The word addiction originates from a Latin term meaning enslaved to or bound by, which is a very apt way to describe it. Addiction’s influence on the brain is very powerful, which is why it is so challenging for you to overcome it. It hijacks the brain in three distinct ways:
- A strong craving for a particular substance or activity
- Loss of control of it
- Continuing with it despite negative consequences
Experts in the field of addiction believed for many years that the only source of addictions were alcohol and drugs. Advanced diagnostic studies of the human brain and subsequent studies have proven otherwise, however. Pleasurable activities such as gambling, shopping, sex, and food can also take over your brain.
A Common Problem
Many people experiment with drugs or alcohol or find themselves engaged in an activity that they have become addicted to. Nearly 23 million Americans, approximately one out of every ten people, are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or some other harmful activity. The reasons are vast. Some of them are:
- Relieve stress, anxiety, or depression
- Pain management
- Improve athletic performance
- Fit in with others
- To have a good time.
Engaging in these activities does not automatically lead to addiction, however. Everyone is different. The way to determine an addiction has less to do with what or how much you are participating in it and more to do with the consequences of it.
If the chosen activity is causing problems in your relationships, or at work, home or school, you probably have an addiction.
The Pleasure Center
Your brain reacts to all pleasures the same way. It doesn’t matter whether we are engaging in addictive behavior or not. Technically, pleasurable behavior causes your brain to release something called dopamine. It originates from a cluster of nerve cells located in the cerebral cortex portion of your brain. This connection is so consistent that doctors actually refer to this portion of the brain as the pleasure center.
The result of addiction is that your brain actually goes through physical changes of structure and function. It begins with recognizing pleasure and ends with compulsive behavior. It is a chronic disease not unlike other diseases such as heart disease or diabetes where the heart or pancreas is physically affected and changed.
The Addict’s Brain
Recent research has indicated that the changes to your brain are rather complicated. Every time you participate in addictive behavior and your brain’s pleasure center is flooded with dopamine, it causes a chain reaction. A portion of your brain associated with memory records the activity and creates a rapid sense of satisfaction while another area of your brain creates a conditioned response to it. Addiction stimulates this circuit of your brain and then overloads it.
When the pleasure associated with your addiction subsides, the memory centers in your brain remember it and cause you to want to recreate it. There are certain environmental cues that trigger those memories, at which time an intense craving develops.
Are You Addicted?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it is time to seek a professional evaluation:
- Are you using or indulging in the activity more than before?
- Do you go through withdrawal symptoms without it?
- Have you ever lied to anyone about it?