When we hear the word addiction, drugs such as alcohol, heroin and cocaine often come to mind, but other substances like nicotine, marijuana, and prescription pain medications can also be addictive. Behaviors such as gambling, video gaming, sex and spending can also be addictive and these are called process addictions.
Addiction involves craving, and a loss of control with the substance use or activity continuing, even if it causes harm. This can include problems with relationships, jobs, school, money, or your health.
What Causes Addiction
Addiction has been described as a global humanitarian crisis. It affects millions of people around the world and has been the subject of numerous media depictions. Addiction is potentially one of the most stigmatized conditions there is.
Addiction is not due to weakness or a lack of willpower. Instead, it involves changes in the brain where billions of nerve cells (neurons) communicate through a series of signals and chemical messengers. Where messages leave one neuron, they attach to a receptor on the receiving point11.G. Jackson, American Psycholigical Association, American Psycholigical Association.; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/mar05/dopamine, like a key fitting into a lock.
In addiction, this communication process is disrupted. Large amounts of a brain chemical called dopamine are released, overwhelming receptors and resulting in the ‘high’ that people experience. To keep the feeling going, they take the drug or engage in the behavior repeatedly.
Eventually, the brain changes and adapts22.A. B. CEO Worlds Best Rehab Magazine, Science of Addiction | What is the Actual Science of Addiction?, Worlds Best Rehab.; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.worldsbest.rehab/science-of-addiction/, driving them to seek out more just to get the same feeling which is called ‘tolerance’. When tolerance increases or decreases its easy to take too much of a substance or a combination of substances. This overwhelms the brain and stops it sending signals to the rest of the body. This is what can result in an overdose and serious illness, and often death.
Young People & Addiction
Young people are especially vulnerable to addiction. The impulse control center of their brains, known as the prefrontal cortex33.S. V. Siddiqui, Neuropsychology of prefrontal cortex – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738354/ isn’t fully developed, making them more prone to risky behavior and using substances that can cause lasting harm to their developing brains.
If you think your child might be experimenting with substances, talk to them about it. Parents can help by teaching their kids healthier ways to deal with life stresses. Remember, like any other disease such as diabetes or asthma, addiction can be successfully treated, so if you or someone you know has a problem with addiction, talk to your doctor, a mental health professional or an addiction specialist.