Addiction develops when the brain reacts in particular ways to an action or use of a substance, creating an intense craving for or physical or psychological dependence on that behavior or substance.
Addictions can develop to certain drugs and to alcohol, but recent research has shown that the brain responds in very similar ways to behaviors like gambling, sex, and shopping, leading experts to label these behaviors addictive for many people.
What Causes Addiction?
Although researchers used to think people with addictions lacked moral character or willpower, today’s scientists recognize that the brain changes addiction causes make it a disorder rather than a moral failing. The way addiction hijacks the brain has been compared to the way cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes changes the way the pancreas functions, taking treatment out of the realm of mere willpower.
Addiction begins when the brain registers pleasure from an activity and releases dopamine into the brain’s pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens. Addiction is more likely to result when the dopamine release is particularly fast, intense, repeated often, or all of the above.
Smoking or injecting a drug promotes a stronger dopamine release and may make the drug more addictive than taking it in pill form, for instance. When addictive substances or behaviors flood the brain with dopamine, they can create a craving or a conditioned response, both of which can lead to further use and abuse.
The reward center of the brain can also be overloaded by dopamine released when substances are used repeatedly. When the reward center is overloaded, it causes even more changes in the brain that lead to intense cravings and compulsion toward using the substances or engaging in the behaviors once again.
How Tolerance Affects the Development of Addiction
Tolerance begins to happen as an addictive substance is used more often. When the brain is overwhelmed with dopamine, it responds by releasing less or by turning off dopamine receptors, which reduces the reward the substance produces. The problem is, the craving only intensifies, which typically leads to using more of the substance or engaging in more of the behavior to try to achieve the previous level of reward.
Tolerance is a major factor in overdoses as well as in addicts seeking out stronger substances to use. As addicts become more tolerant of the substances they are using, they begin to use out of compulsion rather than because of the pleasure they get from using. Because of what their brains are telling them, they cannot stop using without intervention at this level of addiction.
Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado drug rehab that understands addiction and can offer treatments that retrain the brain and help it recover from addiction. With help from treatment professionals, compulsions can be managed and recovery is possible. Contact us to learn about admissions and take the first step toward recovery from addiction.