Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease affecting the brain’s reward, motivation, and related systems. People struggling with addiction are unable to control their actions or make rational decisions about their behaviour, even in the face of negative consequences.

Compounds and experiences with addictive potential activate the brain’s reward circuitry. These triggers are also called reinforcers because the pleasurable feeling we get from them makes us more likely to engage in them again. Both alcohol and illicit drugs are powerful reinforcers, and cause the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s reward system. Repeated activation by these compounds changes the brain’s reward system structurally and chemically, and produces behaviours like bingeing,escalating use, and symptoms of withdrawal when the drugs are taken away.

Addiction is a process based in altered functioning of the reward and motivation systems of the brain. It can manifest in many ways, but historically addictions fall under two categories.

KINDS OF ADDICTIONS:

DRUGS

Many people are addicted to substances that are considered drugs. Drugs include things like opiates (heroin, painkillers), benzodiazepines (Clonazepam), alcohol, nicotine (cigarettes), and caffeine (yes, you can even be addicted to your morning coffee).

GAMBLING

People enjoy the thrill they get from gambling and the risk that comes with it. Like shopping, gambling is a type of impulse control disorder. Those who are addicted to gambling often become obsessed with the thought of winning back the money they’ve lost, and so they continue to gamble.

SEX

People who are addicted to sex are addicted to the feelings they get from physical intimacy, including the high that they feel during and after orgasm. Sex addiction can lead to STDs, unwanted pregnancy, relationship problems, and low self-esteem.

FOOD

People who are addicted to food tend to overeat or eat in binges, and they’re unable to control their eating. People who are addicted to food are often overweight or obese, or they suffer from addictive eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or extreme calorie counting.

LOVE

People who are addicted to food tend to overeat or eat in binges, and they’re unable to control their eating. People who are addicted to food are often overweight or obese, or they suffer from addictive eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or extreme calorie counting.

OTHER IMPULSE CONTROL DISORDERS AND ADDICTIONS

As mentioned, there are many types of addictions, and almost anything can become an addiction. Here’s a list of some of the other more common types of addictions.

  • The Internet
  • Exercise
  • Pornography
  • Lying
  • Stealing (kleptomania)
  • Shopping
  • Video games
  • Adrenaline
  • Money
  • Work
  • Books
  • Fame
  • Power
  • Rage (intermittent explosive disorder)
  • Body Image

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex (see illustration). Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center.

All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release.

Even taking the same drug through different methods of administration can influence how likely it is to lead to addiction. Smoking a drug or injecting it intravenously, as opposed to swallowing it as a pill, for example, generally produces a faster, stronger dopamine signal and is more likely to lead to drug misuse.

Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli.

Our Specialists

Dr. Prem Kumar Shanmugam (PhD) MA Research (Psychology, Sgp), MSocSc (Counselling, Aust), Bachelors (Psychology, USA). MCSAT (L4), MCPAC(L4, Sup), CAOD (Aust), CCS (Aust)

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