Addiction is very popular topic in today’s society, whether it be deemed a routinely behavior, or a recreational substance abuse. Both of which are not so different in terms of brain chemistry, with one being the more extreme of the other, But at which point is it a necessity instead of voluntary? Here are the facts behind both arguments.
Addiction is a multiple factor behavior that stems from both environment and genetic influences. environment mainly pertaining to peer influence, family influence, socioeconomic status, and availability of the addictive substance. Genetic’s is based on susceptibility to the substance and the ability of neuron growth in the reward system pathway.
This reward system pathway in the brain is involved in releasing neurotransmitters throughout certain areas of the brain that encode for both specific and amount of pleasure we find in certain activities. Sex, food, and personality traits play a large role in the influence of this pathway. The main neurotransmitter involved is dopamine and is made by dopaminergic neurons in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA). The dopamine that is released by the VTA is projected onto the Nucleus of the Accumbens (NAcc), Amygdala, Hippocampus, and Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). All of these areas code for motor control, memory formation, and emotional control.
When a drug is being administered, or an addictive behavior is being completed, this reward pathway is increased and reward is being given to the brain at a higher than usual rate. Due to this, we find these actions more rewarding than what they normally should and memory connections with the addiction are strengthened to the point where the addiction is the most rewarding thing the brain is receiving. from here, the addicted brain has a new level of “normal” dopamine levels that only the behavior or drug can satisfy, and thus the brain becomes dependent on these activities in order to function.
Despite this increase of Dopamine in the reward system pathway, getting addicted to the substance or behavior is entirely dependent on how much the memory association is strengthened with the reward, and how susceptible a specific system is. Yes, there are a lot of drug users, however, not all drug users become addicts. For instance, only 17 percent of individuals who have used cocaine become addicts. This shows that just because you have used or tried an addictive substance, doesn’t mean you will automatically become addicted. However, using an addictive substance, even once, gives increased risk to addiction.
- Prus, A. J. (2018). Drugs and the neuroscience of behavior: an introduction to psychopharmacology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.