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Understanding Addiction in Laymen’s Terms

Many researchers believe that addiction is a behavior that can be controlled to some extent and also a brain disease.  And since some testing with functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) found that all addictions tend to cause nearly the same reactions inside the brain, there could be one type of control model for addiction health-related issues. In other words, just as there is one disorder or disease labeled asthma, there would be one for addiction, covering all addictions; gambling, smoking, overeating, drugs, etc. Then one main treatment strategy or plan could be used to treat all addictions.

How addiction works in a nutshell is like this. The brain, the center of the body’s nervous system, handles addiction by increasing dopamine levels in response to increased reactions from behaviors, also referred to as compulsions, like gambling or over eating, and / or in response to increased repeated substance abuse, like from cocaine or alcohol. And this addiction affects the three functioning processes of the nervous system; sensing, perceiving and reacting. How? Let’s take a quick peak…

Dopamine, the chemical transmitter to the “pleasure center,” the place where survival instincts like eating and reproduction focus in the brain, activates cells individually or energizes them. Each energized cell in turn energizes another cell, and so on down the line, resulting in a spontaneous or systematic process of ecstasy or elation.

The problem is the brain doesn’t realize what it is that is causing the ecstasy reaction. So when this flutter of activity increases the creation of dopamine for the negative behaviors and substances like drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc., it neglects the natural survival instinct reaction mechanisms, replacing them with the ecstasy instead.

Note that also, depending upon the addiction, nervous system functions are altered. So sensing, perceiving and reacting functions of individuals are impeded. For example, alcohol is a depressant and slows down all of these functions. So a drunk driver facing an immediate collision will in all likelihood react slower than a healthy, alert driver. And whether or not the addictive substances are inhaled, going into the lung system; or injected, traveling via the blood system; or swallowed, entering the digestive system, also affects different bodily reactions, responses and overall health. 

One long-term effect is an increased tolerance level with dopamine reaching out into other brain areas that cloud judgment and behavioral considerations and choices. And ultimately depression results, even amidst opposing or negative stimuli, like the negative effects of narcotics on behaviors and on the body / mind and like trying to withdrawal or discontinue use.

Note: other long-term effects can include changing of the brain’s shape and possible permanent brain damage, depending upon the addiction and length of compulsive activity. And other health problems like cancer from cigarette smoking can result.

Addiction summed up is: compulsive behavior despite negative consequences.


Of course no two people are 100 percent the same. So since internal genetic and external environmental and behavioral factors and influences vary, so can addiction issues with each person. In other words, a child born of an alcoholic parent may have an altered or different brain chemistry or make up than a child not born of an alcoholic. However, other factors need to be taken into account with regards to whether or not and to what extent the child is susceptible to addictive behaviors or substances. For instance, genetics, mental state and the environmental setting of the child, especially during early developmental years could all play key roles as to how the child or growing adult will react when confronted with certain behaviors or instances.

So take for example a soldier. Surviving temporarily on the only remedy available in hostile territory, he becomes addicted to morphine while outside his element or home environment. Later he returns to his home environment. Will he stay addicted to the morphine? Will it be difficult to stop using it?

The answers vary, depending upon the soldier’s predisposition or susceptibility to addiction; his home environment, his mental state, his genetics with family history, and other factors. In other words, if he came from a background of living long-term with a family of addicts, socialized with addicts in his neighborhood and school environments, and already battled with smoking cigarettes, marijuana and other substances routinely, this soldier may have a difficult time withdrawing from morphine. Whereas, a soldier who had never seen addiction up close before, either in his family, neighbors, school friends, etc., and who otherwise came back with a fairly healthy mental state, may be able to stop using morphine with little or no problems and get back to his “normal” routine.

Which leads to, “How can you tell if someone is addicted or not?


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