The word addiction has primarily been used to describe a pattern of behavior for those who drink alcohol and ingest drugs. Over the last several years, the word addiction has taken on new meaning. There are now addictions to shopping, eating, gambling, working, sex, exercise, Internet use, and hoarding. This has raised some questions as to whether some of these are truly addictions or are they just out of control behaviors.
There are some that have a hard time accepting gambling and other behavioral or process addictions as real addictions. Addiction for some simply means that alcohol or other drugs needs to be ingested for a “real” addiction to occur. A problem gambler can share stories about their behavior, yet the psychiatric community only recently changed to include gambling addiction as a non-substance addiction. It will take time for these other behavioral addictions to find their rightful place in the psychiatric community and there are many individuals who are advocating for such changes.
Research has helped behavioral addictions get the attention they deserve. One such topic has to do with our brains and the pleasure pathway. When we experience pleasure, these pathways light up and become very active. The reason for this has to do with chemicals in our brains such as dopamine. Dopamine is picked up by receptors in the brain and when this occurs, we feel “high”. This high occurs when we drink alcohol and ingest other chemicals such as cocaine or opioids, but the interesting thing is it can also occur when we experience certain behaviors.
A few of these behaviors can include shopping or using the Internet. Anything that gives us pleasure produces dopamine in our brains. This is considered to be the very start of the addiction process.
Once we begin to shop or use the Internet too much, the brain is forced to withdraw neuroreceptors in an attempt to restore balance. This is called tolerance. A person no longer feels the high from using the same amount of alcohol or drugs or using the Internet the same every day or shopping just once or twice per week. If we go without, we experience withdrawal symptoms. With behavioral addictions, the withdrawal may be more psychological in that we experience restlessness, anxiety, depression, or irritability.
Once this addiction takes hold, a person either chases another high or tries to avoid withdrawal. This leads to an obsession and a compulsion in spite of negative consequences. Our pleasure pathways have now become overly sensitive and will respond to cues that can trigger cravings for drugs, alcohol, or a certain behavior. This is the classic pattern of all addictions whether chemical or behavioral.
Cottonwood Tucson offers a place of understanding, healing, and hope. Our residential treatment programs have gained international renown for an integrative approach to co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling, know that treatment is available. Recovery is possible. A new life is waiting. Call us today for information: (800) 877-4520