Addiction– a word that too often is thrown around in today’s society. Go to any public place and I’m sure you would be able to hear someone talk about someone they know being addicted to something. I have heard the word used in the context of being “addicted” to watching the Bachelor on television, being “addicted” to their yoga class, or even to their favorite brand of ice cream. It has become a casual word, a word used flippantly to describe things that people like to do or eat or watch.
The truth is, addiction is a very heavy word. It is a word that ought to carry much more weight and understanding among all of us. Addiction is something that swallows up a persons drive, will power, decision making, morals, and energy. Addiction affects not only that person’s life but inevitably the lives of his or her family members, friends, and community.
I wanted to take an opportunity to make it clear how drug addiction affects the abusers brain
and body. Also, to discuss the impact of one’s vulnerability and childhood interactions and how they may come into play. Addiction is all-encompassing: medical, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual- it leaves no stone unturned.
Why Do People Turn to Drugs and Alcohol?
To Feel Better– stress relief, an escape from a traumatic or difficult reality, calm one’s anxiety, chronic pain
To Perform Better– demanding job, athletic performance, feeling of cognitive enhancement
Curiosity– children and teens are becoming exposed at earlier ages, peer pressure, is the norm in their family or community
So If It Feels Good Why Are Taking Drugs and Alcohol Bad?
In the beginning, it is a voluntary decision to pick up a bottle, joint, pipe, or pill. But that’s only the beginning… Once drugs (I’m just using the general term for drugs) enter the body, they can make you feel an intense “high”, telling the pleasure sensors in your brain that this is good for you- very similar to the chemical process of eating food. Your brain likes the feelings and along with the increase in pleasure chemicals, it can immediately begin the crave cycle for further use to keep that high.
Once this happens, drug abuses reach a point where nothing else in their world can make them as happy or as “numb to the world” than that drug. Things such as impulse control and even extreme thoughts to not get in over their head can completely go out of the window. The brain chemicals have changed the way a person thinks and feels.
Our brains and bodies have an amazing way of adapting to our environment, but on the negative side, adapting to a certain amount of drug means tolerance goes up, in turn, meaning the amount of drug taken needs to go up in order to feel the same pleasure. It is a vicious cycle that the abuser cannot control. Their world becomes dependent on that drug and often times that person will go to any length to get more before their high comes to an end. That is why there is a staggering percentage of drug related crimes.
Scientists have estimated that genetic factors account for 40-60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction
Individuals with mental disorders are at a greater risk of drug abuse and addiction (Bipolar Disorder, Mood Disorder, Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Psychotic Disorders, Impulse Control Disorders, etc).
Addiction is a developmental disease and usually begins in childhood or adolescence and continues to develop into adulthood.
Smoking or injecting drugs increases is addictive potential, producing powerful rush of pleasure 2- 10 times the amount a human brain would naturally produce.
(Above Taken from National Institute on Drug Abuse)
This brings me to my next point- Drugs And The Brain
Like I mentioned earlier, drugs target the brain’s reward/pleasure system. Drugs flood the brain with a chemical called dopamine. Our brains naturally produce dopamine, giving us a feeling of pleasure- such as through eating, sex, and exercising (on a side note, all three of these things are also common addictions because it affects the same pleasure chemical, dopamine. See the connection?).
Once the brain realizes that the drugs will give it dopamine, it adapts so that the brain doesn’t “need to” produce the same amount naturally. Once the drug wears off and the high starts to fall, and the brain isn’t producing nearly as much on its own anymore, it’s clear to see that the next default is to take the drug again. And again. And again. By that time the abuser is so lost in the cycle that it could seem nearly impossible to get them to “snap out”.
The dopamine impacts the reward/pleasure circuit of a drug abuser’s brain can become abnormally low, and the ability to experience any pleasure is reduced. This is why the abuser eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that previously brought them pleasure. This is how drugs latch on and dig in their nails.
In my years of working with people with addiction, there has always been an underlying tone.
A void that needs to be filled within them. This is not to say that every person who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol has been exposed to poverty, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, neglect, or domestic violence. Although those populations show an increase in the percentage of drug abusers and addictive patterns of behavior, it does not make up the entirety. So, what’s missing?
I think a lot has to do with one’s own level of vulnerability, self-esteem, and availability of healthy support networks. Ask any addict or recovering addict for that matter what their story is. It might not be the traumatic tragedy you might expect. A lot of wealthy, educated, and healthy family history individuals find themselves in the crucible of addiction. Why?
Vulnerability- I’m talking both genetic and individual vulnerability. Chances are that if someone in the family has addictive traits or an addiction themselves, that the likelihood will at least double. Individual vulnerability is how resilient one is to ridicule, peer pressure, and being able to accept who they are.
Self-Esteem– How one perceives self unto himself and in comparison to others. If self-esteem is suffering, it is much more likely that the individual will not stand up for his or her morals, judgments and societal rules.
Availability of Healthy Support Networks– It is always helpful to base opinions off of others and to receive feedback on decisions and curiosities. But when the support system available does not follow legislative standards, the observable “norm” becomes jaded and skewed.
No one is exempt from addiction. Addiction does not care if you are rich, poor, educated, illiterate, white, black, or purple. At some point in everyone’s life, self-esteem suffers. Peer pressure ensues. Judgments pass and prick the heart and mind. If you or someone you know is addicted, it’s more than just a “high” they seek. We need to get to the bottom of the fears and the inner quarrels, and attend to those. Once those are identified, understood, and accepted, then the real change can begin.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to the root of this, once and for all.