The Science Behind Addiction
Addiction illustrationAddiction is characterised by an intense craving for something, inability to moderate its use and repeated use of it in the face of adverse effects. Addiction alters brain chemistry – a sufferer's ability to register pleasure is subverted and normal drives become corrupted. While breaking an addiction is far from easy, it's never impossible. Addiction has a long-lasting, strong influence on a person's mind. Its manifestation shows in three ways: intense cravings, inability to regulate use, and persisting with use following detrimental consequences.

Fresh Insights into an Age-old Condition

It's incredibly rare for someone to deliberately set out to become addicted to a substance or drug, or even an activity like gaming or using social media, which may lead them to need Internet and Gaming Addiction Therapy. Addiction can and does affect anyone and everyone in some way. Take a look at some of the U.S. government's latest stats: • Nearly one in ten Americans, 23 million, are addicted to drugs or alcohol. • Nearly 70% of addicts abuse alcohol. • The drugs most responsibly for addiction include marijuana, cocaine and narcotics.

Pleasure Principles

The human brain always registers pleasure in the same way regardless of its origins, such as a sexual encounter, a calorie-dense meal, psychoactive drug use or a big monetary win. The brain releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter) from the nucleus accumbens to signal pleasure. The nucleus accumbens is located under the cerebral cortex and neuroscientists often refer to this cluster of nerve cells as the brain's pleasure centre. Drugs that are addictive, from caffeine to nicotine to cocaine and heroin, trigger a powerful release of dopamine in the brain. Furthermore, if such a drug is used during an activity that is already rewarding, addictions develop at a faster rate as more dopamine is released during a short space of time with great reliability (at least initially).

The Early Learning Process

In the past, scientists thought experiencing pleasure alone was what caused addicts to struggle to break an addiction. However, recent research reveals the reasons for addiction could be far more complex. For instance, we now know that dopamine doesn't only contribute to feelings of pleasure, it also plays a key role in memory and learning, which are two vital elements for going from liking something to needing it every day. Current theories surrounding addiction hypothesize that dopamine interacts with glutamate (also a neurotransmitter) to highjack the brain's reward-related learning system. That system is essential for sustaining life as it connects activities vital for the survival of humans (sex and food consumption) with pleasure.


As time progress, the brain adapts, making the sought-after drug, activity or substance less rewarding. In nature, time and effort generally always preclude any reward. Addictive behaviours and drugs offer a shortcut to pleasure by flooding the brain with neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. The onslaught can cause confusion in the brain and at this stage, compulsion takes over. Once the pleasure subsides, the memory of the pleasurable effect and the desire to recreate it persists. In essence, normal mechanisms of motivation are no longer in play. The aforementioned learning process is also in play. The brain stores information about the environmental stimulus associated with the sought-after drug so it can be found again. The stored information (memories) lead to a conditioned response-intense craving each time the addict encounters environmental cues. Cravings don't only keep an addiction going; they can trigger a relapse following a period of hard-earned sobriety. For example, an recovering-heroin addict may be more likely to relapse when seeing a hypodermic needle, while an recovering-alcoholic can be potentially trigged back into addiction by the sight of a whiskey bottle. Conditioned learning helps uncover the reasons some people appear to randomly experience serious relapses following years of abstinence. Of course, the science behind addiction is an ever evolving field and many are hoping that findings from undergoing research studies will pave the way for more effective addiction treatment protocols in the future.