People often mistakenly assume that others become addicted to harmful substances or behaviors because they are “bad”, lack willpower, or exhibit some other character flaw that results in a person becoming addicted, according to the National Institute of Health’s Medline Plus. While it is true that initial use of harmful substances or engagement in harmful behaviors is a choice, for those with the addictive predisposition, once changes occur in the body, there is no longer a choice. Thus, it is appropriate that the word addiction is derived from the Latin term meaning “enslaved by”. However, in understanding addiction, individuals who are addicted can be treated.
The process of becoming addicted to a harmful substance or behavior typically occurs gradually over a period of time, but this process occurs quicker in others. This process involves such factors as behaviors, changes in the pleasure pathways in the brain, and changes in the body’s production of chemicals that help a person to feel good.
Engaging in Pleasurable Behaviors
When people use substances or engage in behaviors that feel enjoyable, these actions become a part of the memory. The body then wants the pleasure to be repeated. While many people can engage in these activities from time to time without further difficulty, those with an addictive predisposition will react more strongly to triggers that lead to substance use or harmful behaviors.
Changes in the Pleasure Pathways
For those who are more likely to become addicted, continued use of the desired substance or behavior will actually change the pleasure pathways and reward center in the brain. These people will be less able to resist cravings, desires, or impulses than those without these problems. According to Stanford Medicine, these long-lasting changes are hard to resist, because the memories of pleasure are inflated much more than the feelings produced by the actual event. Those who are addicted become unable to control compulsions and actions related to use of the harmful activity.
Changes in the Body’s Chemical Production
When understanding addiction, it is important to know about other changes as well. Chemicals and neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, in the body are changed through continued use. Dopamine helps a person feel pleasure. With continued use of addictive substances or behaviors, the body stops producing dopamine, making the addicted person unable to feel normal without boosting dopamine falsely through their method of addiction.