We treat a great many patients each year who struggle with some form of substance abuse or addiction.
National estimates put the number of Americans addicted to drugs at around 3.6 million and alcoholics at 18.7 million. That’s a staggering portion of the adult population! These numbers don’t account for the non-chemical addictions that affect millions more.
While the term addiction can be used liberally to describe a number of behaviors and habitual patterns, the true definition of addiction, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), is as follows:
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. ... Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission.”
While we tend to think of addiction as a chemical dependency, the reward circuitry in the brain can be distorted and abused by any number of compulsive behaviors that become pathologies.
What are some of the non-chemical addictions people face?
Food is essential to our daily lives but it also triggers various sensory reward mechanisms in the brain. We can develop a habit of eating only sugary or salty foods that have little nutritional value or a person can habitually binge eat too much food as a means of alleviating emotional distress.
There is a deeply ingrained reward mechanism for gathering in the human psychology from millions of years of evolution and a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This translates in the modern world to shopping, purchasing goods, and collecting new things. This need to buy things can have disastrous consequences on your financial solvency and cause familial or relationship problems if left unchecked.
The thrill of risk that comes with gambling is an intoxicating, and thus addictive, sensation that leaves many people hopelessly hooked on the card tables and slot levers. Like shopping, gambling is a compulsive pathology that some people can’t seem to break away from without help.
Love & Sex
For some, the intimacy associated with romantic partnerships can be an intoxicant that creates destructive life patterns. These folks get hooked on the high that comes with new relationships and often quickly tire of their lover once this initial glow wears off. Therefore, it’s not that people get addicted to true love, in its most valuable sense of compassion and caring, but rather the erotic thrill of new romantic encounters. Additionally, orgasm floods the brain and body with dopamine, creating a kind of opioid high that can certainly stimulate addiction-sensitive receptors in the brain. This addiction can destroy marriages and families if left unaddressed by counseling and introspection.
It seems odd to mention exercise since the vast majority of Americans could use a whole lot more exercise than they’re currently getting, however running and athletics serve to release a rush of endorphins and adrenaline that make us feel exhilarated and euphoric, often referred to as “runner’s high.” This release of endorphins can sometimes trigger an addictive dependency in the brain that drives people to run endlessly in search of that continued endorphin rush. Too much exercise is rarely achieved by the majority of people but it can cause physical problems if the line is crossed. Consult a doctor or personal trainer if you are concerned about over-exercising.
Addiction is a complex issue that spans the physical brain activity, emotional psychology, and behavioral lifestyle of the individual. It’s not easily classified into boxes but rather is best approached from a holistic perspective.
For more information on non-chemical addictions, call Banyan Treatment Center.