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What Causes Addiction?

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What Causes Addictions? Photographee.eu/Fotolia

Addictions aren’t just dependencies on substances like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, but also psychological dependencies on behaviors such as gambling, exercise and sex.

Both types can lead to feelings of anxiety, despair, failure, guilt, hopelessness, humiliation, rejection and/or shame wrote MedicalNewsToday.com.

In the 1930s, researchers believed that people with addictions were morally defective or lacked willpower. Today, addiction is accepted as a chronic disease that alters both brain function and structure.

What happens is that the brain experiences a series of changes, beginning with the recognition of pleasure, and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior, explained Harvard University’s HelpGuide.org.

So what exactly causes substance or behavioral addiction?

Addiction is a combination of influences and risk factors. Becoming addicted to a substance or behavior is influenced by a person's biology and environment. The more risk factors present, the greater the chance for addiction if an individual turns to certain substances and behaviors.

Biology may make some genetically predisposed to addiction. These can involve other mental disorders, as well as gender and ethnicity. People with certain genetic coding may possibly turn to addictive substances and behaviors.

Environmental factors are also important. These could be an individual’s family and friends, the manner and environment in which they live/lived, and their quality of life. Factors such as neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are also possible environmental factors.

How does addiction begin to take over? It starts with the brain registering pleasure. Whether it be drugs or sex, the brain registers both of the same in terms of pleasure.

Pleasure causes neurotransmitters like dopamine to be released in an area called the nucleus accumbens. That’s a cluster of nerve cells found underneath the cerebral cortex. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so regularly linked with pleasure that neuroscientists call it the brain’s pleasure center, stated HelpGuide.org.

The pleasure from addictive substances and behaviors flood the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. The overstimulation produces euphoric effects in response to the substances or behaviors. This then can form a pattern that encourages people to repeat using that substance or continuing that behavior.

Continual exposure to these addictive substances or behaviors cause nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex to expect those dopamine overloads. People then become addicted to the substance or behavior.

Furthermore, substance or behavioral addiction is directly linked to the speed in which dopamine is released, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release, wrote HelpGuide.org.

Put all of that together, then add in biology and environmental factors, and you have the causes of addiction.

Reviewed April 28, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited Jody Smith

"Understanding Addiction.": How Addiction Hijacks the Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

"Addiction: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

"Drug Abuse and Addiction Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention Facts." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Weiss, Rob. "This Is What ACTUALLY Causes Addiction." Mindbodygreen. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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