How does someone become addicted. In my CEO message I talk about how an addicted person is often associated with the picture of a person on skid row drinking out of a paper bag or poking a needle in his or her arm. When individuals first start to use addictive substances, it is never with the intention to become addicted. Substance abuse is a phenomenon that slowly seduces the individual with its false promises and deceptive illusions. Vancouver, partly because of our climate and our status of a port city, have combined with other factors to create a systemic substance abuse problem. Following are the typical pattens we see when it comes to substance abuse in Vancouver. If you or anyone you know is struggling with a substance abuse issue, HeartQuest provides some proven solutions. Call Cory personally at 604.818.1771 or Click here to send Cory an email.
PATTERNS OF SUBSTANCE USE
1) No Use
- approximately 20% of the people in our society do not use any mood altering substances for non-medicinal purposes.
2) Initial Use
- motivation comes from personal curiosity & peer pressure
- this stage is highlighted by experimentation and adventure
- willingness of person to choose to use
- availability of substance of choice to use
- may be a separate and distinct experience for each substance tried
- recent trends show this pattern occurring most often in adolescence but also occurring at younger ages
3) Irregular Use
- responsible use on an irregular basis
- no substance seeking behavior except monetary preparation
- the choice process is still heavily involved
- use of substances only during non-work periods
- substance use fun and enjoyable with very few side effects
- use generally motivated by larger event (party, holiday, special dinner, etc.) rather than individual need
- approximately 20% of people in our society are irregular users
4) Regular Use
- use motivated more by personal initiation rather than by the event
- use mood altering substances more than 3 times per month
- substance seeking and substance use take up a larger amount of time
- substances are now being used to compensate for anxiety or stress
- more regular use of addictive substances (habit formation)
- loss of control over the use of the substances may begin to happen
- more severe side effects happen (blackouts, hangovers, etc.)
- some personal concerns (guilt) by the user may occur in this pattern and attempts at control and / or abstinence
- approximately 40% of people in our society are regular users
5) Problem / Intensified Use
- frequency of use varies widely and may range from daily to binge use
- 10% of people in our society are problem users experiencing some of the following problems:
a) Loss Of Control
- use of substance beyond what was intended most of the time
- control lost to the point where the person can control onset of using but has little control over amount used
- when substance use takes up an extraordinary amount of time
- always an excuse to use the substance (always an alibi after)
c) Continued Use In spite Of Negative Consequences
- lots of denial (refusal to see facts as they really are and refusal to deal with consequences of their actions)
- rationalization and blame help the person to justify the drug use in spite of nameless fears and anxieties (shame)
- substance use now has a bigger priority that relationships, friends, health, career, or other major life areas
- tendency to objectify relationships
- possibly suicidal
6) Addicted / Dependent Use
- inability to predict or control consumption of substance
- entire life depends on the use of the substance (obsessed)
- can’t function without the drug and severe withdrawal reactions occur with abstention
- medical complications due to the substance use
- continued use even though this use threatens their life, health, job, marriage, and family
- completely physically and psychologically addicted
- death through complications or accident a real possibility
- approximately 10% of people in our society are substance dependent
Amy Winehouse was a terrific talent and one of my favourite recording artists. She also struggled with substance abuse. To what extent remains largely unknown but her death has fueled debate as to the precise nature of drug addiction and how it should be addressed by society as a whole.
In other words, why do some people behave in the often self-destructive manner in which they do? And why are people addicted to drugs in the first place? How, if at all, might they be helped?
Now, you might think that this is a spectacularly hard task to delve into the neuroscience of addiction to try to shed some light. Surely, drugs of abuse (such as amphetamines, cocaine, opiates, and alcohol) have a broad range of actions that are dissimilar from each other? Well, that is partly true, but when it comes to their addictive properties, they have more in common than you might think.
What Constitutes Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction, as most will know, develops as a result of chronic exposure to a particular substance. People who are addicted to a drug show similar patterns of behaviour. These include:
1. A compulsion to seek the drug
2. An inability to control the amount of drug consumption
3. A negative emotional state when subjected to periods of withdrawal
Neuroscientists have sought to understand the neural mechanisms underlying these behaviours for generations and emerging from these studies is the concept of the ‘reward circuit’ that seems to be involved in the development and maintenance of drug addiction. In fact, research on the brain may be entering a golden age of discovery.
You see, the brain behaves a little bit like a factory with different departments responsible for producing a certain sort of feeling or behaviour. This means that there are distinct areas that are concerned with happiness, memory, movement and so on. This is, obviously, an oversimplification, however, it is useful to think of the brain in this way particularly when analyzing how brain circuits are altered as a result of drug use.
The Reward Circuit
The reward circuit consists of several brain regions that are heavily interconnected; each with distinct – but related – functionality. Dysfunction in each of these areas has been implicated in problematic drug use.
The Nucleus Accumbens: Pleasure Center
Now, the nucleus accumbens is known as the pleasure centre of the brain. This can be a result of taking drugs of abuse, or simply eating, engaging in sexual activity or indeed anything associated with pleasurable reward.
All drugs of abuse raise the level of a chemical known as dopamine in the pleasure center and it is this elevation in dopamine that is responsible for the feeling of euphoria associated with drug intake.
The Amygdala: Fear
On the flip side of the coin, the amygdala is a region of the brain situated right next to the nucleus accumbens, but is often associated with feelings of fear and anxiety.
As opposed to the positive reinforcement created by the pleasure center, it is during “withdrawal” that the amygdala seems to have its largest role. Basically, as access to the drug is taken away, stress-related hormones are increased in the amygdala, which can lead (at least partially) to the negative feeling associated with withdrawal.
The Hippocampus: Memory
The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is associated with learning and memory as well as the ability to perform tasks requiring navigation, such as finding your way around a building.
Activation of this memory center of the brain is implicated in initiating “cue-induced” drug-seeking behaviour. Indeed, it has been shown that “cue-induced” craving of drugs (e.g. the feeling of needing a drink in a pub or a cigarette with a cup of coffee) is associated with an increase in activity in the hippocampus (as well as the amygdala) in humans, indicating that normal memory function may be being encroached upon by drugs of abuse.
The Prefrontal Cortex: Decision
The prefrontal cortex are often described as being critical in carrying out decision-making, a process known as executive function; the activity of decision making is extremely disrupted in subjects who are addicted to drugs. This may go some way to explaining why drug users often make poor decisions regarding drug intake (e.g. pursuing a drug whilst fully aware of the negative impact drug intake will have on them and the people around them.)
What Goes On In The Brain Of A Drug Addict
As complicated as this may have sounded, it represents a general idea of what actually goes on in the mind of a drug addict. In other words, drugs mess with your head. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, click here or call Cory at: 604.818.1771.