People struggling with addiction well know how the body and mind crave the effects of a drug on an ongoing basis. With continued drug use, a person soon becomes a slave to the drug’s effects regardless of any will or desire on his or her part.
Views regarding the roots of addiction vary in terms of whether it’s a choice, a mental disorder or a full-blown medical condition. In actuality, addiction operates within all three realms, which accounts for the difficulties addicts face when using as well as while in recovery.
Addiction: A Disease of the Brain, A Disorder of the Mind
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction operates as a chronic-type disease that affects both the brain and behavior. What starts out as a physical “high” gradually turns into a cycle of physical and psychological dependence.
Addictive drugs interfere with the brain’s chemical makeup, altering the its chemical pathways in harmful ways. The brain’s chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, regulate most all of the body’s functions.
In essence, the physical effects of drug abuse lay the groundwork for the psychological “dis-order” that drives addiction-type behaviors.
The Makings of an Addiction
The Physical Component
Most all addictive drugs share a similar chemical makeup with one or more of the brain’s own neurotransmitter chemicals. These similarities allow drug materials to integrate easily within the brain’s chemical system.
With continued drug use, the brain automatically cuts back on its normal chemical production processes to accommodate the drug’s effects. In the process, a physical dependency takes shape as the brain comes to rely on the drug’s effects to help regulate the body’s processes.
The Psychological Component
The “high” effects brought on by addictive drugs result from changes in the brain’s dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter that plays a central role within the brain’s reward system, according to the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. For the most part, this system regulates:
- Thought content
- Thinking patterns
- Emotional response
In effect, continued drug use takes on a life of its own inside the mind, setting a cycle of compulsive drug-using behavior in motion.
As far as addiction, mind over matter goes, a full-blown addiction lives inside a person’s thinking, emotions and behaviors while the physical effects of drugs on the brain continue to fuel the fire. By the time a full-blown addiction takes hold, drugs have essentially warped a person’s psychological makeup to the point where getting and using drugs becomes the most important area of his or her life.
Ultimately, the disease aspect of addiction is progressive, meaning the condition will continue to get worse in the absence of needed treatment help.