-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling, Addiction Specialist
Scientists tell us that all addictions are largely the same in the brain. They explain that addiction has a “common neural currency.” This is because of the involvement of the primary neurotransmitter dopamine and how neurons are affected in the limbic “reward” center.
Drugs that are taken into the body, such as alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine, over-stimulate the limbic reward center in the brain by spiking dopamine at abnormally high levels.1
For some, the notion of “all addictions being the same” may seem counter-intuitive because some drugs, such as opium and alcohol are classified as depressants, while others are stimulants. Some make us sleepy, while others give us energy.
The reason for these apparent differences is caused by how the particular addictive behavior affects non-dopamine neural networks.2
This explains why particular drugs are more appealing to some, than to others.
Aside from the chemical similarities in the brain, addictions have obsessive and compulsive components. An addict will have obsessive thoughts about using his or her drug of choice and then act out on it (compulsive side).
The excessive rumination and preoccupation on thoughts to use impels the addict to engage in their drug-taking. Once the addict uses his or her drug of choice, it delivers a quick respite from those intrusive thoughts and powerful cravings.
This is a naturally reinforcing cycle.
Addicts display very similar characteristics of OCD.
Tanning for example, can be addictive because of its obsessive and compulsive components. In one study, females that screened positive for OCD and body dysmorphic disorder were significantly associated with tanning dependence.3
Research shows that those addicted to tanning have obsessive thoughts about it, and when they tan, it gives them relaxation and a respite from their obsessive thoughts.
But what about other addictions?
One study found that nearly one in eight individuals engage in internet addiction. Internet addictions are characterized by compulsively checking email, web pages or chat rooms and excessively using computers for nonessential purposes.4
We may all be addicted to something, to some extent.
Addiction can range from pornography, masturbation, gambling, sex, food, tanning, social networking, video games and internet use, resulting in an over-stimulation of the reward center which disrupts the brain’s normal activity5 and interferes with us carrying on productive lives.
Scientists conclude that addictions have more in common than in how they differ.6
Addicts often have obsessive thoughts about using because they crave a chemical boost in the brain. This is why alcohol, drugs, tobacco, tanning or overeating are really chemical addictions.
Some drugs can be ingested, snorted or smoked, enter through the eyes (internet) or through the skin (tanning). These things which are often thought of as being vastly different are actually quite similar. It is the means of administration that is notably different.
This can also help explain why many drugs are really “gateway” drugs. If an addict’s drug of choice is no longer available, he/she will likely seek a substitute. This is often referred to as “cross-addiction.” This is why the practice in conventional treatment of supplying caffeine, cigarettes and highly-sugary foods to addicts in recovery is not beneficial.
Research continually shows that addicts often replace their old addiction with a new addiction.
Furthermore, caffeine and sugar actually intensifies cravings.7(click here for the article about the link between food and addiction).
Instead of an instant spike of dopamine (and blood glucose levels), using key nutrients that give sustained energy which help to rebuild the neurotransmitters that are depleted, is the best option.
If you haven’t watched this part of the (video yet where I describe that addictions are part of a survival process) – then you’ll want to check that out.
I wish you all the best,
-A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling
1-2. Neese R.and Berridge. K. (1997) Psychoactive Drug Use in Evolutionary Perspective. October. Vol. 278 no. 5335 pp. 63-66
3. Ashrafioun, L., Bonar E., (2014) Tanning addiction and psychopathology: Further evaluation of anxiety disorders and substance abuse, Dec 25
4. Internet Addiction May Affect One In Eight In USA. medicalnewstoday.com, 18 Oct 2006
5. Studies Shed Light On Parkinson’s Drugs and Gambling, Las Vegas Press, April 3, 2006.
6. Alcohol Abuse Is Hereditary, medicalnewstoday.com, July 5, 2007.
7. Gant, Charles, M.D., Ph.D. and Greg Lewis, Ph.D. End Your Addiction Now. (NY, NY: Warner Books, Inc.), 2002.