by Kimberly Allen, RN
Addiction is currently being defined as “the continuous use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse dependency, consequences or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors.” In the past, addiction was believed to involve only alcohol or other drugs, however, recently the experts have determined that behaviors can also be addictive. Some of the most common behavioral addictions include gambling, shopping, exercise, and eating to name a few. Whether it’s substance addiction or behavioral addiction the one thing they all have in common is that they give pleasure to the person that is addicted. This has lead most Drs to the current theory explaining addiction which is that addiction begins in the brain. In the brain there are pleasure and reward circuits which release the neurotransmitter dopamine when activated. These reward centers activate whenever you do something that is pleasurable, whether it’s eating when you’re hungry or drinking when your thirsty, It’s this activation that makes addiction and dependence.
So if we can become addicted to anything why do some people become “addicted” while others don’t? For example why is it that we all buy things yet 9 out of 100 people in the US or why do15% of those that drink become alcoholics? Though researchers continue to study addiction they still do not fully understand it. Most of the current research involves the affects of the neurotransmitter dopamine as many believe the release of dopamine is the key to addiction. Dopamine is the chemical that makes us feel good, excited and alert. Some experts believe that people that do not find joy and satisfaction in their everyday lives tend to attempt to obtain that pleasure by doing something that activates the reward center in the brain to release dopamine. Experts stat that by flooding their brain with dopamine they get the joy and satisfaction that they aren’t getting. However, the problem is that an excess of dopamine will eventually impair the function of other areas of the brain. In turn this increases the need for more of the activity or substance in order to achieve the same effect. Though there are many theories most experts believe there is no one recipe for addiction. There are a wide variety of “ingredients” that can create an addiction including social environment, psychological demons, poor intellectual stimulation and genetics as well as learned behavior from other family members. One expert states that trying to mix the correct ingredients and the determining what caused the addiction as opposed to what was caused by it is similar to trying to figure out if the meat was tough before you cooked it or ifit was tough because you didn’t cook it properly. However, researchers have gained significantly more knowledge of the brain and how it’s involved in addiction, there is even the potential for medications that will eliminate insatiable cravings not just quench them.
People that have addictive personalities are usually thrill seekers and risk takers. The changes in their brain circuitry can cause them to expect a positive reaction to their activity or substance of choice before they even begin to participate. They have limited self control involving their activity or substance of choice while still being able to maintain impulse control in other areas of their life .
Addiction is a serious brain illness requiring treatment. There are a variety of therapies that can help treat addiction including counseling and behavior therapies as well as self help and medical treatments. The problem is the person that is addicted first needs to admit they have a problem before any treatment plan can be effective. There is no one treatment that fits all people, each treatment plan needs to be individualized and must also address the individuals many needs not just the addiction including any co-existing mental disorders like anxiety or depression. The most important component needed for effective treatment is behavior change. Recovery from any addiction is a long term process and frequently requires more than one episode of treatment.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.