Most of us have heard of addiction, but we might not be able to define it. Due to this lack of clarity, we might be unsure if we’re experiencing it or seeing it in someone else.
Addiction is when you continue to use substances or engage in behaviors despite negative consequences. It involves a compulsive desire or craving for the drugs, alcohol, or behavior due to changes in the brain’s reward system.
In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine updated their definition of “addiction” to read as follows: “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry…This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours.”
When you use drugs or alcohol chronically, your brain gets flooded with dopamine. In order to maintain balance, the brain responds by reducing dopamine receptors. It then becomes harder to feel pleasure from natural rewards; the brain recognizes the drug or alcohol as the way to feel good, even if it no longer brings pleasure. Substance misuse also changes other areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in impulse control and decision-making.
On a psychological level, addiction is often described as when a person uses something external in order to cope with internal feelings. While drugs, alcohol, or the behavior can become a major problem in the person’s life, those things are a symptom of a larger issue.
Addiction is complex, and the reasons people become addicted are equally complex. Genetics account for half the risk, but if you are genetically predisposed you won’t necessarily become addicted. Trauma, environmental factors, co-occurring mental health disorders, and much more also play a large role.
No matter what you are addicted to, recovery is always possible. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build the coping skills to get through challenges without drugs or alcohol. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.