Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a commonly misunderstood subject matter, and because of this many give credence to the following myths.

Myth: Using alcohol or other drugs is a choice, or if someone gets addicted, it’s their fault
Myth: If someone just uses willpower, they should be able to stop
Myth: You must apply “tough love” if you want people with addiction to change
Myth: Going to treatment will fix the problem
Myth: If someone relapses, they’re a lost cause
Myth: Drug addicts are bad people and are hopeless
Myth: You must hit rock bottom to have a successful recovery.
Myth: Do a drug once and you’re addicted

The early period of recovery can be a very vulnerable one and information received can influence the trajectory of the road to sobriety. Often, the feeling of guilt, shame, regret and worthlessness surfaces but what sets one apart from another is the ability to regulate and cope with positive and negative emotions. Understanding addiction is a tool that is necessary to help control the negative thoughts and regulate all emotions.

Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease, and it involves craving for the substance intensely, loss of control over its use and continuing it’s use despite the negative consequences one experiences (Drug Misuse and Addiction, 2024). In life, everyone embarks upon events and activities that brings pleasure. Experiencing pleasure makes us want to live and face a new day. The brain registers all pleasure in the same way, it cannot detect “good” pleasure from “bad” pleasure. When an activity or event is deemed pleasurable, the brain releases dopamine a chemical messenger which brings the feeling of pleasure and euphoria. This occurs with simple life activities such as sex, food, spending quality time with friends and family.

The pleasure and euphoria received from substance use is registered in the same way as natural pleasure however, it’s a bit cleverer in its approach as it hijacks the brain. It then causes the brain to release significantly more dopamine than natural pleasure can, hence the immense euphoria. Gambling, sex, and shopping can also hijack the brain in the same way as substance use and become addictive. Repeated use of addictive substances results in persons becoming addicted as the cells in the brain adapt to the excessive amounts of dopamine. Once cells in the brain adapt to the increase amount of dopamine then you no longer experience that initial euphoria, and you began to chase after the substance of interest (tolerance) (Drugs and the Brain, 2022).

What is even more interesting is that once we create this pleasure, the brain remembers this and lays down these memories as a rapid sense of satisfaction and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli (Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 2016). The marrying of pleasure and reward was meant to be an innate survival mechanism. Substance use has taken advantage of the pleasure-reward circuit and repeated use of any drug result in addiction. The memories of pleasure that are laid down in the brain can result in the desire to use drugs even after quitting for several years- the reason why addiction can be considered as “relapsing” disease. Willpower only plays a small role when it comes to recovery, and it is important to understand that no one factor can be consider as the sole reason for drug addiction. Consistent exposure to alcohol and other substances that is, environmental exposure can contribute to substance use, genetic predisposition, or a combination of both are some risk factors for addiction. Therefore, addiction is deemed treatable and can be managed successfully.

Recovery should focus on an overall lifestyle change, incorporating the mind, body, and soul as these are all intertwined and needs equal care and attention. Recovery encompasses a holist approach giving each member (mind, body, and soul) and an equal chance to heal to achieve complete recovery. Some successful approaches to recovery are psychotherapy, medication use when appropriate and self-care- the one that everyone seems to forget. A support system is also very important ad plays a crucial role in recovery. Your support system can include having a sponsor, attending AA meetings, and participating in other supports group with like minded individuals. Addiction education plays a crucial role in recovery.

Works Cited

Drug Misuse and Addiction. (2024, January 5). From NIDA: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction
Drugs and the Brain. (2022, March 22). From NIDA: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (2016, November). From NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424849/

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