Studies have shown that in certain circumstances, the brain activity of someone with an addiction, functions differently, compared to the way that the brains of non-addicted people function. These functional differences develop gradually over time, as the addiction develops.
The ability of modern science to study brain function has helped to explain why people with addictions all have similar characteristic patterns of behavior and thoughts, whether their addiction is to drugs, or gambling or any other potentially addictive activity.
This scientific knowledge helps to answer the question of why addicts always crave more, and why they become increasingly driven by this need. It helps to explain why it is, that even when people with an addiction wish to regain control over their addiction, they find they cannot.
If you have developed an addiction, it has been scientifically shown that your brain’s Reward Centres over-react at the thought of receiving the desired reward (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, computer games), when compared with the lower (normal) level of brain excitement experienced by non-addicted people in the same situation.
The strength of this altered pattern of Reward Centre over-excitement increases as the addiction develops. This accounts for the increasing intensity of an addict’s cravings, over time.
But that is not all. When the desired ‘reward’ is actually received by someone with an established addiction, the Gratification, or Satisfaction Centers in the brains of addicted people are much less ‘pleased’ or satisfied, than for non-addicted people in the same situation.
Two Altered Forces Drive Addicts to Continue Their Addiction
1. Vastly increased intensity of mental and emotional cravings
2. The need for more and more of the drugs, or activity, to get the same level of satisfaction that they used to have – and which they now crave, even more than when they first started.
This combination of forces is the trap that addicts have fallen into. These factors are two of the main reasons why the hallmark of addiction is gradual loss of control over behaviour. They are the main drivers of addiction. And it’s why it’s incredibly difficult for addicted people to control a well-established addiction, even when they want to, and even when they try.
If you have developed an addiction, your addiction has gradually hi-jacked your brain. This results in you getting to a stage where you struggle for control, and fail, constantly. It’s an overpowering, accelerating downward spiral that often leads to depression, shame, humiliation, isolation and even suicide.
If you have an addiction of any sort, or you know someone who does, you will already know from personal experience that even when addicts really try to stop, they seem unable to overcome those addiction driving forces. The result is that addicted people will go to almost any lengths to gratify their specific needs – even though they know it will cause them personal harm, and distress to those who care about them, they seem powerless to control their behavior, even when they wish that they could. This is why people with an addiction almost always need help from outside themselves to learn how to overcome these driving forces of addiction.
It’s important to realize that knowing you have established alterations of brain function does not mean that recovery from addiction is impossible. Recovery is always possible. Not easy, but it is achievable. With help, different ways of thinking about your cravings, yourself, and your future can train your brain to counteract and defy these driving forces. This is what you learn to do in Rehab, along with different strategies to deal with situations that might tempt you back into addiction.
This is why it is so important to get help early if you think you are developing an addiction. If you know in your heart that you are beginning to ‘need’ the drug, or activity, on a regular basis, and you are finding it increasingly difficult to stop doing it, then that is the time to act.
It is generally accepted that getting help before an addiction has fully developed, makes it easier to get it back under control. Most studies also show that it is also more likely to be successful if treated early. But, it is also never too late to get help, and to change your direction, away from the path to addiction.
You don’t have to struggle alone.
Everyone’s personal situation is different, but wherever possible, it’s a good idea to avoid trying to hide your true situation from your family and friends. It’s a natural defense mechanism to want to conceal something personal, that you feel is a weakness, or shameful. It’s a normal, natural, self-protective thing to do. But it isn’t helpful in terms of your future, or your relationships with your family.
In fact one of the traps when developing an addiction, is that you deny what is happening, especially to yourself. In most cases, your family and friends will have already realized you had a problem – well before you did.
If you can find the courage to confide in them, and tell them that you realize you have a problem, and that you want, or need to get help, they will probably greet this news with enormous relief. It will increase their respect for you, not make a bad situation worse. Why?
Because a confession of this sort will show them that you are finally confronting the awful truth – a truth they may have been trying to convince you of, for years. A confession of this sort can signal to your family, the beginning of the road to recovery, and that is good news for your family. It can help to heal the rifts that will have developed over the years. It will give your family renewed hope, and they will be more likely to be willing to support you in your struggle.
It’s well known that having the support of your family will help you to beat an addiction. So get them back on your side by acting before it’s too late. Don’t wait until they are so disappointed in you that they want nothing more to do with you. If you can get your family on your side in your struggle, it will make it easier for you, and for them.