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It Doesn’t Matter What Your Addiction is. Most Addictions Are The Same.


-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling

Scientists tell us that the wide range of addictions are largely the same. 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 within the brain.

neurotransmitterDrugs 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 and why we feel different engaging in one addiction, versus another. 

Aside from the chemical similarities in the brain, addiction has obsessive and compulsive components. An addicted individual will have obsessive thoughts about using his or her drug of choice and then act out on it (compulsive side). These behaviors are wide ranging among all additions.

Addiction characteristically includes excessive rumination and preoccupation on drug-taking. This also includes individuals addicted to pornography. The mind becomes preoccupied or focused on using, and once the drug is obtained and once it is used, it delivers a quick respite from these thoughts.

Some individuals are so bogged down by intrusive thoughts to use, cravings or urges that seem unmanageable and the tension and distress it may bring, that "giving in" provides a much needed respite.

As you can see, addicted individuals also have very similar symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.

An addicted individual will have a craving or thought to use, pop into his mind which gets stronger and stronger until he gives in. This is common in many other addiction problems, not just drug-taking.

Tanning for example, was found to be addictive in a study involving a group of females. They  screened positive for obsessive compulsive disorder and had strong obsessive thoughts about going to the tanning bed. Researchers found that when they tanned, it gave them relief from their obsessive thoughts.3

Another study found that nearly one in eight individuals engage in internet addiction. Internet addiction is characterized by compulsively checking email, web pages or chat rooms and excessively using computers for nonessential purposes. Our thoughts are continuously preoccupied on "using" no matter what the addiction is. We obsess about it.4

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, by the way it boosts dopamine and gives us relief once the addiction is engaged in.6 

This is why the range of addictions are really all chemical addictions. We are addicted to the way they make us feel.

To get relief from addiction, you must approach recovery in a different way. It must first start by replenishing your brain with targeted nutrients, then responding to cravings, urges and intrusive thoughts to use your drug of choice, using evidence based techniques that produce results.

The brain can change and when it does, you change. If you missed it, here is a video that explains some of these methods.

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.