Although there can be significant judgment of those who are addicted to heroin, cocaine, prescription pain pills, or marijuana, there are millions of Americans who are addicted to all sorts of other substances or behaviors, such as caffeine or sugar. Although they may not be as severe as cocaine, for example, and although it’s a milder version of an addiction, the brain works the same way for everyone. Most people, no matter who they are and where they live, have a least one form of addiction.
Here are some common forms of addiction that might not have severe consequences, but can still have negative effects on our health and well being:
- –Sex and relationships
- –Spiritual or transcendent experiences
Looking at addiction from the perspective that everyone is vulnerable to it can help reduce the stigma addiction carries. We are all vulnerable to the way the brain works. We all engage in certain behaviors that the brain interprets as necessary, thus those behaviors become self-reinforcing. And soon, it’s possible to develop an addiction whether that’s a behavior or a substance we ingest.
“Everyone engages in addictive behaviors to some extent because such things as eating, drinking, and sex are essential to survival and highly reinforcing,” says G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington.
As mentioned above, the brain works in the same way for all of us. The brain is one large network of communication. There are billions of neurons and nerve cells frequently taking in information and passing it along to other neurons. In order for one neuron to communicate with another, it creates a chemical, called a neurotransmitter. In order to begin communication, the neurotransmitter attaches to the part of the cell in the brain called the receptor. Together the neurotransmitter and the receptor act like a key and lock. Once the neurotransmitters do their job of communication, they are pulled back into the neuron from which they came and the messaging process is complete. These neural connections and communication are important in a person’s learning, behavior, and mood regulation.
However, certain drugs and pleasurable experiences can affect the ability for the brain’s neurons to communicate with one another, thus affecting behavior, learning, and moods. Depending upon the activity or substance, certain neurotransmitters may get produced more frequently than others. One neurotransmitter commonly produced with pleasurable experiences, such as with the high of cocaine or the thrill of winning lots of money, is dopamine. Over time, a person’s brain can begin to believe that they need that neurotransmitter in order to survive. As a result, he or she may feel that they cannot live without the substance they have been taking on a regular basis. Or they may feel that they cannot stop shopping, gambling, or having sex.
Most of us can live with certain milder addictions, such as to caffeine or overworking. However, other addictions can become lethal. If you feel that you cannot stop the use of certain drugs or behaviors, such as heroin, alcohol, or gambling, contact a mental health provider for immediate support.
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