The notion that individuals who suffer from addiction just need better will power has long been debunked. Addiction is a complex disorder that involves behavioral, cognitive, emotional, genetic, and physiological influences.
A substance use disorder (SUD) or other addiction refers to the uncontrolled use of a substance or behavior despite negative consequences. This may include harmful impacts to one’s body, relationships, work/school, finances, and daily functioning. When you are unable to abstain from addictive behavior, you may find that your addiction becomes the sole focus of your life and everything else suffers. Your addiction takes over your life.
Most often, addiction perpetuates because of the need to feel better. The altered state produced by addiction can numb out distressing emotions and thoughts and temporarily produce positive feelings. Performance enhancement, peer pressure, and curiosity are some other reasons that drive addiction.
Historically, addiction resulted from the consumption of alcohol and other substances, such as opioids, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines. However, we now know that addictive behaviors can include food, sex, video gaming, internet usage, and gambling. All of these have in common a connection between reward, learning, memory, and motivation systems. Additionally, social factors contribute to how addiction develops and sustains. The term “biopsychosocial” refers to the connection between all these processes.
- Behavioral: When someone is addicted, he/she will typically spend excessive amounts of time engaging in addictive behaviors. Much of this time is spent planning for the next “high”. For instance, many individuals addicted to heroin will spend their whole day seeking out their preferred drugs or engaging in activities to acquire money to purchase drugs.
- Thinking: For the addicted individual, there is an excessive preoccupation with their addiction. Cognitive processes are often distorted and judgment is frequently impaired. For example, an individual with a gambling addiction continues to be in denial about her gambling behavior leading to significant financial debts and marriage conflict. Lack of judgment and impulse control can lead to excessive risky behaviors, such as going to dangerous locations to acquire illegal drugs.
- Emotional: Reducing or numbing distressing emotions is a major trigger for addictive behaviors. Addiction can provide temporary relief from sadness, grief, shame, anger, and anxiousness. Individuals with an addiction often suffer from other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and trauma. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), over 9 million adults with an addiction experience a co-occurring psychological illness.
- Genetics: An individual’s genetics can influence the development of addictive behaviors. Gene expression occurs to influence the neurological processes of addiction. However, despite the strong genetic influence, environmental influences, such as childhood upbringing and health choices, impact how genes are expressed.
- Neurological: The frontal cortex of the brain connects with other brain circuits of reward, motivation, and learning to impair impulse control, alter judgments, and drive reward-seeking behaviors. The sought after “high” comes from certain chemicals that become activated in the brain. Given that the frontal cortex does not fully develop until young adulthood, this can have detrimental impacts on adolescents who become addicted.
- Social: An individual’s social environment impacts addiction in several ways. The availability of substances, psychological resources, social support, and cultural factors contribute to how a person’s addiction develops and the ability to overcome it. When there is sufficient support, messaging, and resources, a person with an addiction has improved chances of recovery.
Addiction Treatment Online and In-Person
Due to the complexity, addiction treatment can be especially complicated. As with any chronic health condition, cycles of relapse and remission are common. If you are struggling with an addiction, Dr. Mazzei is an addiction therapist and can help you get on the path to recovery. As an addiction specialist, she has helped many individuals overcome their addiction and lead fulfilling lives. To start addiction treatment in Chandler AZ or online, text 480-448-6755 or schedule an initial consultation.