The science of addiction – leafie
Throughout society’s tumultuous relationship with drug addiction, myths have long eclipsed facts. For much of the last century, people living with addiction were not deemed worthy of the same attention as those with other medical needs. Their condition was considered a decision and their character “morally defective”.
Addiction is A sickness. It affects our brain and body chemistry, and the key to recovery is health, not willpower.
Substance abuse: understanding the basics
Before we dive deeper, let’s clear up some of the terminology surrounding addiction. Addiction, addiction, and addiction are three terms that are often used interchangeably in drug discourse, but there are actually subtle but important differences between them, as detailed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- substance abuse is a pattern of drug use that is detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of the user.
- Addiction is the physical aspect of addiction, characterized by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.
- Addiction is a marked behavioral change, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, which is caused by drug-induced biochemical changes.
- Substance use disorder is the preferred term of the scientific community. It is a chronic and relapsing brain disease, which usually encompasses both dependence and addiction.
Repetition addiction cycle can be divided into three distinct life stages:
- The binge and intoxication phase, where the user experiences the pleasant effects of the drug.
- The withdrawal and negative affect phase, where the user experiences a negative emotional state in the absence of the drug.
- The preoccupation and anticipation phase, where the user seeks the drug again after a period of abstinence.
The cycle can vary in length, spanning months for some users and repeating several times a day for others. One consistency, however, is that the cycle tends to intensify over time – and, with that, the addiction changes both the structure and the function of the brain.
addiction in the brain
The ins and outs of how drugs interact with the brain are still being studied, with much of our existing knowledge based on the results of animal studies. Scientists’ current addiction model largely focuses on one particular chemical system in the brain – the dopamine system.
Drugs are very good at mimicking the brain’s own chemicals. They can activate certain receptors that tell specific regions of the brain to amplify the release of dopamine. Being the primary neurotransmitter involved in regulating feelings of pleasure, overstimulation of the dopaminergic system with mind-altering drugs can cause a euphoric “high”.
But dopamine isn’t just involved in emotion; playing with this system can have a big impact on our sense of motivation and reward – two factors that play a major role in drug abuse.
The brain is programmed to keep us alive; it rewards life-essential behaviors, such as eating and having sex. Shopping, scrolling on Instagram, and eating cakes all give us a natural dopamine rush, so we continue to seek out these behaviors in everyday life. But common drugs of abuse – nicotine, alcohol and cocaine among them – trigger a much larger release of dopamine than natural rewards, among 2 and 10 times After.
Not only that dopamine rush strongly reinforce drug-using behavior, but it can also hijack the brain’s reward circuitry. With continued drug use, the brain struggles to function at a basic level and needs more and more of the drug just to feel “normal”. The natural rewards quickly become much less enjoyable and the user will likely feel flat or depressed when not under the influence of the drug.
With this distorted sense of motivation, the brain is trained to seek drugs at the expense of other basic needs. Over time, the user’s sense of pleasure will diminish, but the sense of “wanting” will grow – and the cycle of drug use will continue.
No factors cause addiction
Society is always trying to find something to blame for the prevalence of addiction, be it the drug or the user. But if we look at the statistics, it is clear that not all drug addicts will develop some form of dependence or addiction. It is estimated that more than 3 million adults use drugs per year in England and Wales alone, but less than 300,000 UK adults came into contact with addictions services between 2020 and 2021. Other research suggests that 10-20% of all drug addicts never become addicted.
Addiction Is Real, But It’s Not enough as simple as the anti-drug message we’ve been fed since our youth, implying that any interaction with an illegal substance will send us into an inevitable spiral of addiction. The truth is that no factor can predict whether a person will develop an addiction. There is a complex and often unpredictable interaction between nature and nature in force. Our unique biology versus our lived experiences.
Genetic factors are believed to explain between 40% and 60% the risk of a person developing an addiction. There isn’t necessarily an “addiction gene” where substance abuse is a certain trait for those who possess it, but there are some high-risk genetic variations. These gene expressions are even being treated as potential drug targets for new therapies.
Another known risk factor for addiction is exposure to traumatic experiences. Whether as a coping mechanism or as a form of escape, it is not uncommon for trauma to drive a person to drugs or alcohol. There is also evidence suggest that chronic stress disrupts biological pathways involved in impulse control and other addictive behaviors. Like a study found, participants exposed to childhood trauma had significantly higher levels of dependence on substances such as alcohol, cocaine and opioids.
What makes a drug addictive?
Although only a small aspect of addiction involves the substance itself, it is important to note that certain drugs – namely nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, opioids and amphetamines – have greater abuse potential. high than others; it’s not entirely due to the predisposition of the user.
If we compare the prevalence of abuse of cannabis and opioidsthe data shows that more than 20% of heroin users will subsequently develop an addiction, while for cannabis users this figure would be less than 10%. Both drugs are thought to activate the reward system and trigger a release of dopamine, but why are opioids so much more addictive?
ian hamiltonlecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, says leafy that the route of administration of the drug is probably the cause. Opioids are commonly used intravenously (IV), which means they are injected into the bloodstream, while cannabis is usually smoked or vaporized. “Any drug taken intravenously will have an effect more quickly,” he shares, which carries a higher risk of becoming addictive. It makes sense; the harder and faster you climb, the more intense the crash – and you’ll probably want to take it back.
This does not mean that cannabis cannot be abused. Cannabis abuse can destroy lives in the same way as any other addiction, but unlike opioids, cannabis addiction and tolerance are far less likely. Cannabis withdrawals are also much milder and more treatable than opioid withdrawal effects.
Hamilton also points out that cannabis is often combined with tobacco, which means that “when [users] try to reduce their cannabis use, they experience withdrawal symptoms that they attribute to the cannabis, but which are probably due to the tobacco,” he explains. “Although it can be difficult in reality to distinguish which withdrawal symptom is related to which drug.”
Despite the misinformation that continues to circulate, the biological effects of addiction cannot be undone by willpower alone. Effective treatment and management are crucial, but recovery is possible, even at the physiological level.
In studypublished in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers imaged the brains of five participants with meth use disorders before and after 14 months of abstinence from the drug. They found that drug-induced damage to dopamine transporters was reversed, with levels reaching near normal.
In the UK, doctors’ surgeries and addiction services offer a number of different rehabilitation treatments, which often include pharmacological and behavioral approaches to recovery. There are a number of known drug therapies, such as methadone, a substitute used to prevent opioid withdrawal and reduce cravings.
Talking therapies have also been shown to effectively manage substance use disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in particular, is also one of the most common forms of evidence-based treatment used for addiction treatment, with evidence suggesting that CBT can improve emotion regulation and reduce addictive behaviors.
There is even accumulating evidence to support the use of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of substance use disorders. Psilocybin therapy trials, in particular, have shown positive results in patients living with alcohol use disorder and nicotine addiction. There are still many legal and clinical barriers to psychedelic therapy, but some experts believe this new approach to addiction treatment may outperform existing interventions.
Where to get help
If you feel your relationship with drugs is having a negative impact on your life, professional support is available. The NHS has a treatment guide for addiction, with links to addiction services near you.
Mind, a UK-based mental health charity, also has a detailed list of useful addiction and addiction services which can be viewed here.
If you think someone close to you is suffering from drug addiction, there are a number of ways you can help them. Although it can be extremely difficult to intervene in a person’s drug use, the NHS has advice for loved ones of people with substance use problems.