Someone can become addicted to or develop a habit for almost anything, but some synthetic or natural substances are more addictive than others. For decades, experts in psychology and behavioral therapy have been exploring what causes certain substances to be more addictive. Due to the epidemic of drug abuse in the US and across the world and in particular the national crisis around opioid misuse, treatment programs are looking for new ways to help their patients.
Stages of Becoming Addicted
Addiction involves a series of various changes in the biochemistry of the brain. These changes, in turn, cause physiological changes in the body depending upon the strength of the substance and how long the substance is used. For example, most individuals will become addicted to heroin far quicker than to alcohol.
The rate at which an individual becomes addicted to a substance varies greatly depending on the properties of the substance itself. When the substance is used enough times, the user may start to anticipate their next use of the substance.
To begin an addiction, an individual typically uses the substance a single time without actively seeking it out until the next opportunity to use it arises. Even from this first single-use, cravings and a need for more of the drug can become overwhelming. From this point, drug treatment and potentially drug rehab is needed to lead the user off of their addiction.
Cravings & Tolerance
Cravings are intense desires to use the substance, and they can become more apparent as addiction sets in. Due to these cravings, substance use may increase as the body starts building up a tolerance to the drug.
Tolerance is a physical change that occurs in the receptor sites of the brain, usually occurring in the nucleus accumbens. The receptors in the nucleus accumbens then experience down-regulation. Down-regulation is when the receptors of a neuron decrease in response to excessive stimulation and to avoid expending any unnecessary energy that the body deems valuable to other functions.
When the user takes a powerful substance, it is easy for the neurons to be overstimulated, especially if the user increases the dosage to feel the same effects after their body’s built a tolerance. Since decreases in receptors sites correlate to a decrease in the chances of the substance binding to a receptor site, individuals stop feeling the same effects of the substance compared to what they felt before. Fewer targets mean fewer hits.
When a tolerance to the drug forms, the individual may lose interest in the substance because the feeling is just not as good as the first time and is not getting any better. This is usually when they stop using the drug until withdrawal symptoms start setting in.
Withdrawal is the unpleasant, sometimes intense physiological response of the body when a drug is no longer being used. Symptoms of withdrawal can vary by substance, but the typical symptoms of withdrawal include depression, anxiety, disturbed sleeping, and disruptive desires to use the substance. All of these can make life painful to live, especially if withdrawal progresses to severe symptoms like seizures, shaking, vomiting, or tachycardia (fast heart rate). To avoid and manage the potentially life-threatening side effects of withdrawal, addicts should seek out the help of qualified treatment programs or a drug rehab to ensure their vitals are looked after and cared for.
What Happens During Addiction
During addiction, the substance that once produced pleasure results in so much down-regulation that the individual becomes satiated or nearly numb to the pleasurable effects of the drug. Anhedonia, the state of not being able to experience pleasure from things that normally induce pleasure, also typically takes hold. Under Anhedonia, someone becomes dependent on a substance because the drug is the only way pleasure can be experienced by the individual.
Due to a lack of pleasure from everyday activities like watching a movie or even sexual intercourse make it hard to be excited about life, and many users may become depressed as a result. An obsession with the drug as a sole source of pleasure can also push someone to social isolation which plays a huge part in sustaining and supporting depression. Various types of drug treatment options focus on the emotional response to the drug as well as the physical addictions.
Why is it Hard to Quite an Addiction
Addiction is one of the hardest things to shake. If addiction was so easy to overcome, then there wouldn’t be as many qualified and experienced treatment programs or drug rehab facilities to help those suffering through addiction. Drug rehab facilities and those practicing in the mental health profession work every day to help those suffering because overcoming addiction without assistance from treatment programs is close to impossible.
Solving the problem of why addiction is so difficult to stop is an important question for psychologists. While we know how the brain changes in response to using a substance and how that change leads to withdrawal, the motivators that keep us addicted are less concise.
People find it difficult to stop using a substance once addiction begins in large part because of the withdrawal symptoms. It is basic human instinct to avoid anything that causes us displeasure. In the case of drug addiction, users outside of a drug treatment program will do whatever they can to avoid the pains of withdrawal which typically means using more of the drug.
Dopamine is believed by researchers to be the underlying reason people cannot just stop using a drug. Dopamine reinforces the interrelationship between using the drug and the pleasure experienced by that use. Experiments have shown that addictive substances result in surges of dopamine primarily in the nucleus accumbens of the brain.
Dopamine plays a huge part in an addiction to any substance. However, dopamine also occurs naturally throughout our lives. When a drug depletes our dopamine supply, that drug also depletes our enjoyment of life.
How to End Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact The Recover to find the drug rehab center that best matches your personal needs. We are here to help and want to see you recover. Seeking help for a drug addiction struggle is not a weakness, and you deserve help during this difficult time.
The Recover is an unbiased substance abuse and mental health news provider, helping individuals looking for the right treatment programs in their area. Contact us at (888) 510-3898 for more information.