Addictions and Addictive Behaviors

       Addictions are not just drug and alcohol related.  A person can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with numerous things. Some researchers imply that there are similarities between physical addiction to various chemicals, such as alcohol and heroin, and psychological dependence to activities such as compulsive gambling, sex, pornography, work, gaming, running, exercise, shopping, eating disorders, etc. "Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person's life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, psychologically or socially is considered an addictive behavior" (Engs, 1987).  This is typically unconscious behavior, but is nonetheless the result that the behavior produces.  While the initial decision to use addictive substances is voluntary, addiction becomes a condition in which the absence of the particular substance or behavior causes a psychological or physiological need.

 

       Addiction is often considered a chronic relapsing disorder. The Diagnostic Standards Manual IV (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as the continued compulsive use of a substance or compulsive behavior in spite of adverse health or social consequences. Some researchers consider addiction a brain disease because drugs change the structure and neurocircuitry of the brain. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors (NIDA, 2013). 

         

        There is a mechanism in our brain commonly referred to as “the pleasure center” or "reward pathway", which consist of pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our will power, our judgments, logic and morality; decreasing activity in the pre-frontal cortex. This leads the addicted person to abandon what s/he knows is right.  We can recognize this pattern when an addicted person has let her/his character, responsibilities, integrity and morality slide and take a back seat in order to obtain a “high”.  Even other vital needs such as sleep, food, and proper nourishment can be put off to attain it. When that happens, the hook is set and the addiction takes control.

 

 

 
 
 
 

          

 

 

 

         What factors affect a person's vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction? Vulnerability is a product of the interaction of a person’s biology, environment, comorbidity, and age. In other words, the familiar nature vs. nurture theory or the diathesis stress model both affect a person’s vulnerability. Diathesis refers to a predisposed genetic vulnerability or susceptibility to addiction (epigenetics), while stress refers to environmental stressors or triggers that can lead to an addiction. Research shows that people generally take drugs to either feel good (i.e., sensation seekers or those who are enticed by experimenting and risk-taking), or to feel better and avoid pain (i.e., self-medicators or individuals who take drugs in an attempt to cope with difficult problems or situations. (NIDA, Drug Abuse And Addiction, p. 12). 

 

         The seriousness of addiction disorders should not be underestimated. Many people simply brand addicted persons as defiant, lazy, and irresponsible. This attitude is frequently seen among authority figures, such as parents, family, or teachers of addicted children or teens. Moral and behavioral theorists would argue that in adolescent cases, addictions were initiated from peer and social pressure for the sake of social acceptance or gaining social status, or as a rite of passage into adulthood that impelled addiction. Either of which suggests that moral values and structure systems were not well founded. 

         

         Addictions frequently develop because of emotional pain from one’s past, e.g., abuse, belittling, or criticism, which can lead to perfectionism in the individual (Hagedorn and Moorhead, 2010) or feelings of guilt and shame. In most cases, however, individuals with addictive behaviors have either a biochemical disorder, came from an abusive (psychologically, verbally, physically, sexually) family or have endured other adverse childhood experiences (ACE) related to environmental, cultural, social, or other types of extreme stress or trauma. It would be fair to say that addictions are often a response to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder (ASD), including the recent loss of a loved one, or subsequent behaviors that developed after the occurrence of child abuse or molestation.          

 

           Addiction also has a biogenetic link and is twice as likely if members of the family have used or abused drugs or alcohol. "Individuals who have developed strong coping skills to deal with life's pressures have less risk of becoming addicted to drugs. The younger a person is when s/he begins using drugs, the more likely s/he is to become addicted. This may be true because younger individuals have not developed the coping skills necessary to deal with life's ups and downs” (Stevens & Smith, 2013). The etiology of addiction is multi-faceted and complex. It remains difficult to distinguish between substance use as a cause of problems or as the consequence of problems because of the many factors involved in addiction. 

 

         Some people use “downers” such as marijuana, alcohol, sedatives or pain killers to calm and medicate hyperactive brain systems. Or some use “uppers” such as cocaine, caffeine, and methamphetamine's to stimulate underactive areas of the brain. Unfortunately, these substances are harmful, addictive and can cause brain damage, even permanent damage and are no medication at all. A person suffering from traumatic disorders may engage in disruptive or destructive coping mechanisms, often without being fully aware of the causes of their own actions. Some traumatized individuals may feel permanently damaged when trauma symptoms do not go away and they do not believe their situation will improve. This can leave them with feelings of despair, helplessness, loss of self-esteem, lack of self-love, frequent depression, feeling anxious if they do not have control over their environment, and/or even perfectionism by having impossible expectations of themselves. This often leads to addictive behaviors. Triggers and cues act as reminders of trauma, and cause anxiety, panic attacks, anger, mood swings and other associated emotions. Consequently, intense feelings of anger may frequently surface, sometimes in very inappropriate or unexpected situations, as danger may always seem to be lurking as it was experienced from past events. Self-destructive behaviors will continue to ensue until we have sufficiently reprocessed and reframed these traumatic memories and focus on developing a healthier and more peaceful relationship with ourselves and our past experiences.

 

             Dealing with feelings and emotions may be one of the most difficult aspects of human relations. Partly to blame, is that our culture does not value open expression of feelings and emotions. At an early age, we learn to control, deny, or mask our feelings. This is often reinforced with an emphasis on intellectual achievement, which conditions us to restrain and deny our feelings and emotions.  Unfortunately, denied and suppressed emotions do not just go away. Depending on their intensity or how long they have been suppressed, these unresolved emotions can manifest themselves in a variety of ways such as problems in relationships—with either ourselves or with others, depression, anxiety, fatigue, headaches, and psychosomatic illnesses. It is important to recognize that feelings and emotions are an integral part of ourselves, and to accept them how they are, without judment, so they can mature and be transformed. A constructive approach is to learn to express our feelings and emotions in ways that encourage personal growth and healthy relationships. 

 

         People can spend years trying to heal making little progress when just scratching the surface. A New Direction Recovery & Wellness can assist you in addressing the emotional origins that are causing upsets in your life. Like weeds, core issues need to be pulled up by the roots; otherwise they’ll keep coming up over and over again. We can aid you in subjugating the urges and temptations toward addiction, by providing you with the proper coping skills, encouraging you to face the real issue of the pain inside, remedy what is ailing you, and identify what triggers are causing you to reach out for a destructive escape. Turning to an addiction is nearly always a way to escape in an effort to medicate the hurt or pain that you’d rather avoid, hide or ignore. Have you ever felt an emptiness or void deep inside you? Nearly every addiction or suicide can be traced to a sense of meaningless, worthlessness, or no purpose worth living for. A painful or tragic event merely triggers it. According to the ACIM, depression comes from a sense of being deprived of something you want and do not have, but in actuality you are deprived of nothing; except by your own perceptions and decisions. We can help you reframe faulty beliefs and perceptions and free you from depression, guilt, shame, and addiction. We're here to help!   

Where Do Addictions Come From?

© Healthy by Nature

REFERENCES


Allison, Fontaine, Manson, Stevens, & Vanltallie, (1999). American Medical Association.

Gene-Jack Wang, Volkow, N. (2001). Brookhaven National Laboratory Medical Department, and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Johnson, P., K.enny, P.  (2010). Therapeutics, The Scripps Research Institute, Jupiter, Florida. Neuroscience 13,635–641.

Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed S. (2007). “Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward.” PLoS ONE.

Manual for Drug & Alcohol Credentialing (2014). ISBN: 978-0-9908384-0-1, p. 278.

Pert, C. (1997). Molecules of Emotion, The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.

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