Addiction covers a wide variety of not only substances i.e., alcohol, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, opiates etc. but also process addictions such as compulsive eating, gambling, compulsive shopping, internet/social media, online pornography, unhealthy/obsessive attachments to others and sexual addiction. Regardless of what an individual is addicted to, their brain makes cellular changes as a direct result of the addiction. Through the advancement in brain imaging, scientist have mapped the neural pathways of addiction. These addiction pathways lay in mesolimbic dopamine system known as the pleasure center of the brain. Under normal circumstances, this system regulates our response to natural rewards such as food, sex, social interactions etc. If we have engaged in something pleasurable, this system gives the signal to repeat the behavior that stimulated the reward center. Memory networks tell the person’s brain to remember all of the different things associated with the pleasurable experience so that it can repeat it. For addicts, this pleasure center gets high-jacked by the substances and behaviors associated with addiction.
Research has established addiction as brain disease that is progressive, chronic and fatal if not arrested. Once an addiction is arrested, the urges to “act out” or “use” can be managed with the proper supports in place. These supports usually consist of counseling, learning how to identify, manage and express feelings appropriately, attending 12-Step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and many others. Without the proper social supports in place, relapse is imminent. Many people will say that relapse is part of addiction. I say it doesn’t have to be. By learning to manage their urges, addicts can and do stay in healthy recovery.
Marital and Family therapy is often utilized to help rebuild the damage done by the addiction such as rebuilding trust, healing from betrayal, learning to communicate appropriately, and learning how to establish and respect boundaries.