How can people get addicted, when there’s no mind-altering substance involved?
Updated: Jul 23
Each person, adult or child, addicted or not, has within their brains a potential drug dealer!
Do you think that people exaggerate when talking about video games, social media, food, or love as a basis for addictions? Surely, they may waste too much time playing video games, but how can this be compared to grave diseases like heroin addiction and the like? As an expert with 30 years of experience in behavioral addictions, I can tell you exactly what is the difference between a bad habit and addiction.
When we talk about addictions, most people think it is about alcohol, drugs, smoking, and other mind-altering substances. We call them substance addictions. People, doctors included, used to think that it was substance abuse that was responsible for the disease of addiction. The idea was that somehow some substances that one swallows or inhales or injects in his bloodstream, hi-jack one's metabolism and make the person dependent upon regular doses of the same stuff, and unable to stop the bad behavior that goes with it. This is only partially true.
In addition to the substances, there are some behaviors or processes, things people repeatedly do, that can produce very similar mind-altering effects as well as the consequences to those that drugs or alcohol do. People can become addicted to gambling, video games, dieting, overeating, watching pornography, shopping, and overworking, and they can also lose control of their relationships and become overly dependent on relationships with abusive or addicted partners.Scientists have recently proved by sophisticated brain imaging that getting high on either substances or such behaviors produces the same changes in the brain of the user. The addictive effect is based on the changes in one’s brain chemistry. Our brains are capable of making mind-altering substances called endorphins.Therefore, each person, adult or child, addicted or not, has within their brains a potential drug dealer!
The difference between a habit and addiction.
Addiction is not just a bad habit or behavior. People can decide to stop their behaviors or change their habits anytime, perhaps with some struggle, but they can do it, whereas they cannot stop their using or gambling, at least not permanently, without experiencing a very bad withdrawal reaction. They know it’s bad, they want to stop, and they make serious decisions and promises, but they cannot stick to them. Something has gone wrong with their ability to stop, with their decision-making, with their ability to choose behavior.
Addiction is a disease.
The changes in the brain make addiction a disease. It is affecting one’s behavior. Our behaviors are generated in the brain! Recent research has proved that long-term repetition of certain behaviors can permanently change our brain circuits, and that is what makes a behavior a disease. Whereas we are talking about getting drunk, high on drugs, staying absorbed in gambling or a videogame for too long, or staying in toxic relationships at the cost of your health, it’s all the same thing. It is not about the behavior as much as the impaired ability to control and stop it.
The studies found that about 12 percent of the population have an alcohol addiction and 2 to 3 percent an addiction to illicit drugs. Also, a very reliable study considering eleven types of addiction—tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, eating, gambling, Internet, love, sex, exercise, work, and shopping—, found such addictions in between 15 to 61 percent of American adults. That’s an awful lot, don’t you think? Just imagine how much pain, misery, and betrayal that figure encompasses—the amount of health, money, and time lost; the broken relationships and traumatized children. . . . The toll is terrible, and the after-effects drag on and on, from one generation to the next. Interestingly, addiction also affects the same percentage of people in the western world, living in abundance, as it does in Africa, where many struggle to feed their children. We can only conclude that there must be something inherent in human beings that compels them to give in or back away from finding solutions to their problems, opening the door to addiction and despair.
Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.
Read more in her book Serenity: How to Recognize, Understand, and Recover from Behavioral Addictions
that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.