Addiction: What it is
Addiction is a surprisingly common issue with many people today. In fact, it’s estimated that around 21.5 million people in the USA alone suffer from substance abuse and addiction. The World Health Organization estimates around 5.4% of the global population suffer the effects of addiction.
This widespread issue can cost up to $200 billion in the USA. Meaning, addiction is a common issue worldwide. Despite this, it can be a hard thing to classify and treat. The reason for this is that it is a complex issue with more than one form.
In its simplest form, addiction is defined as a chronic disease of the brain that impacts the reward, motivation, and memory pathways in the mind. This can then impact behavior, leading to people engaging in the activity they are addicted to. The activity may include drug use, a certain action, or even excessive eating.
But, the main ways in which these pathways and circuits in the brain are affected depends on what type of addiction it is.
There are two main types of addiction: physical and psychological.
Psychological addiction is defined as an addiction that is mainly driven by an emotional motivation to engage in an activity. Again, the big difference here is a lack of physical withdrawal symptoms after an activity, like after drug use has stopped.
The main issues experienced when an activity is stopped is the desire to do it again. Although you know consuming whatever substance can be extremely harmful, you do it anyway. What most people don’t know is that psychological dependence, physical dependence, and addiction are three separate problems. Though they are separate, they tend to overlap – and each of them will negatively affect you. Examples of activities that are psychologically addictive include marijuana use, compulsive eating, or self-harm.
The opposite to the above type of addiction, physical addiction includes withdrawal symptoms when the activity is stopped. You have become physically dependent on the drug or activity and your body’s cells cannot function. These symptoms can include large changes in emotional state, insomnia, sweating, and shaking. Since the easiest way to get rid of the symptoms is by taking more of the substance – quitting isn’t as easy.
These can persist for a few weeks after stopping an addictive activity. But, how does use of a certain drug or engaging in a certain activity cause addiction?
How Addiction Hijacks The Brain
Many people think of addiction as a largely psychological or social issue. But, even “psychological” addiction occurs through physical changes in the brain.
One of the largest identified mechanisms of addiction is the impact of drug use on certain receptors. Drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and opioids (such as heroin) all act on receptors in the brain to cause their effect. These lead to effects like changes in certain chemical levels like dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, or GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. They cause certain electrical signals to fire in the brain. This rise or fall will deliver the effects of either stimulating or providing a euphoric or happy feeling to the user.
However, with repeated use of these drugs, the receptors these drugs bind to, as well as the ones the above chemicals bind to, are swallowed by their cells.
This causes both a lower amount of certain neurotransmitters to be released and blunts their effect on the brain. A blunted response to neurotransmitters can then lead to a higher threshold of a given chemical to attain a certain emotional state.
This means a drug may be needed to achieve an emotion like happiness or calmness. So, many seek out these drugs through desire or physical need to avoid the negative effects listed above.
Another long-term effect can be a “thinning out” of parts of neurons, which are nerve cells. This can interfere with their function and their effect on other areas of the brain.
So, many areas of the brain can be permanently changed with continued drug use, even after it has been stopped. These cause short and long-term changes in behavior and personality that may take a long time to treat.
How to Put a Stop to it
Contrary to what many people believe, addiction is a very physical issue. This issue is caused by a range of physical changes in chemistry levels in the brain. It is also caused by a change in receptors in the cell, which acts to reduce the level of chemical release and its effects on the brain.
This can lead to long-term changes in areas of the brain and nerve cells which impairs their function. These lead to changes in an addicted person’s behavior and emotional state. If left untreated, these can lead to relapse back into drug use and secondary problems like depression and overdose.
So, when looking at treatments or alcohol rehab, it is important to consider how addiction can impact an addict. This way, you can choose a comprehensive rehab program for yourself or a loved one and know that many of the experiences are normal and have physical reasons behind it.