A recent comment from a colleague about my “addiction” to coffee prompted me to wonder why some people become addicted to certain things while others appear to be asymptomatic.
According to Psychology Today, a person with an addiction uses a substance or engages in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeat the activity, despite detrimental consequences.
Addiction may involve the abuse of substances such as alcohol, inhalants, opioids, cocaine, and nicotine, or behaviors such as gambling, overeating, or compulsive buying.
Factors for Addiction
Addiction can happen to anyone from any background, social status, race, or gender. However, it is scientifically proven that many people have higher risk factors for substance abuse and addiction than others.
There are certain biological, psychological, and social aspects that influence the risk of addiction. These include a combination of genetics, family history, environmental, and developmental (negative life experiences) factors.
The connection between substance abuse and addiction often runs in families and can be passed down from parent to child. Deni Carise, chief scientific officer at Recovery Centers of America says, “The science is clear: (genetics) play a very real role in the development of alcohol or drug disorders.” (Cornercanyonhc.com)
Addiction is a disease that affects the normal functioning of the brain and body. Contrary to what many believe, it is not just a battle of willpower. Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), acknowledges that many people have difficulty understanding addiction as a disease. “A disease is basically described as damage to an organ or system that jeopardizes your well-being,” explains Dr. Volkow.
Those prone to addiction share a common key neurobiological component that can upset the normal functioning of the prefrontal cortex and interfere with normal levels of dopamine in the brain. The changes in the brain will affect impulse control, cause changes in personality, and cravings that can disrupt everyday activities including personal hygiene, family, and work.
In some cases, those who develop an addiction may not be fully aware of their behavior and its consequences. When the addiction is left untreated, the person will constantly need to increase their behavior to achieve the desired effect. Fortunately, with proper diagnosis and treatment, these changes in the brain are reversible and recovery is possible.
Similar to substance abuse, compulsive gambling also negatively affects the reward center of the brain. Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on one’s life. Gamblers risk something of value in the hope of getting something of even greater value. A compulsive gambler may continually chase bets that lead to losses, use up savings, and create debt. Some individuals with the disorder may hide their behavior and even turn to theft or fraud to support their addiction. (mayoclinic.org)
Until about a decade ago, gambling disorder was referred to by mental health professionals as “pathological gambling” and considered an impulse control disorder. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition) officially reclassifying gambling disorder as an addiction due to the increasing scientific data showing that gambling activates the brain’s reward system in the same way as a drug like alcohol, opioids, or cocaine.
Addiction is a chronic medical condition that may be difficult to diagnose and treat. While the signs can be clear, obtaining a proper clinical diagnosis is important for treatment, withdrawal management, and recovery.
The criteria for diagnosing addiction fall into 4 major categories according to DSM-5.
- Impaired control
- Social impairment
- Risky use or behavior
- Physical dependence (tolerance and withdrawal)
Recovering from an addiction can feel like a rollercoaster ride. In most cases, relapse is common. Not just once but multiple times. Therefore, it is critical to show support to someone trying to kick an addiction. A person who relapses should not be viewed as a failure. Instead, they should be encouraged to restart their recovery as soon as possible.
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