The Science Behind Addiction
The Science Behind Addiction

The Science Behind Addiction

Stigma has long propagated far too many myths about addiction. Those who use substances are not weak. They do not have some kind of moral failing. It is not their fault if they become addicted to substances. They are not lesser human beings. These myths are antiquated and do a disservice to the entire population when we allow stigma to suppress science.

Those of us who have used substances may have bought into the stigma ourselves because these myths are so prevalent in our society. But the truth is, a huge percentage of the population drinks alcohol and/or uses other substances. For some of us, it becomes problematic, but for others, it does not. Why is that? There is actually science behind addiction.

Science Over Stigma

It is very odd to consider that we as a society have continued to accept the mythology around substance use when we have developed so much science that instantly refutes those old beliefs. The amount of shame heaped onto people with addiction is in stark contrast to the knowledge we have gained about the brain and substance use.

Society has become far more accepting of mental illnesses, for example, with the understanding that chemical imbalances in the brain cause changes in behavior, personality, and more. Perhaps substance use is just behind in the race for awareness, but each of us can help that cause by understanding and sharing the science of addiction.

Genetic Factors

Multiple factors within our biology can increase our risk of becoming addicted to substances. Some people genetically inherit a propensity toward addiction. Gender also plays a part. While more males typically participate in substance use, females often become addicted to substances much more quickly. Studies show that ethnicity can also be a contributing factor in substance use.

The age at which we begin using substances and/or our stage of development is a very important indicator of potential addiction. For example, teens who begin using substances are more likely to become addicted. Likewise, those with mental health issues are at a substantially increased risk.

Environmental Factors

Whether or not we have any genetic factors, there are plenty of environmental factors that can greatly increase our chance of becoming addicted to substances. Chaos, violence, and abuse in the home or community can be a big contributing factor. We are also more likely to use substances when we have problems at school, including poor achievement or academic struggles.

One factor that is often overlooked is the attitudes toward substances that we are exposed to. Whether it is familial or from the community, the attitudes we see help shape our attitudes as well. This includes any substance use we may witness at home or elsewhere. If we witness others abusing alcohol or using illicit drugs, we are more likely to do the same. Teens and young adults are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, so seeing peers using substances adds to our propensity to become addicted.

How Substances Affect the Brain

Substances impact the brain in many ways. However, addiction occurs due to the reward pathway in the brain. As substances are ingested, the brain releases more dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that increases our need for something. So, when we use a substance, dopamine will be released in larger amounts to the reward pathway in the brain, which then creates a desire for more substances. The more we use substances, the more that desire becomes a need. Our brains become wired for substance use, and we are addicted.

The initial buzz or high we feel when we use substances becomes less and less as our brain is demanding more and more substances. Logically, without the pleasurable sensations, we would stop using our substances. However, that reward pathway in our brain is now wired for substances, and it becomes an overwhelming need to keep feeding our brains more and more of our substance. This is not a simple craving, like wanting doughnuts in the afternoon. The brain drives us and creates a physical need for substances, and we can become very sick if we do not comply.

The Science Behind Recovery

Treatment of addiction is also based on science. The first part of treatment is detoxification. This means we stop using all substances and allow our body to be cleansed of all substances. During this time, to combat that powerful reward pathway, medical care is given to ensure our safety. Sometimes, medications are given to counter the difficult side effects of detoxification.

From this point, treatment begins. Ideal treatment covers mind, body, and spirit, and consists of therapy, a nutritious diet and exercise, and activities like mindfulness meditation and yoga, which cover all parts of our healing. Within therapy and by using tools like mindfulness, we learn to take back control of our minds, to be able to manage cravings that come from that reward pathway and to heal from whatever inspired our substance use. Using evidence-based treatments, we are able to combat the science of addiction with the science of well-being.

Understanding how our brains work when we use substances will help us to recover from that substance use. Discover the science behind addiction and treatment at AToN Center by calling (888) 535-1516 today. You can break the reward cycle in your brain that has kept you addicted to substances. This is your chance to let science help you break free of stigma and addiction.

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