What is Addiction?


Addiction is defined as a state in which an individual compulsively engages in rewarding stimuli despite highly adverse consequences. So by definition, one can become addicted to many things: alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, sexual activity, shopping, eating junk food, even work, money, and fame. In non-compulsive amounts, many of these can be great for you, but if incessantly sought out and repeated despite consciously knowing the negative repercussions, they become an addiction.

Key Points:

To understand addiction, there are three key issues that will be the focus of each and every article, blog post, interview, and link on RtAD. In brief summary, they are:

1) Early Childhood Trauma: from physical abuse to severe neglect.

• A child's central nervous system and brain development in the first two years of their life heavily depends on the stimulus surrounding them in this crucial, formative, and receptive time. A violent, stressful, and / or unaffectionate environment affects both the development of the nervous system, and the the brain's neuro-chemical activity.

2) The Power of Repetition: Operant conditioning, and the "cue-routine-reward" circuitry of repeated behaviour.

• The more we repeat a behaviour, the more difficult it becomes for our thoughts to consciously stop us from doing it, and the more powerful the 'reward' becomes. Positive association helps initiate and reinforce the behaviour, and negative association sets in the cognitive avoidance of a behaviour. Negative association can also begin the process of breaking away from the behaviour once heavily entrenched in it's cue-routine-reward circuitry.

3) Hyper Individualist Society: Fixation on the individual as entirely separate from others.

• Excessive independence, and isolation when stressed, perpetuate addiction because the reward centre of the brain is less sustainably active the longer one spends in avoidance of positive social connectivity. A society that doesn't secure comfortable, open social communities, but rather depends on stress and competition for economic progress, drives human behaviour toward instant gratification in the form of quick, fast 'rewards' (endorphin release in the brain).

Any combination of the above three dispositions leads to a lack of impulse control, bursts of anger at anything getting in the way of gratifying (salient) stimuli, high stress levels, and depression (dips in neuro-chemical activity). This will perpetuate overconsumption, consumerism, and other addictive behaviours.

Important biochemicals (simplified):

A) Dopamine: Narrows your focus on the most salient stimuli in your environment, responsible for feelings of "excitement" and energetic drive towards a substance.

B) Endorphins: Light up the reward centre of the brain - responsible for the "ahhh" feeling of relaxation and those brief moments of happy, feel-good sensations. Similar to a warm hug from someone you love. The brain's natural opioids. 

C) Cortisol: Responsible for feelings of stress and anxiety; stored memories in the limbic system submits the body to "fight or flight" syndrome, where thoughts are clouded, and fear and anger take place.