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An addiction has incredible power over the urges and actions of the person that it impacts. Given the danger and severity of addiction, it’s no surprise that the condition seems dark and mysterious to some. Addiction is not beyond human understanding, however, nor is substance abuse beyond the ability of humans to control. Perhaps, if more people understood how addiction works and why, there would be more people seeking treatment and entering recovery from proper sources.

How addiction starts

Addiction is possible with any of the many substances that experts consider addictive, like drugs or alcohol. An addictive substance creates a craving and, in most cases, requires increasing amounts to achieve the same effects as addicts’ bodies and minds become more tolerant of (and dependent on) whatever has they’re fancy.

While you’ll read about the science of addiction, it’s important to keep in mind that not all people respond to addictive substances in the same ways. Perhaps the most intriguing unsolved mystery in the science of addiction is why some people become addicted more easily than others

Some people can smoke a few cigarettes and then quit; others will find that just a few cigarettes can be enough to trigger a lifelong addiction. The same thing is true of other drugs, including alcohol, cocaine, and many more. This is a powerful reminder that addiction, like other diseases, has no real sense of fairness. Addiction is not a consequence; it’s an illness.

How addiction works

Illnesses are biological. Is addiction? Largely, yes. There are psychological aspects to addiction (the condition itself is a mental health condition, among other things), but there is a very real brain chemistry behind the working of most sorts of addictions as well.

Generally speaking, addictive substances produce an effect that many people find pleasurable. But they do this by altering the body’s chemistry, and particularly in the brain. Opioids, for instance, work by activating receptors in the brain and triggering a reaction that eases pain and produces a feeling of bliss and comfort. 

Over time, reactions like this will cause our bodies to respond by altering their own production of the things that the drug in question is replacing. That means that an addict, when sober, will feel worse than a non-addict. This is a form of tolerance, too: Starting from a lower point, it will take more of the substance in question to get back to feeling “high.”

This vicious cycle makes sobriety more and more miserable and leads to an addict ramping up his or her use of the substance. Combined with the psychological aspects of addiction, this can make for a very serious situation that requires professional help a person break out of.

Treating addiction

Addiction is not something that anyone should attempt to overcome on their own, explain the experts at the Canadian Centre for Addictions. It’s a real disease, and it needs to be treated with the help of professionals. That means seeking mental health care and, if necessary, medical help for detox and withdrawal.

Turning to a rehab center can be a powerful option for those suffering from addiction. The centers offer dedicated spaces that allow addicts to focus fully on recovery, away from their routines, outside stresses, and addiction triggers.

Treatment goes far beyond the day that addicts stop using, though. Substance abuse can end, but addiction never does; staying sober is a lifelong battle, and addicts should stick with therapy and consider support groups to help them cope. Knowing how addiction works is a great place to start, though. It should only make more clear just how dangerous it can be and help toward the path to recovery.

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