In light of the prescription and illicit drug epidemic in America, many people have begun to generate general thoughts or ideas about addiction from seeing people around them suffer, experiencing addiction personally, or from reading or hearing about it through the many avenues of social media.
There are two popular views on addiction and addictive mental disorders, such as gambling, porn, and eating disorders. One view is that addiction and these behaviors are symptoms of a brain disease or disorder. The other view, more common over the past several decades, is that these physical and mental dependencies are moral failures or purely happen through a person’s loss of self-control.
I’ll talk more about the first view shortly. It is extremely dangerous, in my opinion, to adopt the second mindset. Accepting that using drugs, alcohol, and behaviors as a mere sinful lifestyle or a series of wrong choices completely discounts any co-occurring mental disorder which could be behind these self-medicating coping techniques. This is not relieving the individuals of personal responsibility in these situations, but too many scientific and psychological factors lay behind this issue to put a quick-fix, morally acceptable label on it.
Contrary to popular opinion, many times that a person uses a drink or drug, or engages in an addictive behavior, that person is immediately addicted. So yes, a personal choice is apparent, but it is quickly taken away. Regardless of that situation, it doesn’t take very long for substances and behaviors to “take over” the brain and body.
First, drugs and alcohol affect receptors all over the brain. Neuroadaptation occurs which not only affects receptors and peptides, but also the body’s sensitivity to the substance. Every. Single. Drug. produces feelings and sensations that the body already naturally creates. The problem is that once an individual engages in substance use or abuse, the brain becomes dependent on these substitutes and reduces and then stops producing these sensations because it seems like there is no need any more.
The dopamine system, brain reward circuitry, nucleus accumbens, medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, to name a few, are all disrupted through addiction. It has also been proven through research that the [addictive behaviors] discussed above, actually all affect these regions as well. Gambling, for example, affects the brain in much the same way as cocaine, alcohol, and opiates do. This is all to show how imperative it is to realize the intricate connection between substances, addictive behaviors, and the brain and bodily functions.
When people think of a disease, feelings of fear may immediately be apparent. That is nothing compared to thinking there is something fundamentally wrong with oneself to the point where the person cannot function without engaging in substance use or behaviors. This brings us back to addiction as a disease. Our society has come such a long way in finding cures and tools for the recovering/healing from diseases in general. There is a hopefulness in knowing that our government is fighting against this disease of addiction and that there are many avenues to get help. There is a hopelessness in thinking of addiction as a moral failure.
If a person decides to begin recovery for addiction, it is vital that he or she understand that the brain must heal and return to its pre-addicted state over the course of one-two years. There are many options to build a network of sobriety support as well as to learn new coping skills. Having a relationship with a Higher Power, such as God, gives a purpose in this journey. A reason to live for more than just selfish desires and motivations.
I have personally dealt with a long battle of addiction! Through recovery programs, learning how to cope with life and communicate with others, and having a relationship with Jesus Christ, I am still on this journey over three years later, clean and sober. If I had never learned what addiction actually was, I may never have been able to truly begin a new life. I had to learn that nothing was wrong with me, my brain just had to heal itself! I still have cravings sometimes, but I understand now that they are the result of a long physical and mental dependency. I hope that maybe all of this information, though nowhere near comprehensive enough, can help others learn that addiction is way more than getting involved with the wrong people, or living a life of sin. I know that God does have the power to heal someone immediately from this disease, but that was not my case. He did however lead me into a path of right living and to ask for help when I needed it. Recovery is possible, one day at a time.