Can Always Quit: How Addiction Forms

DEPENDENCE CAN AFFECT ANY PERSON, whatever their social status or wealth – many celebrities openly talked about their problem, for example Ben Affleck or Carrie Fisher . Drug and alcohol abuse and unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking are the first to come to mind when we talk about addiction, although it can take many different forms: some are obsessed with sex, like David Duchovny , and others – shopping, social media or coffee. Let’s figure out how addiction is formed, how it differs from addiction and what to do if the situation has gone too far.   

Why addiction is
a disease

It is impossible to count how many people are addicted to something, because even by this term itself they can mean different states. In the International Classification of Diseases (in the current tenth version, that is, ICD-10), addiction syndrome is described as a group of phenomena that occur with repeated use of a substance and include a strong desire to take a drug, lack of self-control, use despite harmful effects, a higher priority of use drugs in front of other actions and obligations, increased tolerance to substances. Simply put, a person sees in front of him only one goal and cannot think about anything else until he achieves his goal, and this goal is a drug.   

It turns out that addiction is a state when a person begins to physically need a particular substance. What is often referred to as “psychological dependence” is better formulated as “addiction” or “addiction” – these conditions are included in the group of disorders of habits and impulses and include, for example, kleptomania or the need to gamble. It also happens that a person, for example, drinks alcohol in excessive quantities, although he has no real dependence – then the situation is called abuse or harmful use. Shopping, computer games or the constant use of a smartphone are not mentioned in the ICD – until these addictions are included in the lists of addictions or addictions.      

How addiction differs from addiction

So, “real” addiction – alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine – is associated with physical withdrawal. When there is no access to a substance, a person becomes ill, and a dose of this substance relieves suffering. With an addiction to sex, the Internet or food, withdrawal syndrome is only psychological, and in theory, this should be easier. But, of course, addicted to shopping or the Internet do not care whether their problem is included in the medical list, especially since it can be expanded – for example, a pathological craving for gambling has already been recognized as a disease.  

Addiction or addiction decides for a person what to do, and consciousness only obeys – or turns off altogether. Therefore, there are stories like “I don’t remember how I got here” and “I wanted to check my mail, but I woke up two hours later on Facebook.” Addiction differs from any ritual or habit in that it is it that dictates the rules, subordinates and deprives of choice. Because of this, some lose their health, other money, and still others, in general, everything, including life. What are we ready to trade freedom for? Only for pleasure. While addiction can be eradicated even if it has gone far, it is extremely difficult without support. Fighting your own nervous system on your own is not an easy task. 

How pleasure forms addiction

The feeling of pleasure is provided to us by a neurotransmitter (biologically active substance) called dopamine . He is also responsible for the anticipation of pleasure, the sweet feeling of expectation, which is sometimes stronger than the event itself. Of course, millions of processes occur simultaneously in the body, but if we simplify it very much, then the formation of habits and patterns occurs as follows: when we expect pleasure and get it, a lot of dopamine is produced and so-called positive reinforcement occurs – the feeling that we did everything right. If we are disappointed, then there is little dopamine, and “negative reinforcement” is formed, which reminds us how not to do it. Templates and shortcuts appear in our heads, and the more often we follow the same pattern, the faster we get used to it.  

A typical situation: you need to decide what to do – finish a project, go to bed or hang out on social networks. The project and sleep are more important, but from them the dopamine source will not open: they will pay anyway only next month, lack of sleep will respond with a headache only in the morning, but the Internet with its dopamine is very close. The “release” of dopamine is controlled by a department of the nervous system called the midbrain. You can imagine how this “caretaker” looks into the ledger, where “sleep” and “work” are marked in red, and “Internet” – in green. And the middle brain announces: dopamine is not supposed to sleep and work, come with the Internet – then I will give it to you.

The striatum, another important part of the brain, is the “connected”. It sends a signal to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which acts as a “controller”, that there is a chance to receive dopamine. Cora makes a beautiful image of pleasure and approves: you have to get on the Internet, otherwise you have to suffer. If you repeat this chain often, then sooner or later the “connected” stops asking, but simply acts according to a working scheme. The brain lays a path along which nerve impulses run, and the wider and more reliable it is, the easier it is to act according to one scheme.  

That is precisely why training, constant exercises and repetitions are effective: the more we work on the same thing, the easier it is to achieve results. And here addiction is no different from any other process – each time it is easier to succumb to temptation. And each time it is more difficult not to obey the inner voice that promises pleasure: the brain simply follows the trodden path, trying to get dopamine in the fastest way. 

Finding pleasure
or escape from problems

At the same time, it is not so easy to earn addiction: for most people, the dose of dopamine that is released in response to a stimulus is not enough to turn off the prefrontal cortex and turn a person into a zombie. There is a predisposition to addiction – and someone is just lucky if resistance to any addictions came from their ancestors. In addition, addiction will not allow, for example, to arise, a stable psyche of a person who is just good at controlling aspirations. Finally, there are people who noticed in time that substances or actions take up a lot of space in life, and were able to stop or seek help.  

Of course, external factors also contribute to the development of addiction – the situations in which a person finds himself, or his way of life. The easiest way to illustrate this is by experiments: in one of them, rats in cages were given unlimited access to the drug, and the animals brought themselves to seizures and death, constantly taking new doses. In another , special cages were first built for animals with toys, slides, entertainment and other rats. In such conditions, the rats used drugs, but they had enough occupations and interests so as not to bring themselves to an overdose.      

People are not rats, and life is more complicated than experiments, but a certain logic is obvious: if the cell is empty and there is no need to wait for pleasure, then the source of light dopamine will attract to itself like a magnet. One of the main mechanisms through which addiction or addiction is formed is an attempt to drown out longing, disappointment or dullness with the help of something simple and bright, “seize stress” or “wash down troubles.” There is already a correlation between depression and internet addiction; like manner correlated post-traumatic disorder and food addiction. Scientists have not yet decided what is more important for the formation of addiction: the desire to get to pleasure or an attempt to hide from problems. But it is clear that these processes are related.     

And yet, in most cases, addiction does not develop, even if a person drinks from time to time or may hang at the computer for the night. You can be proud of willpower or self-discipline, but in fact, we still do not know how to treat addiction – as a disease that is embedded in our genes and suddenly manifests itself, or as an attempt to solve psychological problems. It is only clear that addiction is not an absolute choice of a person. Few people want to change time and energy, let alone health, for substances or destructive actions. We are drawn into this game by our own brain, and it is not always possible to stop in time. 

What to do about it

When addiction is caused by substances that change the processes in the brain and cause withdrawal symptoms, then medications will be required for treatment , which, under the supervision of a doctor, help to overcome the addiction on a physical level. You definitely need a specialist who will show you how to rebuild the brain: re-arrange landmarks and stick labels on events, write down new patterns of actions and figure out why you lack dopamine without additional stimuli. That’s what psychotherapy is for.

If you notice that a habit or ritual takes up more and more space in life, you can try to simply replace them with others: instead of Facebook, go for a walk at lunchtime, and pour water into beautiful wine glasses. True, the help of a specialist may still be needed, otherwise there is a risk that instead of one addiction, another or a new habit will develop, simply harm – everyone knows cases when quitting smoking gained unwanted weight simply because they were seized by stress.

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