As many people who have suffered from an addiction know, there is often a very real biological urge related to the compulsion that prevents them from pursuing an otherwise normal life. This is true for many addictive actions, including alcohol, sex, gambling, or drug abuse. As research develops, it becomes clearer to scientists, and in turn, the general public, that the root causes of addiction as an illness rather than some abstract moral failing. Here is some of the information that we know now.

Shared Biological Roots of Destructive Tendencies

According to Dr. Peter Martin of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, understanding addiction will yield greater returns for the general population in terms of understanding pleasure and human motivations. In studies of the human brain through a functional MRI, he recognized that both behavioral and drug addictions are strongly linked in brain activity, transmitting dopamine that makes the individual user feel that particularly sought after high.

In Dr. Martin’s studies, he looked at the effect that repeated drug use has on our dopamine receptors and noted that the more a user takes the drugs, the harder it is to receive the high they seek. This is common knowledge for users of drugs and the professionals with whom they work, but is difficult to get across to a society which cannot understand why going cold turkey is such a difficult, and at times, dangerous way for an addicted individual to quit. People who have been using the destructive drugs for such a long period can no longer use it to achieve the previous high, but must utilize the substances as a method for retaining normalcy. The addictions effectively rewire the brain, and cannot physically control their choices or decisions without professional help.

Another sign that many types of addictions are more linked than previously understood comes with the knowledge that many people are addicted to more than one area at a time. Compulsive gamblers, for example, are more susceptible to abusing alcohol or drugs. According to the executive director of A Gentle Path addiction services in Mississippi, multiple addictions “reinforce and become part of one another”, rather than simply existing side by side in the same individual.

At Discovery, we believe in a person-focused approach to recovery, which is a vital part of battling off multiple overlapping addictions. There is a danger in treating only on the specific substance rather than the affected person as a whole, especially when it comes to the likelihood of relapse or replacing one ‘beaten’ addiction with another.

As more research develops to help show the overlapping nature of many addictive tendencies, it can have far-reaching impacts on many areas of treatment. Scientists are beginning to develop medications that would work to repair the pleasure circuits of addicts. An overall conversation shift away from blame and shame towards a disease and rehabilitation focused system is necessary to treat all addictions, especially those related to drug and alcohol use.

To learn more about the services we offer at the Discovery Institute, please contact us by phone at 800-714-2175 today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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