What Is Addiction?

Addiction can be defined in many different ways depending on an individual’s substance of choice, situation, and pattern of behavior, but something that is continuously recognized by psychologists today is that addiction and the brain correlate. As many of us know, the brain has different systems that control specific functions of the body from communicating with others to the emotions felt day to day. Addiction is a disease that can unfortunately become a chronic disease for many Americans leading to a life-long battle of substance abuse.
Drugs and alcohol are commonly discussed in terms of addiction, but the term addiction is much broader than those substances. Both illegal drugs and prescription drugs are misused in America today. Behavioral addictions, such as addictions with gambling, food, and sex exist as well. Researchers are discovering that behavior addictions express similar changes in the brain as other addictions. Therefore, even though addiction can be a broad term, similar risk factors, behaviors, and treatments are resulting.

The Brain’s Reward

Your brain has a pathway called the “reward pathway.” When something initially brings you pleasure, a neurotransmitter (or a chemical messenger) known as dopamine releases through the reward pathway. Dopamine is then transmitted to different systems of the brain consisting of functions such as emotions, motor skills, attentiveness, planning, and memories. Therefore, when a drug brings you pleasure, your body initially recognizes it as a great experience, recognizes what you physically did to feel that great experience, and remembers the exact situation. When your body remembers all the specifics of that “reward,” you become focused on the drug and want more. Understanding how using a drug triggers the reward pathway of the brain is just the first step of helping you recognize why addiction can become chronic battle for so many Americans today.

Dangers of Dependence

Addiction can lead individuals to a feeling of dependence and eventually taking control of their daily life. As your body remembers a certain substance as enjoyable, it wants more. Repeatedly abusing the particular substance will lead to a state of dependence, or allow your body to rely on that experience on a regular basis. Certain drugs can cause more dependence than others. When your body focuses on a certain substance as a pleasurable experience, you want to feel that pleasure more and more. As the want for a drug increases, so does the usage, and then tolerance sets in. Tolerance is when repeated use of a substance causes the brain to acclimate to the experience and, therefore, reduces the reward center’s ability to react and feel the same way as when the substance was initially taken. More frequent or higher doses of a substance are then taken, leading to potential overdose.

showing brain reward from addiction

Why Me?

Both genes and environment play a big role in the cycle of addiction. Determining an individual’s genetic makeup can help predict the risk for certain diseases. With addiction being defined as a disease, genes can be inherited that may or may not lead to a person having an addictive personality. It is important to acknowledge that even though a person may inherit addictive genes, that does not mean that particular person will suffer from addiction.

Will Other People Notice My Addiction?

Addiction can lead to changes in behavior, work, and social life. Family members or loved ones are often the first to notice these changes. Unfortunately, addiction can negatively impact relationships and careers. Some changes addiction can contribute to in an addict’s life are difficulties in school or work and changes in appearance. Continuously being late or absent from school or work obligations cannot only cause educators and bosses to worry, but also affect success in these areas. Looking disheveled and not keeping up with grooming or personal care are some of the external changes that addiction can affect. With chronic addiction, completing daily tasks or accomplishing life-long goals becomes a struggle. A lack of motivation and energy is experienced leading to other negative outcomes.

woman wondering why me