At Monuments, many of our patients have addiction problems. It’s an unfortunate reality of life in America. We’ve covered some of the numbers and statistics in past blogs, such as the fact that 16% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has a substance problem.
While we all hear the term “addiction,” we don’t all really understand what’s involved. So, for this mid-summer pair of blogs, let’s get into the basics of addiction.
Addiction is a disease
Addiction formerly was seen as a personal shortcoming. No longer. Decades of scientific research have led to addiction being classified as a disease. It’s a complex disease that affects the brain, not a personal choice or personal failing.
We usually think of addiction with substances, but that’s not the only type of addiction. In fact, research has shown similar patterns of behavior in the compulsiveness that leads to both substance addiction, but also to behavior addictions, such as gambling addiction.
There are two types of addiction:
- Chemical addiction — This refers to addiction that involves the use of substances.
- Behavioral addiction — This addiction involves compulsive behaviors. These behaviors are persistent and repeated, even if they don’t really provide any benefit to the person.
How does addiction work?
There are a few general elements involved in any addiction.
- The reward system — Addiction interferes with normal brain function, particularly in the reward system. When something is enjoyable, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, along with other chemicals. Dopamine doesn’t actually cause feelings of pleasure or euphoria, but it reinforces the brain’s association between certain things and feelings of pleasure. This makes you seek those things out again.
- Cravings and tolerance — The desire to again have that euphoria creates cravings for the substance or behavior. This is especially true if the same cues are there, such as being at a party where people are drinking. As you continue using the substance of engaging in a behavior, your brain continues to produce larger amounts of dopamine, but it eventually recognizes it doesn’t need to do this, so it starts to produce less in response to normal triggers. Now, you need more of the substance to make up for what your brain isn’t releasing in response to the former lower/normal levels. This is tolerance.
- Disinterest in other activities — Because your brain no longer produces much dopamine in response to natural triggers, such as playing a game, having sex, or another hobby, the person loses interest in those activities.
- Loss of control — Addiction usually involves an inability to control substance use or specific behaviors. This leads to damage in other areas of the person’s life, such as job loss, relationship problems, health issues, and the like.
If you have a teen that is exhibiting signs of addiction, please give us a call at Monuments, (800) 559-1980. Let’s talk about how we can help.