What is addiction?
Often when we think of addiction, we think of something we can not help ourselves from doing. While this may seem like a rational or conscious decision that we are particularly driven towards, seeking to satisfy an addiction is actually a compulsive habit our brains are overwhelmed with.
Addiction is now understood as a brain disease where someone is addicted or dependent to a particular substance, thing, or activity. Whether this addiction is alcohol, nicotine, pills, gambling, or even exercising, this dependency is an overwhelming sensation flooding our brain with pleasure. When addiction develops, an addictive substance targets our reward system, releasing jolts of satisfaction to reinforce behaviors needed to survive and that are generally pleasurable. When addictive substances such as nicotine target the reward system, a response of a much larger magnitude than a natural reward floods this pathway, creating an association between the addictive substance and its significant upsurge of dopamine.
While more and more dopamine floods our brains with increased use of an addictive substance, our brain adapts to these upsurges of dopamine and becomes less sensitive to it. Resultantly, your brain's desire for a substance becomes controlling while the amount of that substance needed to satisfy that craving increases. Unfortunately, depending on the substance, this increase can lead to effects on the brain causing impairment with memory, focus, learning, and decision-making and judgment.
Depending on the history and nature of the addiction, treatment and overcoming addiction can significantly vary. Nonetheless, if you or a loved one is facing mental and/or substance use disorders, free and confidential help can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.