Addiction is the intense craving that we have for an action or substance that gives us feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Often people who are addicted will lose control and over use the substance even though there are negative consequences.
Why do our brains get addicted?
Our brain has certain pathways or circuits that kicks into action with addictive actions or substances. These are known as the pleasure pathways or reward centers. The reward circuits in the brain includes, pleasure, motivation, reward and memory.
When these circuits are activated, Dopamine, the feel-good chemical is released. The brain remembers this pleasurable experience linking the addictive stuff with the feeling.
When we keep doing and consuming the addictive stuff, our brain develops tolerance, that means it stops producing as much dopamine each time. Hence, we will need more and more of the same stuff to get the same level of pleasure or ‘high’.
What stuff can get us hooked
A lot of stuff can be addictive from drugs and alcohol, to the internet, and even shopping and food.
Never experiment with drugs! Never think that one try won’t harm you. Such addictive substances can release up to 10 times the amount of dopamine in the brain. When that happens, the brain stores the information associating the drugs with the ‘high’ feeling. These memories are very hard to erase even years after getting hooked. People who are hooked on addictive substances find it very difficult to stop the habit because when the substance leaves the body, it triggers the amygdala, which is responsible for ‘fight or flight’ behavior. As a result, a person will feel high levels of stress, anxiety and irritability without the drugs and will crave for it even more.
Alcohol can affect muscle control, coordination and cognition or thinking. Excessive drinking will shrink the grey and white matter of the cortex and damage brain function. Grey matter in the brain is where information is processed and white matter helps to link the information with the different parts of the brain for different functions. Even when alcohol is no longer in the body and the bloodstream, the grey matter of the brain will still need a long time, even months to recover.
While we need the internet for daily living, school or work, getting hooked to sites that do not help us live a better life can be very damaging. Sites that can cause us to experience heightened pleasure and emotional experiences such as gaming and pornography are highly addictive.
Some research suggest that the internet may not be a problem in itself but rather a result of mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, compulsion and self-blame.
How do I know if I am hooked?
All addictions have similar characteristics:
- Loss of control over the use
- Increasing urge to use the substance
- Become irritable and moody when unable to do the activity or use the substance
- Unable to cut back even though it gets in the way of daily living
- Try to hide it from family and friends
- Use it as a way of escape from life’s problem.
What can I do to NOT get addicted?
Live a balanced life and find pleasure from healthy activities. Hang out with friends that are supportive and a good influence. Don’t experiment with activities or substances that are highly addictive.
Addiction however can happen with seemingly harmless activities. If you find yourself loosing control over certain habits try the following 10 steps:
- Observe your own behavior and find patterns of your addictive activity. When do you engage in the activity? How do you feel just before you do the activity? What makes you want to engage in the activity?
- Don’t try to stop the habit immediately.
- Think of other activities that are beneficial and that you enjoy doing.
- List your daily activities and when you do the addictive habit.
- Slowly replace the habit with other beneficial activities.
- Schedule to do the addictive activity just before family time and social meetings. This will help to cap the amount of time you have for this activity.
- Set goals to cut down the amount of time spent on addictive activity.
- Put up positive reminders.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you slip every now and then
- Congratulate yourself when you do succeed even for a day.
Love yourself just for trying.
If you are stuck on any kind of addiction, please get professional help.
If you are feeling that life is not worth living and that you want to end your life, please get help immediately
Reference: Tateno M, Teo AR, Ukai W, Kanazawa J, Katsuki R, Kubo H and Kato TA (2019) Internet Addiction, Smartphone Addiction, and Hikikomori Trait in Japanese Young Adult: Social Isolation and Social Network. Front. Psychiatry 10:455. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00455 Tripathi A: Impact of Internet Addiction on Mental Health: An Integrative Therapy Is Needed. Integr Med Int 2017;4:215-222. doi: 10.1159/000491997 Young KS: Internet addiction: symptoms, evaluation and treatment; in Van de Creeek L, Jackson T (eds): Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book. Florida, Professional Resource Press, 1999, pp 19–31.