It has been suggested that addiction is a medical condition like
diabetes. However, many find the medical view in opposition to a
psychological and spiritual view of addiction. Certain beliefs about
matters of choice and self-determination appear to be challenged.
Although the brain cannot simply be reduced to neural activity, it is
worth taking a look at the biological, developmental and behavioral
components of addiction.
Often times substance abuse begins with experimentation in the
early teen years. Experimentation can result from the developmental
Inclination of adolescents to try out new or adult experiences. The risk
of addiction increases the earlier a person begins experimenting with
drugs and alcohol. Once using becomes is persistent, there may then
be a change of friends and interests. As abuse progresses into addiction,
a fundamental change occurs in the user. What seemingly began as a
social activity undertaken by choice, becomes a solitary activity undertaken
by compulsion. Broken relationships, academic failures, job losses, and
arrests fail to deter the addiction.
The end stage of substance abuse is rather typical. The behavior
of a heroin addict can be quite similar to the behavior of an alcoholic.
The behavioral impairment may be milder with tobacco and marijuana,
But the pattern is similar – compulsive use. The addict no longer feels
normal when they are not high. The quality of the high also changes.
Diminished pleasure from substance abuse results in increased
doses, combining drugs, and moving to more potent delivery methods
like injection. The addict begins to hate the relationship with the drug,
yet the addiction becomes increasingly compulsive.
Teens may be at greater risk for addiction because their brains are under
development. Nature seems to have created a precarious situation
for teens, but this situation is actually adaptive because adolescence is
about independence. Teens would not develop if they did not get excited
about interests, their own friends, and branch out to create their own lives.
The problem is that the developing brain is particularly vulnerable to stimuli.
If substance abuse affects everyone’s brain in a similar way, why are there
such great differences in the propensity for developing addiction? Young
people can inherit different risk factors for addiction. Young people who are
impulsive, have trouble delaying gratification, possess an irritable or depressive
disposition, have ADHD or bipolar disorder, are at greater risk for addiction.
These conditions reflect an imbalance in the same areas of the brain that are
also affected in addiction. This makes it harder for that person to be satisfied
with the ordinary range of stimulation. A child with a predisposition does not
inevitably become addicted but under certain environmental conditions, severe
family dysfunction or trauma, addiction becomes more likely. A holistic treatment
approach benefits people through education. Understanding and addressing all
the aspects of the addiction cycle is key to effective treatment.