Addiction Fires Neurotransmitters in the Brain
February 14, 2008 |
Scientists are discovering that psychological addiction has a common factor. All mood-altering drugs elevate levels of the neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Tobacco, cocaine, heroin and caffeine elevate dopamine levels and cause a feeling of euphoria. Dopamine may be the master molecule of addiction.
Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, control how the brain works and what we feel. When you feel pleasure from eating, falling in love, or receiving a compliment, it is dopamine that causes the feeling. Every experience that humans find enjoyable may be linked to dopamine whether it be listening to music, savoring chocolate, enjoying sex or shooting heroin.
Fifty neurotransmitters have been discovered to date. At least a half dozen are associated with addiction by causing a feeling of euphoria. Serotonin is another interesting neurotransmitter. It has a sedating effect. This neurotransmitter can be affected by rhythm such as stroking hair, slow, deep breathing, or a rocking motion.
It is possible that the desire for the serotonin effect enforces repetitive habits such as nail biting, playing with hair or nose picking. There is a repetition and a rhythm to these habits. It may be an unhealthy attempt at trying to gain comfort from the serotonin effect. Starches have been known to have a calming effect on the brain due to increased levels of serotonin. We are using junk food, starch, drugs, and bad habits to adjust our feelings through stimulating our neurotransmitters.
The pleasure effect of neurotransmitters is designed by God to form healthy, natural dependencies. A wholesome pleasure motivates us to find good tasting food, comfortable shelter, and loving relationships. Dopamine and serotonin reinforce healthy actions and behaviors.
Dopamine has a powerful ability to form triggers. During pleasure, neurological pathways are being formed that will trigger a physical and emotional reaction to repeat that pleasure. We know it as an urge. We feel compelled. Our minds can become fixed on pleasure until we think of nothing else.
Intense pleasure forms the most powerful triggers. For this reason, sex, drugs and food create the most powerful urges. A syringe, rolling papers, an X-rated video, McDonalds, or anything that is associated with the pleasure becomes a trigger for these powerful urges. Compelled by an urge, we feel pulled toward pleasure like steel to a magnet. The emotions overdrive and our body quivers with adrenaline. An addict may shake and sweat with the anticipation of pleasure. A tennis player may also experience the same reaction before a championship. The body and mind are being prepared for action.
Urges are powerful at motivating us towards good or towards evil. We can feel the urge to pray, the urge to be kind, the urge to create or build, or we can feel the urge to destroy. Yet, even the most powerful urge cannot negate our responsibility. We can never blame an urge for the action we have formed, built and accepted. We have given it a power from the thoughts that we allowed it to form.
Compulsion or Addiction?
March 10, 2008 |
Is it a habit, an obsession, a compulsion or an addiction?
Compulsion and addiction each involve a perceived lack of control by the individual facing them. However, there are some key differences.
Most all of us exhibit habitual behavior, for instance looking both ways before crossing the road, but compulsions and addictions refer to those instances where these behaviors disrupt an individual's ability to function.
We've all avoided stepping on the cracks between paving stones on the way to school: that was no mere habit, but a compulsion, since we thought there would be an undesirable outcome if we didn't perform the ritual. Likewise, common compulsions include repeatedly making sure the gas is turned off when leaving the house and making sure the lights are "properly" out by switching them on and off again.
Compulsive actions and behaviors offer temporary relief from anxiety in turn, the need to reduce this anxiety is what drives the compulsive behavior. Sometimes an obsessive thought relates to the compulsive behavior (such as fear of germs and hand-washing), but often the compulsive behavior has no clear relation to anything in particular, like performing a superstitious ritual of walking all the way around one's car before getting in.
The term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific pleasure-seeking activity, despite harmful consequences to the individual's health, mental state or social life. Like when one reaches for a cup of coffee, the pleasure center of the brain receives stimulation so the action is repeated. Not all doctors agree on what addiction or dependency is. The term is often reserved for drug addictions to psychoactive substances that alter the natural chemical behavior of the brain, defined by tolerance to the drug, withdrawal symptoms and inability to decrease the amount consumed, but it is sometimes applied to other compulsions such as problem gambling and compulsive overeating. Many people, both psychology professionals and laypersons, now feel that the term addiction should be made to include psychological dependency on such things as gambling, food, sex, pornography, computers, work, exercise, shopping, and religion. Although these are things or tasks which, when used or performed, do not fit into the traditional view of addiction and may be better defined as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, withdrawal symptoms may occur with abatement of such behavior.
Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses, or images that cause anxiety or distress. Repeated doubts and the need to have things in a particular order are some of the more common obsessions. The individual with obsessions usually attempts to suppress such thoughts or impulses or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (i.e., a compulsion). A compulsion, then, is a feeling that you have to do something to relieve the obsessive thought or doubt. A compulsion is a physical or mental act that you perform over and over the act of an obsession. Common compulsions include counting, washing, arranging and checking things again and again. When these tendencies are exaggerated, like when having to perform a ritual of making sure the front door is locked 10 or 20 times every time you go out, the behavior has escalated to an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Such behavior then becomes time-consuming and interferes with normal daily routine.
Perhaps the most famous of all OCD sufferers was the billionaire entrepreneur Howard Hughes ("The Aviator"), who spent his later life mentally and physically incarcerated by his own fears of contamination and elaborate cleaning rituals.
No one is sure why people have OCD. New research suggests that OCD may be related to atypical functioning of the circuitry in a part of the brain called the striatum. Whatever the reason, there seems to be an inappropriate response to anxiety in the deeper, primitive part of the brain that is not involved in reasoning. The cause of OCD is probably a mix of many factors including neurobiological, environmental influences and the way we think.
A link between addiction and OCD was illustrated when an assessment of 50 alcoholic patients revealed that 12% had OCD, 5 or 6 times greater than in the general population. Addictions are often refractory to treatment, but patients treated for substance abuse and OCD showed greatly reduced OCD symptoms and higher overall abstinence rates.