Control and Addiction
Many people ask why they cannot just control their drug use or behavioral addiction such as shopping or gambling. If one could control their addiction, there would be no treatment facilities or 12-step groups and it is unrealistic to think that self-control is the answer.
An addiction is so powerful that it defies reason, logic, or willpower. Drugs, gambling, and other behaviors change the core of the individual to the point that control is not an option. An addict lives and breathes their addiction and at some point, the individual loses the ability to control their use.
If we look at the root of the word addiction, it is a Latin term for “enslaved by”. Individuals are enslaved to their addiction despite the negative consequences that occur because of the addiction. The cause of addictions is multidimensional. First, the brain releases dopamine when we experience pleasure, even if the pleasure is not related to an addiction. If you have a drink or snort a line of cocaine, your brain releases dopamine in large quantities. When this happens, another part of your brain makes a memory of the pleasurable experience. Then another part of your brain makes the connection of this pleasurable experience and creates a conditioned response. Over time and with continued use, you find yourself addicted.
Researchers state that dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in our how we learn and what we remember. Learning and memory can play a part in just liking something to becoming addicted to a substance or a behavior. If you continue to use a substance or engage in a behavior despite negative consequences, you will develop a tolerance. That means you must do more drugs, drink more, shop more, or gamble more just to achieve the pleasurable effect.
Once you develop a tolerance, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with a drug or behavior subsides, but the memory remains. You recreate the experience over and over again until you are no longer able to just say no. There is now an association between the behavior or drug, the pleasure experienced, and a conditioned response, which can create cravings.
The ability to control one’s drinking, drug use, or behavior engagement is now gone. There is one thing that you can control and that is choosing to get help and enter a program of recovery.