Addiction: The Silent Pandemic

Addiction is a primary chronic ailment that affects the brain’s motivation, reward, memory and related areas leading the affected individual to obstinately pursue reward and relief through substance use or other behavior despite the harmful cumulative consequences (Miller, 2013).

It is more than a behavioral disorder. Initially, addiction used to refer to psychoactive substances that cross the blood-brain barrier like tobacco, alcohol among others, temporarily causing a chemical imbalance in the brain. Psychologists and healthcare professionals now acknowledge the noteworthy influence of none-chemical addictions like gambling, internet, sex, exercise, etcetera, arguing that they too should be considered addictions as they cause psychological dependence and can also lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, failure, guilt, humiliation and despair.   

According to Bhatia, Petty & Gabel (2017), addicted persons lack the ability to consistently refrain from their source of addiction as a result of impairment in behavioral control, experience intense cravings, dysfunctional emotional control, and have reduced recognition of the extensive problems with their behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Over time, with continued use, people with an addiction begin to build up tolerance which means, larger amounts are required every other time to achieve the same effect. This eventually leads to dependence, and inability to quit the drug as a result of the cravings and adverse withdrawal effects.

People begin using drugs for a variety of reasons which include:-

  • To achieve pleasure (euphoria); which serves as positive reinforcement.
  • To relieve stress and other negative emotions (dysphoria); which serves as negative reinforcement.
  • To improve performance.
  • Out of curiosity or peer pressure.

Features of addiction involve person’s emotions, behaviors, cognition and social interaction with others (Miller, 2013). The disorder is characterized by:-

  1. Impairment in behavioral control:- this involves the compulsive urge to take the drug or engage in the addictive behavior, and failed attempts to stop or cut down on use.
  2. Persistent cravings for the rewarding experience.
  3. Inability to consistently sustain abstinence.
  4. Diminished recognition of significant problems:- Both behavioral and social problems. Persons with an addiction give up or fail to meet expectations at work, home, school or social activities because of the addiction. They also engage in risky behavior to fulfill the urge or as a result of the drug effects.
  5. Dysfunctional emotional response.
  6. Response to external cues like the bar, the casino, etcetera which may trigger cravings as well as use.
  7. Significant impairment in executive functioning which manifests through problems with learning, perception, judgment and impulse control.
  8. Persistent risk of relapse which is mainly triggered by exposure to the rewarding substances or activities, emotional stressors that originally triggered the addiction, or by exposure to environmental cues that trigger the memory or urge.

While some people may ask why and how some individuals get addicted and presume these individuals lack the morals or will power to quite their addiction; it’s important to note that addiction is not merely a function of choice. Beyond the initial experience of pleasure and relief, research has indicated that when tolerance develops, the addicted person relentlessly tries to achieve the euphoric high once experienced but all they mostly experience is a deeper low (Miller, 2013). This creates the need to engage in substance use or addictive behavior in order to try and resolve the dysphoric emotional state or the psychological symptoms of withdrawal.

This explains why addicts compulsively indulge in use or engage in the addictive behavior long after the pursuit of rewards does not provide pleasure anymore. Quitting takes more than simple intentions and will power. Without proper treatment, addiction is progressive and can lead to disability. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, abuse of drugs is the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death.

The next article will illuminate on: What causes addiction, and how do you treat addiction.  

Citations

Bhatia, S. C., Petty, F., & Gabel, T. (2017). Substance and Non Substance Related Addiction Disorders. Sharjah: Bentham Science Publishers.

Miller, P. M. (2013). Principles of addiction. San Diego, CA : Academic Press.

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