looking at things. Peculiar, not necessarily in the right manner. It’s like having a child-like view about something without having the gracefulness of childhood. As regards to addiction, one commonly held misconception is reflected in this statement: You started using the thing without compulsion, it’s not like anyone asked you to, is it? So, you brought the problem on yourself.

While the answer to that could be “yes” in many cases, that’s not always true.Many are the reasons that could prompt a person to resort to a substance or behaviour in the first place. These could be:

1. Peer pressure- This one we should all be knowing of.

2. Psychological disorders- Having a psychological condition is not bound to be a fun thing, leading the individual to seek escapism or ill-conceived solace in drugs etc.

3. Poor quality of family life- Stress is one significant reason for resorting to substances and there’s no better breeding ground for stress than your home if  life there is less than desirable.

4. Genetics- In recent times, researchers have found that there are genes that make some people more susceptible to being addicted to something and genes that prevent others from getting addicted at all. The chances of being able to trace the cause of addiction to just one gene is slim though since it’s a combination of genes that’s always at work in such cases.

A handful of genes that scientists have isolated in this regard are mentioned below along with the things they can get you addicted to. Since you don’t have an exam to attend based on this, feel free to skip it and read on if you find the bit too sciency for comfort.

Htr1b receptor gene: If you have this gene, you may have a stronger inclination towards alcohol and cocaine.

Cnr1 receptor gene: This is one gene that may make you addicted to morphine.

ALDH*2 gene: If you have two copies of this gene, you are less likely to become an alcoholic.

Neuropeptide Y: If the level of this hormone in your body is low, you could have a strong desire for alcohol.

5. Exposure to pre-natal substance use

6. Loss of hope or a lack of purpose

Going through the list of possible influences that may push a person to addiction, it’s quite evident that both internal and external factors play an important role  However, that doesn’t mean that when it comes to using a substance or resorting to a less-than-amicable behaviour for the first time, you always have the option to say “no,” especially to yourself.

Are alcohol and drugs the only things you can get addicted to?

gambling | Source: Source:

Not by a long shot. The common things that one can get addicted to include, but is not limited to methamphetamines, heroin, alcohol, prescription medications, sex, gambling and even certain types of food.

Is addiction a “brain disease”?

Over the decades, views on addiction has changed-ranging from it being considered as an act of the devil to seeing it as a result of certain chemicals in the substance that’s abused. In the present era, there’s a strong prevalence in the medical community of the idea that addiction is indeed an affliction that affects the brain. This view is based on scientific reasoning which sheds light on how addiction affects the brain, which is elaborated in the following section.

What happens in your brain when you’re addicted?

Whatever negativities that one may bestow on addiction, there’s no doubt that it’s an efficient worker, taking the ‘host’ down with an often-times brutal efficiency. This is how it works:

Your brain has a reward centre-a part of grey matter which releases the chemical “dopamine” which makes you feel oh-so-good whenever you indulge in an activity that promotes your survival. The mechanism of addiction takes this survival device and turns it on its head.

The substances or behaviour that one is addicted to can stimulate the reward centre, leading to the generation of dopamine in quantities two to ten times higher than is normal.

Hangovers and withdrawal symptoms

Hangover | Source: byedrink.comSource:

Producing dopamine in unnatural quantities makes the brain imbalanced with reagrd to chemical production once the effect of the substance wears off. This is what causes a hangover, and in many cases the withdrawal symptoms can be quite dramatic- physical pain, depression or rageful behaviour.

Physical dependency

Physical addiction | Source: Source:

If a substance is used over a prolonged period of time with regularity, the brain will cease producing dopamine naturally. To eke out dopamine from his or her brain, the addict will then begin to use the substance more earnestly leading to further addiction, making him or her physically dependent on the substance. In the absence of the substance in question, the withdrawal symptoms the person might experience include anxiety, physical agitation, hallucinations, sweating, bodily tremors, nausea and seizures. If that looks like a menu generated in a print-house in hell, that’s because it is.

Emotional/ mental dependency

Emotional addiction | Source: Source:

More often than not, addiction is a result of not having a sense of self-worth. The use of certain “pleasing” substances in this context can be manna from heaven for the users, making them feel that even they have the privilege of feeling good in this world. This makes them resort to their addictive behaviour more vehemently, so much so that they could exclude  important activities in their life for the sake of their addictive behaviour.

How do you know if you’re an addict?

The thing with addiction is that you are often the last person to know that you’re an addict. While by no means a fool-proof scientific process, answering these questions honestly to yourself will give you a good idea on where you stand:

  • Are you using the substance or engaging in the behaviour more often these days than you used to?
  • How strong/ disconcerting is the withdrawal symptoms you get in the lack of the substance/ behaviour?
  • Did you ever have to lie about the use of the substance or the extent of your behaviour?

In some pockets of the world at least, myths regarding addiction are still prevalent-like how it is something that’s entirely the addict’s fault or how it is a condition  to be blamed entirely on the substance one is addicted to. With a scientific understanding, such myths become irrelevant. And with a renewed understanding, people can approach the problem of addiction in a more humane manner. That, more than anything else is important to cure this ever-present malaise.


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