It can be hard for the layperson to define precisely what addiction is since it’s so hard to conceptualize a habit outside of a person’s control. Clinicians consider it a relapsing brain disease, characterized by compulsiveness and continuation of a habit in spite of the negative consequences it precipitates.
Addiction is a widespread disease that affects people from all backgrounds, in spite of geography or culture. In America alone, annual costs pertaining to addiction amount to an estimated $700 billion. At the same time, substances of abuse are implicated in around 90,000 deaths each year.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed the effects of addiction knows just how devastating it can be. Apart from the utter destruction suffered by the addict, it can also unravel the lives of everyone close to them, and instill within them with a sense of helplessness. In many cases, the job of overcoming addiction is best left to professionals at an inpatient clinic. Other times, a person is able to take on the task themselves.
In spite of what the case may be, identifying addiction becomes an absolutely crucial step if a recovery is ever to occur. Below, this article will seek to demystify addiction, warning signs, and what you can do about it.
Addiction And The Brain
While many typically associate addiction with substance use, the reality is that many stimuli can lead to the same pathologies that drug abuse can. This is because the brain regions involved in something like cocaine addiction overlap those involved in gambling addiction. Even palatable food creates a neural response that shares some similarity with drug administration.
This is because all these things act on the dopamine reward system, an ancient series of circuits within the brain. This reward system was always and continues to be crucial to our survival as a species. This these brain regions are responsible for motivation, excitement, and the pursuit of basic needs like shelter, food, and sex.
In an evolutionary context where drugs of abuse were rare or nonexistent and food was often far more scarce than it is today, the dopamine reward system kept ancestral humans in pursuit of the things crucial to their survival in spite of often great adversity or hardship.
Indicators Of Addiction
Due to the ways that addiction acts on the brain, signs of dependence often percolate to the surface, and usually occur with a fair degree of consistency from case to case.
Personality changes are common. Sometimes a typically energetic or outgoing person becomes distant and increasingly isolated. This is partly because addiction leads to a selective insensitivity to dopamine. In turn, their threshold required to feel joy is raised, and simple pleasures like hanging out with friends or going to the movies are no longer enough to entice them enough to leave their house.
By the same mechanism, depression often manifests. When the brain is constantly flooded with dopamine from cocaine use or compulsive gambling, the brain naturally counteracts the overload by decreasing dopamine receptors. This sometimes renders the addict chemically incapable of feeling happiness in the absence of the drug or pathological habit.
As an addicted person is chemically drained of the motivation required to properly function in society, it is not uncommon for their professional life to suffer as a result. Holding down a job becomes increasingly difficult due to indifference, mood changes, a drop in performance, or problems with coming in on time.
Lying or Suspicious Secretive Behavior
As a person gets deeper into an addiction, they will often become ashamed by their compulsions. They know on a conscious level that what they are doing is wrong and detrimental to their life, but they nonetheless maintain the habit. To try to save face with people around them, they will often disappear at bizarre times and cite some far-fetched excuse for where they went. Other times they will reliably come up with an excuse for why they cannot attend a social event.
Sudden Changes In Body Weight
Depending on the nature of the particular addiction, the person’s metabolism or dietary habits can change dramatically. Abusing drugs may increase or reduce appetite, or an addiction to food might be the problem itself. Within the context of other symptoms, dramatic changes in weight can be a reliable indicator that the person is going through some type of ordeal.
Unusual Changes In Sleep Patterns
Another way that drugs or dangerous habits wreak havoc on the body is by alterations in the circadian rhythm. For example, gambling, using cocaine, or drinking alcohol into the early hours of the morning will often result in intense drowsiness or prolonged bouts of sleep the following day to recover.
On the other hand, other sedative drugs like opiates may result in a person sleeping for large chunks of the day, and then remain up all night as a result. Any changes that addiction may cause in regard to sleep differ greatly on an individual basis but are nonetheless fairly common among those struggling with dependence.