All addictions share the same principle. What is it?

Janis Dougherty is a medical illustrator, explains the basics of addiction in an easy to understand animated format… Regardless of the substance – whether it is food, drugs, alcohol, or behaviour patterns, the process is the same.

At a very basic level, our brains seek pleasure and that is a normal process that helps us survive, but when levels of Serotonin and Dopamine are not in balance, it can be a problem. The video was based on the book The Craving Brain by Ronald A. Ruden, M.D., Ph.D. who offers a radical but sensible approach to addiction recovery that is not dependent on will power.

And it’s true in the 1930s, when researchers first began to investigate what caused addictive behaviour, they believed that people who developed addictions were somehow morally flawed or lacking in willpower. Overcoming addiction, they thought, involved punishing miscreants or, alternately, encouraging them to muster the will to break a habit.

The scientific consensus has changed since then. Today any addiction is recognised as a chronic disease that changes both brain STRUCTURE and FUNCTION. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of PLEASURE and ending with a drive toward COMPULSIVE behaviour.

The important message here is that our brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a satisfying meal, a drug, a monetary reward, or sex. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists once believed that the experience of pleasure alone was enough to prompt people to continue seeking an addictive substance or activity. But more recent research suggests that the situation is more complicated. Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory – two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.

According to the current theory about addiction, dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward. The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviours stimulate the same circuit – and then overload it.

In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. The brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors – an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud. That’s why people who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted—an effect known as tolerance.

It is possible to overcome addiction as our body also offers us the possibilities of renewal and if we stick to the plan we are likely to gain. Cultivating diverse interests that provide meaning to our life, understanding that all our problems usually are transient, and perhaps most importantly, acknowledging that life is not always supposed to be pleasurable. Focus on conditioned learning helps. And it also explains why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence… regardless of the substance craved- whether it is food, drugs, alcohol, or even behaviour patterns…

Understanding ourselves and how we function invidivually is important, a first step to the optimal health. Everything is connected and alsmost everything can be corrected.

Only 7 min of your time to learn some important information from this video