Addiction is so much more than a phase that you overcome through willpower. You have seen it before, either because someone you know is an addict, or you have been addicted to a substance.
Despite the wide awareness of addiction and its effects, it remains highly misunderstood because of all the misinformation that goes around. We wonder why it is so difficult for someone to stop using a substance, but the truth behind that is much more serious.
The Truth Behind Addiction
In reality, addiction involves you craving something very intensely, either a substance or something else like shopping or food. It also involves losing control over how you use it, even if it is causing you direct harm – this is what makes it a difficult cycle to break, unless you willingly seek help.
The major reason why addiction is difficult to break is because of how it affects your brain. It first changes the manner that the brain perceives relief, then proceeds to change other processes in your body, such as your motivation and learning abilities.
What Is the Cause of Addiction?
Coming from the Latin word ‘addico’, it originally means ‘to devote’ or ‘devotion’. That means you cannot handle anything else as long as you do not have that addiction source, so in a way it enslaves you. If you have seen someone struggling to overcome their addiction or you have struggled with it yourself, then this meaning is very understandable to you.
The influence that it has on the brain is powerful and long, and it shows up in three ways – a very strong and intense desire to use the object (cravings), the loss in your control when you use it, and continuing its use even though it is resulting in negative consequences.
It has been a common belief for many years that addiction was only regarding powerful drugs and alcohol. However, recent research proves there are other kinds of addiction, as long as the activity ispleasurable. These include gambling, sex and exercise. There is also a growing school of thought that multiple addictions are really a part of a whole underlying process in the brain, as they are not that different from each other.
There are some interesting insights into the issue. One of them is that almost 23 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol, while two-thirds of them abuse alcohol. In addition, the top three abused drugs are cocaine, marijuana, and pain relievers (in no particular order).
Above all, it is important to realize that addiction is more of a disease, because it alters the structure and functions of your brain – making it more than just an issue of willpower. It hijacks it, similar to the way diabetes will stop the pancreas form doing its job effectively, and how cardiovascular illnesses will affect the heart and circulatory system negatively.
The Principle of Pleasure
All pleasurable things and activities are processed in the same way in your brain, regardless of where they originate from – a delicious and satisfying meal, a psychoactive drug, winning a sport, monetary rewards, and so on.
The brain always has a specific process, as it releases a neurotransmitter, dopamine, from a section called the nucleus accumbens. This region is made up of some cells clustered together, and is located under the cerebral cortex. The consistency of the process during such activities is what makes this region of the brain to be termed as the brain’s pleasure center. When the hippocampus senses the change in pleasure levels, it will lay downthe memories, and the amygdala will condition the response to the stimuli.
When you consume a psychoactive drug such as cocaine or heroin, the brain is triggered to release an overwhelming amount of dopamine, which floods the brain at different rates. The likelihood of you becoming addicted to a substance or activity will therefore depend on the speed of dopamine release, its intensity, and if the release is reliable to stay for a long time.
In the case of drug and substance abuse, this even includes the methods you consume the substance. For instance, when you inject heroin or snort it, it will produce a faster release of dopamine compared to when you swallow it as a pill. That makes it more likely that you will abuse the drug, and become addicted to it faster.
The Learning Curve of Addiction
The situation behind addiction is clearly a complicated one, as dopamine also has a major role in recovery and learning. These are very important when you are trying to understand the learning process, as well as understanding how someone transitions from simply liking something to becoming an addict.
Dopamine in overwhelming levels will interact with other neurotransmitters in the brain, especially glutamate. This will help it take over the brain system of reward based learning – the part that links the survival systems lie eating with the reward and pleasure centers. It will also affect the processes of memory and learning, and then overload them.
This will result in the nerve cells in these regions of the brain to communicate with one another that they want that response again, and this begins a vicious cycle of compulsive behavior and use that you cannot control. In other words, it motivates you to seek out the source of pleasure no matter the consequences.
How Does Tolerance Develop?
As time goes by, the brain adapts to the substance, making the same quantities less relieving. Because the brain is used to these shortcuts (as opposed to the natural way of taking time before experiencing pleasure), it cannot handle a drought.
The receptors in the brain become overwhelmed and they cannot function as they used to, so the brain eliminates some of them. This means you have less impact on the reward center, and the substance does not provide you with relief as it did, unless you consume more of it. This is called tolerance.
In summary, the science behind addiction explains why it is very difficult to just quit, unless you seek help. This will give better strategies on how to combat using the substance, as well as answering the question why you should avoid drug and substance abuse like fentanyl abuse in the first place.