We live in a society of quick fixes. Historically, people have always sought the miracle cure, but often found it to be more complicated than previously thought. We do have new and useful solutions like the so-called “cocaine vaccine” for overdose, but the roots of addiction go deeper than just physical solutions. While it would be amazing to find an instant cure for addiction, it remains as any other disease that persists despite our best efforts. Finding a cure for addiction comes from understanding its roots in the human desire for pleasure, avoidance of pain, and habitual behavior.
Reason 1: Programmed for Pleasure
Human beings are wired for pleasure. As a species, we continue to find new ways to get high. Whether they are pure substances, or synthetic, people constantly look for ways to feel good. The problem arises, however, when you introduce habits that increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the “feel good” reward in the brain that gives activities like eating, sex, and drug and alcohol use pleasure. When dopamine floods the brain it does two things: 1) It makes you want to seek the next bigger and better high, and 2) It reduces the body’s natural dopamine output. That means that with increased drug use the pleasure is reduced, but the craving stays strong. Addicts pursue drug use even as the pleasure of using diminishes.
Reason 2: Pain Avoidance
Since we are so wired for pleasure, the opposite is also true. Humans will do just about anything to avoid pain, either physical or emotional. Avoiding pain is often a powerful cause for addiction. Since drug use increases dopamine, it can be easy to rely on their effects if you feel painful emotions like sadness, depression, anger, fear, etc. Addiction worsens these painful emotions over time. Many who struggle with addiction often have a co-occurring condition such as depression. Undiagnosed, drug use can become a self-medication that can worsen over time.
Reason 3: Drugs aren’t the Only Problem
Lately, a lot of addiction research has focused on the physical causes of addiction. Science has come a long way in understanding how addiction affects brain chemistry. However, too much of addiction is behavioral to rely solely on physical explanations. Drug use does change your brain physically, strengthening addiction, but the ritual and routine of drug can be difficult to stop even after drug use stops. Addicts seek the high more, but feel it less. Many of the reasons behind using drugs to feel better has to do with coping with emotional and behavioral pain.
Reason 4: Strict Punishment Doesn’t Work
The U.S. has some of the harshest drug penalties, but one of the highest rates of illicit drug use. Much of the thinking of the war on drugs was to deter drug use by enforcing harsher penalties. The biggest problem with the this policy is that it doesn’t address or change a person’s behavior. The motivation to not use drugs is more to not get caught. When punishment is the only deterrent, the reasons for addiction are not fully understood. People often think of addiction treatment as one that will “scare straight” an addict. Most research finds that this approach doesn’t cause lasting change.
Freedom from addiction is possible. The answer isn’t a simple as a miracle cure. There is simply no “one size fits all” solution for addiction. When seeking treatment, beware of programs that promise a quick fix. Treatment should be tailored towards finding the root of addiction and treating it from the source, both emotionally and physically.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, help is available. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.