Why Do We Become Addicted
Addiction can take on many forms. It is typically characterized as a chronic dysfunction of parts of the brain that governs reward and motivation. People who are addicted have a physical and mental craving for a substance, behavior, or action. In most cases, the desire for the object of addiction is compulsive or obsessive. Consequently, the addict may pursue satisfaction without regard for the possible harm that it may cause.
Signs of Addiction
Addiction manifests in many different ways. What most addicts have in common are the following:
- An inability to avoid the substance they are addicted to
- An inability to stop their behavior
- Absence of self-control
- An increased desire for the object of their addiction
- Refusal to admit to the problems caused by their behavior
- Absence of an emotional response to their addiction
Addiction can affect a person’s life to varying degrees. Addicts in recovery also have a high likelihood of relapsing. Many go through alternating periods where they may use drugs or engage in addictive behavior only moderately, only to revert to more severe use later on.
Even going through cycles of mild and severe use, most addicts experience a worsening of their condition over time. This often leads to chronic and severe health issues and problems with their personal and professional lives.
Why Addiction Occurs
Reasons vary as to why people end up addicted to a substance or a pattern of behavior. But the physiological process by which people become addicted is the same for everyone.
Addiction essentially alters the brain’s reward circuits, particularly with regard to how it functions. For most people, the first time they use drugs is a voluntary process. It’s what happens afterward that contributes to the development of full-blown addiction.
Scientists have determined that the brain undergoes many significant changes during a drug-related episode. In some cases, it could take a considerable amount of time before the brain reverts to its former healthy condition.
Everyone has reward centers in the brain. People that haven’t experienced the brain alteration associated with addiction derive satisfaction and positive feelings from activities such as exercise, spending time with loved ones, or eating a good meal.
Addicts, on the other hand, derive satisfaction from taking drugs or engaging in destructive behavior. And just as people who get positive feelings from a rewarding activity will want to do it again and again, so too will addicts want to keep reliving the experience.
The difference is that substance use or the urge to engage in harmful behavior is often much more challenging to control than enjoying a good meal. Most people will eat only until they are full, after which their sense of logic and restraint kicks in. They know to stop eating and that ignoring the voice in their head that tells them to stop will result in unpleasant feelings and negative health consequences.
That isn’t the case with most addicts. Most alcoholics, drug users, and sex addicts know that what they are doing is causing harm to themselves and others. But most are powerless to resist the urge and will go on engaging in that harmful activity to the detriment of everything else, whether it is work, family, health, or other equally important aspects of life.
Why Addicts Remain Addicted
Worst still, addiction has diminishing returns over time. Although the substance or behavior may provide euphoria or satisfaction initially, the effect lessens as addicts sink deeper into addiction. The addict then does more drugs, drinks more frequently, or engages in the harmful activity with increased fervor to achieve that same ‘high’.
The problem is that the same level of satisfaction never returns. In the advanced stages of addiction, addicts may engage in destructive behavioral patterns just to feel ‘normal’ and to avoid the distress that comes from withdrawal. Even though the addict never achieves the same degree of pleasure, they are addicted all the same.
Few people become addicted overnight, whether it is to drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling. For most people, it takes more than a few incidents before the addiction begins to take root. In some cases, it could even take years before the person becomes an addict.
Once it takes hold, however, addiction can be extremely difficult to get rid of. In fact, the process of ridding oneself of addiction is often much longer and more challenging than getting addicted in the first place. But with proper treatment, hard work, support, and a genuine desire to quit, even longtime addicts have a chance of making a recovery.