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Addiction: What is it really?

In the course of my work as counselor, coach and healer, I often encounter people who throw around the term “Addiction” casually. I doubt if people really understand what the word really means.

1. In our brain are special chemicals that flow naturally every time we experience pleasure. It is part of the our body’s reward system. The nature of the human body is to move towards pleasure away from pain. When you analyze it, it is actually a survival mechanism.

2. However, there are people who want to experience pleasure and nothing else. There triggers that can release these “feel good” juices – drugs, alcohol, sex, eating, gambling, shopping, the internet, etc. Sometimes, this leads to abuse.

3. How does it work? A pebble-sized structure in the midbrain called the amygdyla controls our survival response, like an emergency-response mechanism. When a trouble occurs or a crisis happens, this part of the brain is activated and takes control. This is important for our survival. However, over-indulging this chosen chemical activity results to a difficult process: the amygdyla becomes accustomed to the pleasure associated w/ it and begins to see the absence of it as an emergency.

4. Since the rational brain is weak compared to the emergency mood, the “survival” act is to seek for the pleasure experience, even if the rational brain knows there is no such emergency. Thus, addiction is a brain disorder.

5. Who is prone to addiction? Those whose family has a history of addiction (genetic predisposition) and those who seek pleasure from a chemical reaction of the brain.

Abuse and addictions are different but related terms. Abuse is any use that results to negative consequences. Alcohol abuse, for example, is drinking too much that it results to health problems, marital crisis or problem at work. That may or may not be because of addiction. Addiction is a progressive illness that inhibits a person’s ability to moderate or quit even in the face of ongoing negative consequences (w/o special intervention and support, that is).

Abuse is a behavioral problem, addiction is a medical condition. That is the main difference.