Substance Use

What Drives Addiction?

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What Drives Addiction?

Neurological changes, cognitive associations, and interpersonal experiences are all factors that drive addiction. Addiction creates lasting brain changes that make relapses more likely without treatment. But, with the right combination of mental health treatments and drug rehab, a person can significantly minimize their risk of relapse.

At Zinnia Health, we work directly with you or your loved one to develop a sobriety plan that sticks. We provide activities, therapy, and social groups to treat the whole person — not just the addiction. For more information on how Zinnia Health can help you reach lasting sobriety, call us at (855) 430-9439

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Understanding Addiction

Like many others, you might think drug addiction is a choice. However, an individual with drug addiction has experienced a significant change in how their brain interprets pleasure and motivation.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Advancing Addiction Science describes drug addiction as a compulsion to seek out drugs despite the negative consequences. It is the most severe form of Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

When people use drugs recreationally, they may not intend to use them again. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing states that in most instances, a person seeks drugs out of curiosity. However, certain drugs are highly addictive and can cause disturbing symptoms when discontinued abruptly. The discomfort of these withdrawal symptoms is one cause of repeated drug use and alcohol abuse.

After using the same drug over time, the high isn’t as pronounced as initially, known as tolerance. This drives individuals to increase their dosing or mix in other substances to achieve a similar ‘first-time high.’ This experimentation can lead to a toxic reaction and, in many cases, an overdose. Impaired decision-making increases this risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 12 months from December 2021 to December 2022, 105,452 Americans died from a drug overdose.

Some of the substances responsible for these overdose deaths include, but are not limited to:

Using one or more of these substances (polysubstance use) increases the risk factors for developing an addiction. Once a person becomes addicted to drugs, they will experience a series of neurological changes, some of which are life-changing.

Neurological Triggers

You might have an occasional glass of wine to help you relax after a hard work day or a beer to celebrate an achievement. This is socially acceptable, but the continual association of happiness and alcohol (or another substance) can lead to dependence and addiction. Your brain begins to associate feeling happy with using an addictive substance, which can trigger addictive behaviors.

Once your brain learns to associate drug use with specific feelings or activities – usually by repetitive exposure – your brain encodes the habit and prompts you to continue using. This is why addiction is considered a learned behavior rather than something you’re predisposed to genetically.

Functions of the Upper and Lower Brain in Addiction

The upper and lower halves of your brain are affected differently by repeated drug use, and both are involved in addiction.

The upper half of your brain – the rational half – houses the prefrontal cortex. This area helps to regulate emotions and impulse control. This part of your brain seeks long-term solutions to problems that cause you emotional distress.

When you use a substance to ‘feel good,’ this part of your brain begins to see it as a solution to your pain. Even if you know that using the substance is wrong, a weakened impulse control makes it easier to use it again.

The lower half of your brain – which contains dopamine – regulates emotions and motivation. Abuse of any addictive substance, whether drugs or alcohol, triggers dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter within subcortical nuclei called the basal ganglia.

This area is known as the brain’s reward circuit. Basal ganglia also play a role in habit formation. The more you use a substance, the more the basal ganglia adapt, leading to addiction.

Cognitive Triggers

Addiction begins as a short-term solution that leads to long-term changes. For example, you might use cocaine as you think it will help you feel stronger or take Xanax to help you rest. This forms a conscious connection between your temporary feeling and the outcome. If the outcome works out, despite feeling the unwanted side-effects of drug use, you start to view the substance as a solution to your problems.

The truth is cocaine doesn’t make you stronger, and repeated Xanax use isn’t safe. However, brain changes from the repeated use of alcohol or drugs affect your ability to rationalize.

The development of addiction can stem from internalizing negative dialogue. Traumatic events such as causing a fatal car accident or losing your child in a store may trigger unwanted thoughts.

These can include:

  • Not seeing yourself as a good parent
  • Making a mistake you can’t forgive yourself for
  • Internalizing negative feedback given by a close friend or loved one
  • Feeling unaccomplished or like you failed in life
  • Surviving a traumatic event that you blame yourself for

These situations can take a toll on an individual’s self-esteem, making them more likely to seek out substance use as a solution. Speaking to someone about your feelings can minimize your addiction risk.

Zinnia Health understands the role that mental health plays in addiction. Our programs involve treatments that tackle mental health disorders and addiction simultaneously. To learn how our treatments can work for you, contact us at (855) 430-9439.

Interpersonal Triggers

Having a good circle of friends around you minimizes the risk of developing an addiction. Social interaction is associated with increased health and mental well-being.

On the other hand, loneliness contributes to emotional decline and unhealthy habits. One study found that loneliness contributed to poor hygiene, physical and mental health.

Researchers for the Drug and Alcohol Review also found that loneliness was more prevalent among people with a Substance Use Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder.

Several factors lead to social isolation. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Mental health issues
  • Burnout
  • Poverty
  • Physical health ailments
  • Domestic abuse
  • Stigmatized lifestyle choice

To minimize the risk of drug addiction triggered by social isolation, it’s important to receive professional help. However, individuals suffering from social isolation will likely experience emotional isolation, decreasing their ability to seek help. They may turn to substance use as a solution to their problems.

Drug or alcohol use may give the individual a false sense of contentment, greatly increasing the risk of addiction. Left untreated, this can lead to harmful consequences, including substance use disorder, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose.

A Note on Substance Use Disorder and Drug Addiction

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a mental health condition affecting a person’s thinking and behavior. SUD begins as moderate and progresses to severe with continual drug use. When a person reaches a level of severe SUD, they cannot control their drug use and are more likely to overdose. Untreated Substance Use Disorder will lead to addiction.

Individuals with untreated mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Depression might turn to highly-addictive substances to help with the symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with mental health disorders experience an enhanced rewarding effect, making drug addiction more likely.

Addiction Myths

Drug addiction is a taboo subject for many. Some adults invent unfounded information to discourage children from using drugs. The following widely believe addiction factors aren’t scientifically.

Only People With an Addictive Personality Develop Drug Addictions

People once believed that only people with specific genetic factors developed drug addiction. People who fell into this category were told they had an addictive personality disorder.

However, research in the Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: Science of Addiction study discovered that while biological factors increase the risk of addiction, this alone isn’t enough to cause it. There are usually several environmental factors driving addiction in addition to co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Cannabis Use Cannot Lead to Addiction

If you haven’t used marijuana, chances are, you’ve smelled it in the air. The legalization of cannabis fueled the narrative that marijuana is a harmless herb.

This made smoking more socially acceptable. For these reasons, people sometimes believe that cannabis is non-habit forming. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse research found that repeated marijuana use led to marijuana use disorder.

Getting Help for Addiction

Once an addiction begins, it is very difficult to stop without help. Stopping abruptly can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms like a sudden drop in blood pressure or heart arrhythmias. It will also trigger further drug misuse.

An effective treatment plan incorporating medically-supervised detox, talk therapy, and evidence-based approaches minimizes the risk of a relapse. It also allows your brain to re-establish normal boundaries over time.

Zinnia Health offers addiction treatment for substance abuse on an inpatient and outpatient level of care. Our fully accredited facilities provide 12-step and cognitive behavioral therapy treatments to curb drug cravings. Call us at (855) 430-9439, and together we’ll develop a recovery plan that’s right for you.

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