Addiction is basically just a craving. However, it’s not just any craving. It’s intense. Those with addictions lose control over how they use what they crave, and they keep getting involved with it even with dire repercussions. Addiction can actually change the brain. It might start by subverting how pleasure is registered, but later it actually corrupts normal drives, including motivation and learning. Breaking any addiction is hard to do, but it is possible.
Addiction holds tremendous power over the human brain. It does so in a trio of different ways. The first is craving for the specific object of addiction, the second is loss of any control regarding its use, and the third is maintaining involvement even in the face of negative effects. If you are suffering from an addiction you may want to see addiction therapy.
Fresh insights into this common issue
No one plans to get addicted, although quite a few people still wind up caught in the trap. The statistics are disturbing.
In some Western nations, roughly 10 per cent of the population is addicted to things like drugs and alcohol.
Of people who have an addiction, two in three abuse alcohol.
The top three different drugs that people get addicted to include cocaine, opioid/narcotic pain relievers, and marijuana.
The principle of pleasure
The human brain registers all pleasures in an identical fashion. It doesn’t matter if it’s great sex, a good meal, getting money, or a psychoactive drug. The human brain has a specific signature for pleasure, which is a release of dopamine neurotransmitters. This happens inside the nucleus accumbens, which is a nerve cell cluster sitting below the cerebral cortex. Neuroscientists actually call this part of the brain its pleasure centre, given how dopamine release is very specifically linked with pleasure and the nucleus accumbens.
Whether it’s heroin or nicotine, any drug of abuse results in a substantial surge of dopamine throughout this part of the brain. The chance that using a drug or just being a part of a rewarding activity leads to addiction has a direct association with how fast the dopamine is released, how intense it is, and how reliable it is.
A learning curve
Researchers once thought that simply experiencing pleasure was stimulus enough to get people to keep seeking addictive activities or substances. However, later research indicates a far more complex storey. Dopamine doesn’t just contribute to pleasant experiences, as it also plays a crucial role in memory and learning. Both are essential elements in a transition from having a liking for something to actually getting addicted to it.
The current theories focusing on addiction suggest that dopamine has interactions with glutamate, which is another neurotransmitter. In doing so, dopamine might actually dominate the entire brain system related to reward-based learning. This system is crucial for sustaining life, since it makes links between activities necessary for the survival of the species, including sex and eating, with reward and pleasure.
In time, the human brain adapts in ways that start making the addictive activity or substance less pleasurable.
In the realm of nature, rewards typically only happen after effort and time are put into something. Addictive behaviours and drugs offer shortcuts that flood the brain full of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. The human brain simply has a hard time with this onslaught.
When this happens, compulsion arises. Any pleasure correlating to addictive behaviours or drugs will start to subside, even though the memory of the desired impact will persist. So too will the need or want to recreate it. It’s almost like the typical process of motivation isn’t working anymore.
The learning process that was mentioned a bit back matters here too. The amygdala and hippocampus both keep information regarding environmental cues that relate to addiction in order for it to be located once more in the future. These memories pave the way to conditioned responses, such as intense craving, anytime the individual has encounters with such environmental triggers.
Cravings don’t just lead to addiction. They can also ruin well-earned sobriety, leading to relapse. Someone addicted to heroin specifically might be in danger of potential relapse if they see hypodermic needles, for instance. Alcoholics might want to start drinking again if they see a bottle of rum. Conditioned learning makes it easier to understand why certain individuals develop a risk of relapse back into their addiction even years after they got clean.