The Psychology of Addiction
Self Help

The Psychology of Addiction

Addicted person

Addiction is described as the inability to control doing, taking, or using something to a level that is harmful to you. In clinical terms, addiction is a progressive disorder that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory. It is characterized by an inability to control behavior and causes dysfunctional emotional responses.

Examples of Addiction
  • Substance Addiction such as alcohol, caffeine, Cannabis, cocaine, Etc.
  • Nonsubstance addiction is activities that a person indulges in excessively than normal. Activities can include gambling, shopping, watching porn, gaming, etc.

An individual engages in these activities, such as smoking or social media use, but cannot stop doing it. Along with that, it causes significant distress in everyday living (work, hobbies, finances, etc.), this behavior is called an addiction. An individual consumes or engages in a behavior repeatedly as it provides them with rewarding effects. The behavior, ex. drinking alcohol gets reinforced as they feel rewarded after drinking.

Also Read: The Psychology Behind Masturbation: What You Need to Know?

Let’s Look At A Case Study:

Sonali, a 28-year-old professional started using social media platforms like Instagram to connect with her friends and stay updated on current events. Over time, her usage escalated. She found herself mindlessly scrolling over reels, liking posts, and watching other people’s stories to know what they were doing. At times when she keeps the phone away, she starts feeling ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and is tempted to open Instagram so that she feels better.

As her usage increased, Sonali began neglecting her responsibilities. Deadlines were missed, and her productivity at work suffered. She would stay up late, and spend time on her phone. Her sleep pattern was impacted, leaving her fatigued during the day.

Sonali would frequently make impulsive online purchases as she would be influenced by advertisements on the platforms. Despite recognizing the negative consequences, she struggled to cut back on her social media use. The compulsive behavior, coupled with the inability to control or stop it, showcases the characteristics of addiction.

Also Read: Gaming Addiction: Symptoms, Effects and Treatment

In this scenario, Sarah’s excessive social media use has evolved into an addiction. The excessive use has been seen to interfere with her work, relationships, and finances.

How does an addiction get formed?

Emotional Stress: Root Cause for Addiction

The root cause of Addiction is some form of emotional stress. The person’s subconscious deeply buries the issue, and addressing it seems overwhelming to them. To ease the stress, the person may involve themselves in some form of pleasure. Anything that provides them with excess pleasure, will ease their stress. For example, the fun of a drunken night out, the thrill of making an expensive bet.

When the individual stops that certain behavior (smoking/drinking/etc.), It can bring back the thoughts of whatever was causing them emotional stress. The presence of addictive behavior suggests there aren’t healthier ways of dealing with that problem. The only way an addict knows how to deal with distress is by using substances or engaging in problematic behavior.

Associative Learning

Theories from Psychological science, such as classical conditioning, aid our understanding of the mechanisms behind the formation of an addiction. Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory helps us understand how ‘Associative Learning’ contributes to the formation of addiction. In Ivan Pavlov’s experiment, he presented the dog with food. A few times, he would ring the bell and then present food to the dog. After several pairings, the dog started salivating after he rang the bell.

Similarly, in addiction cases:

Rohan’s friends, introduce him to smoking, which naturally produces feelings of pleasure and relief in him. After many repeated acts of smoking, conditioning occurs between the act of smoking and the pleasure/relief he experiences from the nicotine. Each time he smokes, he experiences pleasure, reinforcing the link between smoking and feeling good. The more times Rohan smokes, the stronger the association becomes. This is how addiction occurs through the processes of conditioning.

The Role of Neurotransmitter ‘Dopamine’

When a person indulges in an activity (substance/non-substance) it provides them with a feeling of pleasure and reward. The brain produces dopamine when a person does something pleasurable and rewarding. Dopamine production also creates a memory of the experience, compelling us to seek out the experience again. For example, when we are presented with our favorite food, we recall past experiences with that food, remembering the positive moments.

Also Read: What Is the Growing Concern Behind Digital Addiction?

Shift in the brain’s reward system:

The dopamine secretion levels are different with drugs like cocaine or heroin, or with compulsive behaviors like gambling, shopping or eating. These activities force the brain to release massive amounts of dopamine. They then prevent the brain from reabsorbing the dopamine, which makes the pleasurable experience last unnaturally longer. This prolonged presence of dopamine contributes to the intense and prolonged sense of pleasure or reward associated with these activities. Leading to the development of addiction.

In cases of chronic or severe substance abuse, it can change the brain chemistry to the point where normal activities (like eating favorite food, sex, etc.) don’t produce the same amount of dopamine that they used to. Over time, healthy activities don’t register as pleasurable, and individuals may end up forgetting about them. The shift in the brain’s reward system is a notable aspect of how addiction can impact an individual’s life.

Signs of Addiction:
  • An inability to stop
  • Increased Tolerance
  • Intense focus on the substance or activity
  • Lack of Control
  • Personal problems and health issues
  • Withdrawal

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