Addiction Chemical Dependence Or Habit?

1815 words - 7 pages

In this essay I will attempt to explore the causes of addiction. "Everyone engages in addictive behaviours to some extent because such things as eating, drinking, and sex are essential to survival and highly reinforcing," says G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., director of the Addictive Behaviours Research Centre at the University of Washington. "We get immediate gratification from them and find them very hard to give up indeed. That's a pretty good definition of addiction." (Rodgers 1994:1)Many people experiment with potentially addictive drugs. About 60% of Americans sample an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime (Johnston et al. 2001). If alcohol is included, the percentage of Americans exposed to a potentially addictive drug rises to over 90%, but few of these people become addicts. Even for a very addictive drug like cocaine, only 15-16% of people become addicted within 10 years of first use (Johnston et al. 2001). Substantial numbers of people do become addicts, of course, but the fact remains that drug use does not inevitably lead to addiction.Addiction is more than mere drug use. It is defined specifically as a compulsive pattern of drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviour that takes place at the expense of most other activities. The key questions in addiction, therefore, are why some susceptible individuals undergo a transition from casual drug use to compulsive patterns of drug use (Edwards 1981:225-42)There are three different areas of explanation. The first involves the neurobiological effects of drugs and explains drug dependence (addiction) in biological terms. The second area is psychological, explanations concentrate on models of behaviour and differences between individuals. The final area of explanation concerns the social and environmental factors that influence the likelihood of addictions (or drug dependence)."The inescapable fact is that nature gave us the ability to become hooked because the brain has dearly evolved a reward system, just as it has a pain system," (Rodgers 1994:1). The neurochemistry of chronic drug use is being more clearly understood. Key pathways in the brain are involved in substance use and dependence. It is clear that different drugs have different actions on the brain; however two major pathways - the endogenous opioid system and the dopamine reward system - have clearly been implicated as common to most drugs (Koob & Lemoal, 1997:52). It is these reward feelings (highs) that motivate drug re-use and therefore are said to be a cause of addiction.The dopamine and opioid systems have been characterised as playing two different functions. The dopamine pathway is associated with the incentive, preparatory aspects of reward, which are experienced as thrill, urgency or craving. In contrast, the opioid system is associated with the satiation and consummatory aspects of reward, such as rest, blissfulness and sedation. (Di Chiara & North, 1992:)There is evidence that the brain's endogenous opioid system may...

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