Understanding addiction as we know it:
An Addiction is anything that we do, take or ingest knowing it can or does cause
us harm and/or that will interfere negatively in our lives in someway, yet we still
do it. This can be a drug or alcohol, food, shopping, stealing, gambling, etc.
It is a dysfunction of our brain’s reward (limbic) and/or control (frontal lobe)
centers, which is designed to help us to continue on our population/lives or
create success. Without these centers , we would not have the desires to do
things needed to take care of ourselves like eating, taking in water, being social,
developing, exercising or reproducing.
Unfortunately, when these areas of the brain are or become dysfunctional, that is
broken, then behaviors created from the cravings that are associated with them
can ultimately lead to harm or death. We have seen this time and time again with
the opiate crisis, alcoholism, etc.
So, the brain simply perceives any reward as good since each cause the release
or the “good feeling” dopamine. Dopamine and some serotonin are the
neurotransmitters responsible for that good or elated state of being from the
behavior. However, we know that some behaviors or actions causing the
dopamine release don’t create success, and in fact can be harmful, as with drug
or alcohol use. The drug, alcohol or activity stimulates the reward center, which
often cannot be overcome by the frontal lobe control center (wether immature or
damaged) leading to use or overuse from the often more significant dopamine
neurotransmitter release. Dopamine causes or floods the brain cells with such a
good feeling that it cannot be forgotten, often leading to severe cravings and
chronic use. Ultimately, interfering in most of life daily functions and relationships.
I say, the brain is dysfunctional in these cases, because not everyone
experiences the same responses from whatever the harmful event/stimulus is to
release any or as much of the dopamine to cause the pleasure or significant
reward. It should be noted that this reward feeling is usually around 10 times
(some drugs more) that of what someone would normally get from the dopamine
release from survival activities such as eating or copulation.
The dysfunctions can be genetic, in other words you’re born with it based on your
family genes that have been passed along to the next generations. It can be
acquired from being in an environment where patterns are created, leading to
overuse. The pattern or life changes can lead to actual genetic changes in DNA
for passing along to future offspring. This is called Epigenetics.
Or.. the abuse or disorder can be developed from continued use like a prior
medical injury requiring a long term use of pain medication. The body can
become addicted at that point from the toleration that develops with the long term
The big deal here is that substance use disorder or addiction is a brain disease
or disorder. It cannot be treated or respond similarly to illnesses like gallbladder
disease, which usually resolves after surgery. Instead, the disease is more like a
person with high blood pressure or diabetes. This treatment sometimes involves
medications, sometimes lifestyle changes, support and accountability, therapy or
all. It doesn’t just go away with one time therapy or dosing. This disease often
requires all the modalities mentioned above for longterm periods to help them
function to fight these often severe cravings, allowing the involved to continue life
normally and successfully.
Regardless, those with this disorder should not be scrutinized or judged for their
disease, but treated.
This disease is treatable so don’t let uneducated people get in the way of your
treatment and ability for success in life!
Dr Chip Backus
Emmaus Medical and Counseling