My previous story, “Whispers” , is my attempt of a story raising awareness for addiction.
A fellow writer asked if I had anything about addiction. Though I know some people who are/were addicted, some I’m close with and some acquaintances, I can’t say I’ve actually personally experienced what was portrayed in “Whispers”. However, I have heard some stories of the similar kind from my friends, so I decided to write my variation of their story and at the same time, delve deeper to what happens when a person develops an addiction.
I should tell you though that the best stories are of those who are going through rehabilitation, or of those who experienced and overcame addiction firsthand. These are the ones whose stories should be heard. What led them to start, and what led them to finally deciding to change. You might just find out that most of the time, a tragic and traumatic event usually happens before the need to change is activated.
What does this mean? This means that maybe, if we are aware how the thought process works in addiction, then maybe we can understand them more and reach to them — and just maybe…. hopefully… they reach back.
https://syringestosobriety.com/ is my fellow writer’s website.
Her ultimate goal for her website is to “put together an extensive resource of products, programs, articles, advice, real-life blog postings and love”.
She has some wonderful and inspiring words in there, I suggest you check it out or perhaps share it to someone who can maybe benefit from it.
Sure, there are a variety of reasons for developing addiction such as peer pressure, an “escape” from reality, and many others, most of which are stemming from an individual’s lack of self-esteem. These are already commonly known and what I wanted to find out was more about what happens, or the process, in a person’s brain that leads one into addiction.
As we all know, addiction doesn’t just happen overnight, it is a habitual process. One that is developed from a repeated action and an expected reward from the action acted upon.
This is not addiction yet, addiction happens when there is a compulsive need to do the action, in order to get the expected reward (getting high, feeling good, temporary forgetting problems—the reward is usually relative to the user), usually getting in the way of professional and personal responsibilities.
Psychology Today defines it as:
“A condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences”.
There is this TED talk in YouTube lectured by Simon Sinek. It’s entitled “Why Leaders Eat Last”.
Simon talked about why leaders eat last, hence the title, by using the four main neurotransmitters in the brain — Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin. I like to call his lecture as the “Science of Happy”, but that’s just me.
It’s an awesome lecture, I invite everyone to listen or watch it. It’s free and I’m even pasting his video here:
In minute 8:00 until 14:05, he talked about Dopamine and how it can negatively affect you as it comes with a warning, it is addicting.
After hearing that, I reflected on myself and how true can that process be. So, I did further research about dopamine, and its positive and negative effects.
Here’s what I found out.
Dopamine and The Reward Center
Addiction is in direct relation to how our brain is wired. These neurotransmitters called Dopamine, are responsible for our movement, attention, learning, and pleasure/emotional response. In essence, as long as dopamine is balanced, it is good. On the other hand, when imbalanced and not controlled, can produce negative or harmful results to ourselves.
Let’s see if I can explain this process through how we know when to eat:
Hunger can be experienced gradually. You get hungrier as you go longer without food. When we are hungry enough, the body demands your attention reminding it to eat. This enables you to move your body towards the act of eating.
After eating, you get a satisfied feeling from introducing food into your system. This process is learned by the dopamine’s reward center. The reward associated with overcoming the feeling of hunger, is satisfaction, and thus hunger will pass until your body recognizes that you are hungry again.
At the same time, if following a timed schedule to eat (like how most parents practice with their younger children), your body also learns the time of day you eat. In short, it recognizes your eating pattern that if at some point you “forgot to eat”, your body is there to tell you that it’s time to eat. Then you might hear yourself say, “No wonder I’m hungry, it’s past 12:00”, if you are someone who is used to eating lunch at 12:00.
It’s a give and take system— when your body recognizes that you’re hungry, it retrieves the learned behavior to do when you get hungry — you eat, and finally you get rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction.
Activate an action, expect a reward.
A word to the wise though— the body(and the mind), is ignorant to what is good for you or what is bad for you. It only learns what you introduce to it, good or bad, harmful or beneficial, as long as the problem gets fixed and it gets its reward.
There are different ways to get the reward feeling from dopamine. I like to classify these ways into two groups, natural and artificial. The natural ways are ways that we are capable of doing ourselves, without the help of any external/chemical source, to earn a reward feeling from dopamine.
When someone compliments you for a job well done, you feel good about yourself. This could motivate you to do well on another job when that time comes again.
Let’s look at a simple to-do list as another example, a grocery list, or even your Christmas list. Each time you cross off something from your list, you can visually see that you are close to your goal: Completing your list.
