Lessons >>> Lesson 27
Addiction is a dependence, on a behavior or substance that a person is powerless to stop. The term has been partially replaced by the word dependence for substance abuse. Addiction has been extended, however, to include mood-altering behaviors or activities. Some researchers speak of two types of addictions: substance addictions (for example, alcoholism, drug abuse, and smoking); and process addictions (for example, gambling, shopping, overeating, etc.).
Alcohol use and gambling, for instance, although actively promoted and encouraged, can easily get out of control and absolutely require a level of self-control and insight that many people don't have.
Alcohol is often termed 'our most popular drug' though many people do not acknowledge it as a drug. Despite this the deaths (around 33,000 every year***) attributable to this drug are only overshadowed by nicotine.
Many researchers believe that addiction is a behavior that can be controlled to some extent and also a brain disease. And since some testing with functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) found that all addictions tend to cause nearly the same reactions inside the brain, there could be one type of control model for addiction health-related issues.
Others express the opinion that some of us have an addictive personality and therefore are more likely to have problems than others.
In other words, just as there is one disorder or disease labeled asthma, there would be one for addiction, covering all addictions. Then one main treatment strategy or plan could be used to treat all addictions.
How addiction works in a nutshell is like this. The brain, the center of the body’s nervous system, handles addiction by increasing dopamine levels in response to increased reactions from behaviors, also referred to as compulsions, like gambling or overeating, and/or in response to increased repeated episodes of substance abuse, like from cocaine or alcohol. And this addiction affects the three functioning processes of the nervous system, sensing, perceiving and reacting. How? Let’s take a quick peek…
Dopamine, the chemical transmitter to the “pleasure center”, the place where survival instincts like eating and reproduction focus in the brain, activates cells individually or energizes them. Each energized cell in turn energizes another cell, and so on down the line, resulting in a spontaneous process of ecstasy or feelings of elation.
The problem is the brain doesn’t realize what it is that is causing the ecstasy reaction. So when this flutter of activity increases the creation of dopamine for the negative behaviors and substances like drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc., it neglects the natural survival instinct reaction mechanisms, replacing them with the ecstasy instead.
Depending upon the addiction, nervous system functions are altered. So sensing, perceiving and reacting functions of individuals are impeded. For example, alcohol is a depressant and slows down all of these functions. So a drunk driver facing an immediate collision will in all likelihood react slower than a healthy, alert driver. And whether or not the addictive substances are inhaled, going into the lung system; or injected, traveling via the blood system; or swallowed, entering the digestive system also affects different bodily reactions, responses and overall health.
One long-term effect is an increased tolerance level with dopamine reaching out into other brain areas that cloud judgment and behavioral considerations and choices. And ultimately depression results, even amidst opposing or negative stimuli, like the negative effects of narcotics on behaviors and on the body/mind and like trying to withdrawal or discontinue use.
Other long-term effects can include changing of the brain’s shape and possible permanent brain damage, depending upon the addiction and length of compulsive activity.
Millions of people are addicted to alcohol and drugs. What most people don't realize is that family members, friends and coworkers also feel the impact when someone is addicted. Each person addicted could affect many more that suffer from the emotional or physical consequences of living with, loving or working with him or her.
People take drugs for many reasons: peer pressure, relief of stress, increased energy, to relax, to relieve pain, to escape reality, to feel more self-esteem, and for recreation. They may take stimulants to keep alert, or cocaine for the feeling of excitement it produces. Athletes and bodybuilders may take anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass.
People who use drugs experience a wide array of physical effects other than those expected. The excitement of cocaine high, for instance, is followed by a “crash”: a period of anxiety, fatigue, depression, and an acute desire for more cocaine to alleviate the feelings of the crash. Marijuana and alcohol interfere with motor control and are factors in many automobile accidents. Users of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs may experience flashbacks, unwanted recurrences of the drug's effects weeks or months after use. Sudden abstinence from certain drugs results in withdrawal symptoms. For example, heroin withdrawal can cause vomiting, muscle cramps, convulsions, and delirium. With the continued use of a physically addictive drug, tolerance develops; i.e., constantly increasing amounts of the drug are needed to duplicate the initial effect. Sharing hypodermic needles used to inject some drugs dramatically increases the risk of contracting AIDS and some types of hepatitis. Many drug users engage in criminal activity, such as burglary and prostitution, to raise the money to buy drugs, and some drugs, especially alcohol, are associated with violent behavior.
Unlike chemical addiction, gambling is a hidden disease - gambler does not stumble, have needles in their arm, or smell of cards and dice. Pathological gamblers cannot overdose in the conventional sense, but they experience tremendous financial problems that require immediate attention.
Similarities between chemical dependency and pathological gambling include an inability to stop/control the addiction, denial, severe depression, and mood swings.
Recovery from any addiction is hard. Both acute and post-acute withdrawal must be allowed to occur without resorting to the addiction, the emotional issues that helped to cause the addiction initially have to be addressed, and the damage in the person's life caused by the addiction must be gradually healed as much as possible.
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