How does addiction hijack the brain?
Addiction can have a long and powerful influence on our brains and it can manifest in three ways: craving for the addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing with the addiction, it spite of all the bad consequences. Recovery from an addiction involves our willpower, but it is not enough to “just say no”. Instead, we typically use various strategies — including psychotherapy, medication, and self-care — and try to break the grip of the addiction. But what actually happens in our brain?
Nobody starts out intending to get an addiction, but many people get caught in its stronghold. According to latest statistics almost 1 in 10 — are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. More than two-thirds of people with addiction abuse alcohol, probably because it is socially accepted to get drunk, and alcohol is so available.
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they are drugs or alcohol, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. Pleasure in the brain has a powerful signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (see picture). Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to it as the brain’s pleasure center.
Our brains are so powerful that even thinking about the addiction can release the feeling of pleasure and we engage once again. We go from “liking to wanting to obsessing” and end up repeating the pattern. It will become a major part of our lives and all sense and sensibility goes out the window.
Because addiction is learned and stored in the brain as memory, recovery is a slow and scary process. The precise methods are different based on the nature of the addiction, but all treatments are aimed at helping you to unlearn the addiction, while adopting healthy coping techniques. Having said that, addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and opioids are very different to, the addiction to food. If you have to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol you “just have to stop”. You can avoid environments where the temptations are lurking. Not being around it will help you recover faster.
But you can’t avoid food…… we need it to live and function.