Addiction can be described as an intense, uncontrollable craving for something despite its adverse consequences. It is a powerful longing that alters the brain by subverting the way it perceives pleasure and corrupts other typical registries like motivation, learning, and self-preservation. While breaking from the chains of addiction is not easy, it is possible, for example through food addiction therapy.
The power and influence that addiction exerts on the brain are significant. It can manifest in three ways:
(1). A strong craving for something;
(2). A loss of control over its use;
(3). Unending involvement with it, irrespective of known dangers.
New Insights into the Problem
Often, addiction creeps in without the user knowing and discover they are caught in its snare, unable to free themselves.
According to data from surveys done by the government:
• Roughly 23 million American are addicted to drugs and alcohol (estimated 1 in 10 persons).
• More than two-thirds of the addicts battle with alcohol abuse.
• Pain killers, cocaine, and marijuana are the top three most used drugs that cause addiction.
The brain perceives pleasure of any type the same way. That means the satisfaction of eating a tasty meal, a sexual encounter, or a monetary prize as no different from pleasures derived from a psychoactive drug. For the brain, pleasure is the same. It has a distinct signature denoted by dopamine release, a neurotransmitter in a cluster of nerve cells known as nucleus accumbens located under the cerebral cortex.
The dopamine release is linked with pleasure in the brain’s region, which neuroscientists call the “pleasure centre.” The use of psychoactive drugs, from cocaine to nicotine, triggers substantial dopamine production in the nucleus accumbens. The use of the substances or the partaking in a pleasurable activity leads to addiction, which is closely associated with how fast it promotes dopamine release, its intensity, and the grantee it must happen.
Researchers held that experiencing pleasure associated with indulging in something was enough to prompt them to seek it again. However, recent studies suggest that things are more complicated than previously believed.
Dopamine contributes to the overall pleasant experience and can influence learning and memory. The two are vital elements that have a role in causing a person to like something and to crave it intensely.
The current addiction theory suggests that dopamine interacts with glutamate, another neurotransmitter, to subdue the brain’s system linked with reward-related learning. It is a system that plays a significant role in sustaining life since it closely associated with activities that promote human survival (things like eating, sex, and self-care) with pleasure and reward.
Development of Tolerance
The continued abuse will cause the brain to adapt in a way that makes the craved activity or substance less pleasurable.
Rewards are often attained through time and effort. Addictive substances or activities tend to offer a shortcut. They flood the brain with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, and it is not naturally designed to weather such an onslaught.
Compulsion Takes Over
When deprived of the addictive substance or activity will eventually lead to compulsion. The pleasure might subside, but its memory (the desired effect, need, or wanting) persists. It robs the user of the motivation to function normally.
Since addiction is a learning process for the brain, the same process comes into play. Information stored in the amygdala and hippocampus regarding environmental cues linked to the craved substance or activity is revisited. The memories then create a repeated response denoted as an intense craving when the user comes across the same environmental cues.
The overwhelming longing or desire for the substance or activity can lead to relapse even for persons with hard-won sobriety. For instance, a heroin addict could relapse after encountering a hypodermic needle, or a drunkard falls back into all habits after seeing a bottle of alcohol. It is all conditioned learning, which explains why addicts are prone to relapsing even have years of sobriety.