The Burden of Addiction

by Fernando Perfas

Photo by Rehab Center Parus via Wikimedia Commons

Addiction is as old, if not older, as the trade of prostitution. There has never been a time in the history of our civilization that this affliction has been more pervasive than in our present society. The object of addiction has gone far beyond drugs and alcohol. Anything that causes our brain to evoke its natural chemicals, which results in altered states of consciousness, usually pleasurable feelings, has the potentials to get us “hooked,” from food to sex to surfing the Internet.

In other words, all activities that get us habituated to instant pleasures. With the advent of high technology, everything seems to come in an “instant,” such as instant mail, instant coffee, quick shopping via the Internet, bidding in an e-bay auction, or instant answers to questions. Modern life offers us instant gratification in just about anything.

This immediate gratification in everyday life seems to have shaped our expectations about how life should be. This mindset is so pervasive that we expect immediate results even for things that normally require time to bear fruit. This habit of mind makes us vulnerable to all forms of addictive behaviors. What makes us repeat behavior is the promise of pleasurable outcomes. When the connection between behavior and the pleasurable outcome is instantaneous, we tend to repeat the behavior; often, without regard to other unpleasant longer-term consequences. Our brain is wired this way. We respond to positive rewards better than negative or punitive ones. Chemicals mediate the brain’s reward system in our brain like light switches that turn on and off depending on what is presented to our senses. Indeed, we are creatures of habit, especially of pleasant ones.

“Chemicals mediate the brain’s reward system in our brain like light switches that turn on and off depending on what is presented to our senses. Indeed, we are creatures of habit, especially of pleasant ones.”

The most devastating form of addiction is an addiction to drugs and other substances. It is so compelling because it holds the brain totally captive, and in turn, the rest of the addict’s life is held hostage by it. It is this complex mechanism of addiction that makes its manifestations challenging to comprehend by a layperson.

We normally see a person choosing to indulge in drugs or alcohol and the consequent psychological, medical, and social costs of over-indulgence on the person, and to some extent, on their family and loved ones. For many, it is not easy to understand why addiction is a disease, especially when an individual has chosen to indulge in them in the first place. While it is easy to view a cancer patient as a victim of misfortune, it is difficult to ascribe the same to what befalls an alcoholic or an addicted person. A person is often not seen as a victim when they suffer from a condition perceived to have been self-inflicted.

This perception of the self-inflicted problem presents difficulties for many to empathize and be sympathetic to the addicted person. Unfortunately, in the case of addiction, the initial use of substances for whatever reason, e.g., to satisfy curiosity, relieve anxiety, succumb to peer pressure, enjoy the recreational activity, etc., may lead to more regular and eventual problematic use depending on a person’s risk factors.

“It is with Hope, not giving up hope, that addiction can be overcome. It is what the addicted person needs to feel.”

For example, casual use may open Pandora’s Box for individuals with a genetic predisposition to addiction. Once the cycle of addiction begins, the rest is beyond a person’s control. When substance use leads to compelling abuse despite adverse consequences, serious problems start. At this point, the person is now under the clutches of a condition called addiction. A person caught in the web of addiction is often impervious to change, despite a drastic decline in personal health and other spheres of life.

It is easy for society to view an addicted person as a hopeless case, given the person’s repeated failure to give up the object of addiction. It is this attitude that can condemn an addicted person to a life with little chance of recovery. It is with Hope, not giving up hope, that addiction can be overcome. It is what the addicted person needs to feel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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