Think you know everything about addiction? You may not know these tidbits of information.
Being addicted means that we have physical and mental habits that create our addiction. Here's what you need to know about why addiction plagues so many people:
1. Defining "addiction" has changed over the years.
Scientists began researching addictions in the 1930s. At the time, researchers labeled addictions as a defect of character. By 2011, new research led to a revised definition of addiction and according to The American Society Of Addiction Medicine, addiction is "... a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry."
Addiction leads to dysfunction that affect all aspects of the addict's life—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. It is an attempt to seek rewards and/or relief by using some outside substance (drugs) or process (shopping, gambling).
2. Science confirms that addiction is extremely complex.
In 1999, Dr. Candace Pert published her groundbreaking insights about the biology of emotion in her book, Molecules Of Emotion. She discovered that the mind and body are intimately connected and that the mind-body connection is not some New Age fantasy.
The work of Dr. Pert and other neuroscientists, regarding the mechanics of addiction, provides us with new hope by offering a better understanding of the interrelationship between the brain and the rest of the human body. These new ways of investigating addiction have demonstrated that addiction is a very complex condition that involves the entire body of the addict.
3. Biochemically speaking, repetition leads to habit.
When we repeat emotional states over a long period of time, neurons in the brain and the nervous system develop pathways in our bodies. This is similar to adding one brick next to another to create a brick road — one emotion (like fear) repeats again and again and creates a biochemical road that gives us a habit of fear. When we repeat fear for a long time, it becomes ingrained and we may not even notice it.
Our nervous system is like the internet of the body. Thought and emotions create chemicals that flood the body to seek their receptors in the body's cells over the biochemical road we created. In essence, they go viral and dominate the body.
Over time, long-term patterns of viral emotional habits will create a huge number of receptor cells for each emotion, so the brain and receptor cells automatically focus on that emotion or habit.
This short video from the film, What the Bleep Do We Know, features the work of numerous scientists and gives the scientific overview of how it works.
4. Addiction triggers have more to do with environment than you may think.
Many causes of addiction are beyond our control. According to The American Society Of Addiction Medicine, "... Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. Environmental factors interact with the person's biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence.
"Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction. Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction."
So, we now we know that addiction comes from several causes: Genetics in 50 percent of people suffering from addiction, the environment, and cultural factors. The good news is that our improved understanding of the causes of addiction help us release self-blame and judgment to improve our self-care choices.
What triggers addiction? The addiction experts at SummitHelps list a number of common triggers: Stress, People, Locations, Moods, Dates, and Smells.
5. Environment stacks the deck, but STRESS is an exceptionally important trigger.
Whatever triggers a desire for an addictive substance or activity will be a kind of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, at this point in time, stress increases dramatically: "Most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years."
Even if someone manages their addiction well, an increase in stress easily triggers an addictive relapse. Increasing levels of stress make addiction and addiction recovery more challenging. Reducing and eliminating stress as much as possible is critical for addiction-prone individuals.
Why are humans so incredibly addiction-prone? Well, it's because of the following:
- Family genetics
- Emotional habits and experiences that create the neural pathways of addiction
- A large number of stressors that foster addiction triggers
So often, addiction relapses occur because an addicted individual does not understand the underlying physical basis of addiction and the need for long-term persistence in separating from an addictive substance or experience.
At least we know enough now to become seriously constructive about helping people overcome addictions preventing them from leading lives they can enjoy.