Binge drinking while enjoying the big game. Taking Ecstacy while dancing at a rave. Passing the bong around at a party.Despite the “war on drugs,” our culture tends to celebrate this kind of behavior, and many of us have engaged in these behaviors at one time or another. Why, then, do some people find themselves addicted while others can seemingly quit without trouble? Why does addiction happen? Is addiction truly a disease, or merely a matter of willpower? Before we can begin to answerpthese questions, it’s important to understand how alcohol and other drugs affect our brains.
Addiction and Chemistry: The Basics
Drinking alcohol and using drugs changes the chemical composition of the brain by causing it to release dopamine or other chemicals that cause us to feel pleasure. By releasing it when we’re drinking, smoking, snorting, shooting up, or taking pills, our bodies start to associate that pleasurable sensation with our drug of choice. Depending on what kind of substance we’re using, our mental processes may feel frenetic and exciting or slow down so that we become relaxed.Read more: Recovery Help
Alcohol, for example, inhibits glutamate, the neurotransmitter that stimulates brain activity, and enhances the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity. This is why drunk people tend to slur their speech and move around sluggishly. But alcohol also causes us to lose our inhibitions. We feel relaxed and happy – we get “high”. Eventually that feeling passes because our brain chemistry returns to normal, but we feel worse or lower than normal because of the loss of that manufactured good feeling. Some people even become depressed when the “high” goes away.
This chemical reaction, with mental or emotional results, is a real physical sensation – our bodies crave that change in chemistry that only the alcohol or drugs can provide. And the more often we use them to get that feeling, the greater quantity we need to use them because our bodies start to become accustomed to the change in chemistry and rely on the substance to produce it. Over time, it can become the norm that we need to keep ourselves functioning properly, and when we don’t use them, we’re stuck in that painful “low” because our brain chemistry is out of balance.At this point, our brain becomes dependent on whatever substance we’re using and it’s no longer about willpower because drinking alcohol or using drugs is a conditioned reflex. Is it a disease? Absolutely.
Why Some and Not Others?
While just about everyone is at risk for becoming an addict, it’s certainly true that some people are more likely to suffer from addiction than others. For example, most experts believe that heredity and genetics play a large role. If you have a history of addiction in your family, those people have had their brain chemistry altered. It is believed that this can be passed down through generations to some degree or another. But there are other factors as well, and this is where personality and emotional factors come into play.
Self-esteem and depression
While not all people who suffer from low self-esteem and depression will end up as addicts, they do have many tendencies that can lead to alcohol or drug addiction. The simplest connection, though, is the fact that these people don’t feel good about themselves and getting high on drugs or alcohol can relieve that pain for a short time. Unfortunately, people with these mental issues can quickly become addicted to the high and want to do whatever they can to feel it again and again.
A need for love and acceptance
People with low self-esteem and depression suffer from looking inward, but in the case of people looking for love and acceptance, the issue is reversed. They feel like they are not getting love from parents, peers, or potential romantic partners, and they turn to alcohol or drugs as a substitute for that feeling or to please those people who do make them feel good. In particular, those who battle a feeling of inadequacy may be drawn to a stimulant such as cocaine in order to feel more powerful or confident.
Panic or anxiety disorders
People who struggle with panic attacks or other anxiety-related disorders may turn to substance abuse to calm themselves or numb their fears. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs can actually intensify symptoms of anxiety and trigger panic attacks, so while they may work temporarily, they actually make the conditions worse in the long term.
None of this means that a person who is healthy physically and mentally can’t become an addict; nor does it mean that everyone with emotional issues or the genetic tendencies will definitely suffer from addiction. What it does tell us, though, is that certain kinds of people have a higher initial risk of becoming addicted.
Once addiction has its hooks in you though, it doesn’t matter where you came from or how you felt beforehand. All that matters is that you seek out the right treatment program for you and work to get your life back on track.
Whatever path to recovery you choose, our staff has access to hundreds of treatment centers to assure the best personalized treatment for you, then with continued follow up to help you make the transition to sober living as seamless as possible.
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