That feeling of pride and success even in accomplishing small simple goals such as lists, gives off dopamine, making us feel good and fulfilled with ourselves.
Some people break down bigger tasks into smaller and easier tasks, resulting in small doses of dopamine to be released subconsciously. You’ll feel good of yourself as you look at your lists and see all those small tasks checked off and you are closer to your goal.
Dopamine at work and you didn’t even realize it!
Can you identify other ways that produce dopamine naturally?
Personally, I write myself tasks to do at work because I can’t trust my memory as much anymore. But thinking back, after doing this small research, I have to say it felt good drawing lines across those tasks I’ve completed.
Overall, dopamine feels good!
The artificial ways on the other hand, are ways in which a person looks for the reward feeling through an external source, such as drugs and/or other chemical substances. Some others with medical conditions do need the help of artificial sources, but ALWAYS with the advice from a healthcare professional. In the modern world, many of these artificial sources are more harmful to oneself, rather than not. Even your cellphone can trigger release of dopamine as Simon Sinek explained in his TEDtalk.
When you introduce external substances such as drugs and alcohol, these substances “create a neurochemical reaction that significantly increases the amount of dopamine that is released by neurons in the brain’s reward center. The result of this dopamine overflow is the feeling of being high (SOURCE)“.
This is dopamine at work, artificially.
Some of these artificial substances can create a surge of such intense euphoria that our brain learns this pleasurable sensation, associates it with the substance used and /or activity done, and expects the rewards sensation every time the associated activity is done.
Human nature tends to gravitate towards what feels pleasurable. To what feels good. This leads a person to seek this sensation repeatedly and compulsively, expecting the same reward feeling, and thus becoming an addict.
Addiction in the Long Run
Long-term abusers are more prone to depression. Most long-term addicts develop a loss of interest in activities, sometimes called “Anhedonia”. Even though that this condition can become very obvious, most will still keep using because of the false belief that they will have an interest in activities or life again if they repeat what their brain has learned that gives “Euphoric” rewards, or even just to feel “good”.
The truth is, that feeling of euphoria will never happen again. It’s just the addict’s belief that he will reach it. That, or it’s just the substances’ long term physical effects fooling the brain.
As amazing and magnificent as the brain is, and for what it is capable to learn and store, it can be easily fooled without mastery.
When the expected reward is not met through the action activated, it leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction. Your brain senses an imbalance in the brain and compensates for this by activating you to do the action again until satisfied, or rewarded.
The problem is that for long term usage, since the brain has already learned the activity associated with the desired reward, a tolerance for these chemical substances is developed.
Two things can happen:
The tolerance you’ve developed is now fooling you to repeat the activity until reward is met (therefore increasing the negative impact it does to the brain and body, only adding up to what was already damaged due to long-term use), or the reward center gets damaged that reward will never be met, even if repeated multiple times.
An imbalance in dopamine can prove harmful to a person.
“While the reward system is designed to motivate us to carry out behaviors that benefit our health, it can also motivate certain harmful behaviors when dopamine is artificially stimulated….
…..The brain builds a tolerance to the drug and produces less dopamine when the person uses it, so they will have to use more and more of the drug to feel the same rush of dopamine as they did upon initially using.
Keep in mind that drugs can cause a release of two to ten times more dopamine than natural triggers like eating or sex.”
Since the human body’s tendencies are basically towards something that pleases us and most of the time our brain is ignorant to what is good and bad, what is beneficial and harmful, what is right and what is wrong, it is up to our conscious self to be self-aware of what we introduce to our body and our thoughts.
I’ve lost many friends to substance abuse.
As I was listening to the lecture mentioned above, I remembered someone telling me about the first time they used crystal meth.
This person said the first time, was the best time. “It’s so good and it tastes sweet. You’ll want to do it again, and again, and again. So you keep using, chasing after a high so intense, you will always be chasing it. That’s why other people keep doing it repeatedly”.
I remembered these words again at another time in my life when I was faced with the actual drug in front of me. My
friends asked if I wanted to try, not pressuring me, but I think they were just being polite. They know I don’t do that so I said no. Deep inside though I was curious, I almost said yes, but I’m really glad I said no.
Les Brown once said, “YOU are STRONGER than the evil inside you!”
Remember this when battling with your demons. You can break a bad habit and develop good ones. Your brain can be programmed and reprogrammed. You get to choose what to put in it and you can prevent things from getting worse.
You always have a choice, and that choice is yours. Make it a good one.
Thank you for your time! 🙂