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What Is Addiction And How It Affects My Brain?

Articles, Australia, International, Understanding Addiction

As most diseases go, addiction is an odd one. It is a genetically relevant disease that is bolstered by easy access to brain altering substances. That definition is however very vague and for good reason – each addiction is tailor made. While most diseases get their vaccine or cure in some way shape or form, addiction is difficult when it comes to uniform treatment. Our brain while built and functions almost identically to any other human out there, the personality, experiences and opinions greatly alter the disease in every addict.

While various substance abuse is by far the biggest part of addiction types that have been confirmed to exist, there are many different manifestations of addiction. Drug and alcohol abuse being the most popular, such addictions as working out, sex, food, and gambling are also very real.

Slaves to our brain.

Remember the first time you bit into a big fluffy sugar-glazed donut? While the whole context may be hazy as it was so long ago, but you still remember one thing very clearly – it was good. Why is that? Why do our brains make us feel good when we do things that benefit our well-being both mentally and physically? The answer is quite simple, to keep us alive. How often do you do things you don’t particularly enjoy? Out of your own volition of course. Stepping on a lego piece hiding in the carpet is something you clearly remember but it seldom invokes a sense of pleasure, achievement or feels beneficial to your well-being in any way. Just how pain tells us not to stick our fingers into an open flame pleasurable feelings remind us how something was good and we should probably do that again. When these good things happen our brain releases dopamine and serotonin to invoke a sense of achievement and pleasure, quite simply as a reward and making us remember that some particular action or thing was good.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol are a bit different and as a result quite a lot more popular. Since both of these types of addiction requires using chemicals that our body does not produce or just doesn’t produce at those quantities in such a short time, they override our bodies natural filter of what is good for you and what is not. Drugs and alcohol literally hijack our brain and bypasses this very vital function that every human being naturally possesses. Snorting a brain cell-destroying rail of cocaine is hardly beneficial, yet the drug sends the user into throes of euphoria and intense pleasure. Do that enough times and the brain natural chemistry gets out of balance and this leads to an avalanche of other addiction-related problems, such as absent-mindedness, lack of interest in anything but their drug, becoming a hermit and avoiding friends and family due to even longer list of relationship related problems caused by drug abuse. An addiction is a terrible disease exactly for its cascading effect on every aspect of our lives.

Genetics do not define you.

Ok, that’s half-true. It does define what you are, but not who you are. While we inherent various types of genes from our parents and all the other ancestors in our own lineages – blue eyes, blonde hair, freckles, even facial and body structure, our minds are our very own. Genetically it is possible to inherit a gene that is predisposed to addictive behavior. Does that mean, if your parents were addicts, so will you? Not necessarily. While predisposed to addictions it is entirely possible to maintain a personal stance against things that would otherwise be very addictive. Quite a lot also depends on childhood upbringing and personal moral compass. If your mother loves chocolate to an almost fanatical extent, does not necessarily mean you will too. You might become fixated with an addiction that is quite different and not necessarily drug or alcohol related either. That said, people who find various pleasurable things irresistible should definitely avoid over-indulging in them, least of all drugs and or alcohol.

Your addiction does not define you, there is help and support available to even most desperate of addicts. Join us in our next article where we shall examine withdrawal effects, symptoms, and solutions.

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Anne -

Anne Lazarakis joined the DARA Rehab team from Sydney, Australia. She writes about addiction and mental health on a global, local and community level. She also relays personal accounts of substance abuse and recovery through the stories of our clients, their families and our own team members.

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