How Addiction Gets A Hold On Your Brain
Addiction, compulsive behaviour which is rooted in the brain’s reward system, is caused by neurological pathways in the central nervous system (CNS) and the neurochemicals that facilitate brain activity. There are numerous kinds of addiction. Some people, such as compulsive gamblers or habitual shoppers, are addicted to activities while others are addicted to substances and both groups are compelled by the reward hormones that their brains release when they engage in a certain type of behaviour or ingest a particular chemical.
Positive lifestyle changes, whether it is reducing the amount of tobacco one smokes or spending less time playing video games, help to change the brain’s neurochemical responses to the offending stimuli.
Human brain chemistry, the product of millions of years of evolution, is programmed to release reward hormones after engaging in certain activities and this cerebral function is believed to have helped human beings to adapt to their environments in prehistoric times. Dopamine, the principal reward hormone, is released when individuals use drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine and prolonged drug use can lead to the compulsive use of these chemicals in order to maintain the dopamine high.
The brain also releases dopamine when a person wins at gambling, achieves success in a video game or engages in other forms of competition, and this too can lead to addiction when taken to excess.
Tobacco addiction, caused by nicotine’s effect on neurotransmitters in the brain, is one of the hardest to beat and the difficulties faced by those who try to stop smoking could be caused by more factors than a physical dependence on nicotine.
Prolonged exposure to nicotine, altering the brain’s neurochemical activity, contributes to the compulsive ingestion of tobacco but it is believed that a range of psychological factors also make it difficult for smokers to quit.
Tackling the physical cravings associated with nicotine withdrawal, lasting for weeks after the decision has been taken to stop smoking, is only half of the battle because smoking is as much of a form of addictive behaviour as it is an addiction to a substance. Many people find that using medication to stop smoking can help make the transition easier, but it’s often a case of fighting the habit as much as the addiction.
Individuals who are suffering from addiction, whether it is to an activity or a substance, are trapped within a rigid pattern of behaviour from which it is difficult to escape if they are unable to make the necessary lifestyle changes.
Finding the willpower to overcome addiction requires a conscious decision to alter one’s behaviour, a sustained commitment to adhere to new routines and the strength to overcome temptation. Neuroplasticity, referring to the brain’s ability to change its physical structure over time, will allow an addict’s brain to rewire itself if a person uses their willpower to break free of the cycle of compulsive behaviour.