Addiction isn’t simply a habitual use of something or consistently doing the same thing over again, even when you know it is not good for you.
Addiction actually changes the chemistry within your brain, causing you to crave the substance you are addicted to and making it seem necessary for your existence. What starts out as a choice becomes more of a compulsion for some people. That is why rehab is necessary in most cases rather than simply stopping the behavior.
Who Becomes Addicted?
Addiction does not occur in everybody the same way. There are certain risk factors that increase one’s chances of becoming addicted to a substance. These include:
Certain genes within your body can make you more prone to addictions. These account for the majority of the risk factor. Having close relatives that are addicted to a substance can indicate you carry these particular genes.
Being surrounded by people who consider things like drugs and alcohol a part of their normal daily life can increase your risks. The ready availability of the substance and its acceptable use among peers; mix with the already-present genes, makes the risk of addiction greater.
- Age Factor:
There are certain periods of life when addictive substances can cause more damage. The earlier a person gets the first exposure to the substance, the more likely he is to get addicted. Moreover, people who are prone to mental illness or have failed to develop the crucial trait of stress management at young age are also more likely to become addicted.
What Happens in the Addicted Brain?
- Dopamine Is Released:
Dopamine is a natural neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate pleasure and emotion, among other things.
When dopamine is released a person feels happy. Many drugs stimulate this pleasure-causing neurotransmitter, and the feeling experienced makes an individual seek that feeling again and again.
Dopamine Receptors Shut Down:
When the brain becomes overwhelmed with the excessive amount of dopamine released, some of its receptors shut down and the dopamine is not processed effectively. This creates an increased requirement in the amount of the substance to produce the same feelings of pleasure. This, in turn, creates more receptors to shut down and a cycle is created that sees more receptors shutting down and more of the substance needed to experience the same amount of pleasure.
- Glutamate Levels Become Altered:
Glutamate regulates a person’s ability to learn and helps with cognitive functioning tasks such as memory.
Memory, the ability to reason, and the ability to learn are all hampered when this particular neurotransmitter can’t function properly. This leads the brain to rely on other parts to compensate.
- Conditioning Occurs:
One part of the brain that is enhanced is a memory area related to conditioning.
This part of the brain triggers a memory of pleasure to situations related to the substance use, such as certain places and people. These triggers cause you to remember the pleasure associated with the substance and thus your craving for that reward of pleasure is activated and you seek to satisfy that craving.
What Happens During Recovery?
During recovery from an addiction, several things take place:
- The Brain Heals:
Overtime, the absence of the substance of addiction allows the brain to normalize. Neurotransmitter levels become balanced and the receptors again become activated. The parts of the brain that had become dull get reactivated and once again start working normally.
- Reconditioning Occurs:
The associations related to the pleasure caused by taking the drug are gradually replaced with more productive ones. You learn to start thinking of the negative aspects of the drug use and this gradually causes you to want to avoid this unpleasantness.
In the meantime, creating positive association with a more productive activity helps you replace the side-effects of the drug on your brain.
- Behavior Modification Takes Place:
As the brain heals, the environmental factors and lack of coping skills can be addressed. Once a person learns effective ways of dealing with the circumstances that led to the initial drug use, they become empowered and able to constructively manage things like stress and peer-pressure.
That sense of power and success then becomes part of an internal reward system that helps the individual continue moving away from addiction.