Any form of addiction is about so much more than the addiction itself. Scientists are still struggling to understand the complete picture of addiction. An increasing amount of evidence seems to indicate addiction recovery is about much more than just stopping one kind of abuse.
Why Do Addicts Get ‘Turned On’?
Perhaps we are making addiction too complicated. We need to ask ourselves if it is about time we “broke down” addiction into simpler terms. The simple truth is an addiction, whether it is a shopping or heroin addiction, seems to turn us on. No, we are not talking about sex. But, speak to any addict and he is likely to say he feels turned on when he does something he is addicted to.
Quite simply, addicts get a kick out of what they do.
What Happens In An Addicts Brain?
Does an addict’s brain work differently from another person’s brain? This is where neuroscience has us stumped. Most addicts’ brain doesn’t work any differently from the rest of us. Addicts’ brains rely on neurons to do the communication and the same chemicals are involved as in a non-addict’s brain. For instance, we all rely on the chemical, or hormone, dopamine.
Dopamine creates a feel-good factor and gives us that feeling we get a “kick” out of something we associate with pleasure.
It does not matter if we get a “kick” going shopping, taking recreational drugs, or drinking alcohol. Our brains will be flooded with dopamine when the neurons recover the happy memory associated with past positive events.
Some people find this “kick or urge” harder to control than others. It may be down to an excess of dopamine in their brains, Another influencing factor could be an emotional event or association.
When Do We Drink or Take Drugs?
We all drink for different reasons. However, in general, most people drink or take drugs when they are feeling a bit down. You may have had a bad day at work. On some occasions, you may even stop by a pub or bar on your way home telling yourself you “need” a drink.
In fact, what you really need is a boost of dopamine to feel better. A drink in a pub with your friends will take your mind off your work problems and trigger the happy memories you had the last time you enjoyed a drink with your friends. Your brain, that you have inadvertently trained, will reward you with a boost of dopamine.
If you have in the past had other problems such as heroin addiction, the alcohol will trigger the same effect. This is why it is dangerous for recovering heroin addicts to drink alcohol.
Do Emotional Triggers Control Addiction or Does Dopamine Control Addiction?
This is the ten million pound question all neuroscientists would like to know the answer to. The road to recovery is not easy. Most people with any form of addiction will stumble along the way. This is why ongoing support is a must when you are fighting to recover from any form of addictive behaviour.
The effect of our emotions on addiction is becoming more and more understood. We know it has to do with that feel-good factor dopamine produces in the brain. When we are feeling depressed or upset, we are likely to take the quickest route to achieve that special feeling. For some, this means turning back to addiction.
If that means getting your credit card out to buy a new dress, it is exactly what you will do. When you believe a fishbowl-sized gin and tonic will help you, the gin bottle is the first thing you will reach for when you come home from work.
Change Your Behavior to Control Dopamine Levels
How can we effectively control dopamine levels? Athletes often fight the same problems as drug addicts. This is why many athletes train in excess. Drinking alcohol in excess will eventually lead to serious illnesses such as cardiovascular health problems and liver disease. Athletes who train in excess also suffer from the physical effects of training too much. They may, for instance, pick up injuries such as tendonitis or joint injuries, but still, carry on training.
What is happening here? The increased dopamine levels in athletes’ brains simply allow them to carry on training without noticing pain. They need the “high” which comes from the dopamine which floods their brains during a training session and makes them forget about the injury.
How do athletes combat this situation? They change the way they train. In other words, they change their behaviour to control dopamine levels.
What Triggers Your Behaviour?
What you need to do is find out what triggers your behaviour which creates an emotional need to increase dopamine levels. When it comes to addiction, an emotional event normally triggers an addiction. Alcohol and heroin addiction are not so different from food action. When you are on a diet, you may often find yourself standing in front of the fridge fancying something to eat.
But, what is it you are hungry for? If you have rAll Postsecently eaten a healthy meal, your body should still be digesting the food. You should not be hungry. Could it be you are “emotionally” hungry for something which you can’t identify?
The same thing happens in drug or alcohol addiction. Most addicts have a problem with emotional issues. When one of these emotional problems arise, they are much more likely to turn to drug taking or having that fishbowl-sized gin and tonic.
This is why counselling is such an important part of the recovery process. An experienced counsellor will help you to identify why you feel you need to turn back to your addiction. It can be a recent emotional event or a past one triggered by a new occurrence.
When you are trying to recover from substance abuse or addiction, it is essential you avoid all substances or behaviour which can make it difficult for you to control the brain’s dopamine levels. Exercises such as tai-chi or yoga should be part of a recovery process. They will make it easier for you to put yourself in control of your brain. Let your brain work for you instead of against you.
Getting help now
If you are a recovering heroin addict and you have found yourself addicted to alcohol, contact us today on 0800 088 66 86 or via our online contact form. We will assist you in finding a suitable treatment programme for your addiction in your local area. We look forward to assisting you through this tough period of your life.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.