Addiction: why can’t they just stop?

If we are honest, most of us have some addiction to something:

  • alcohol
  • prescription pills
  • food
  • coffee
  • chocolate
  • cocaine
  • heroin
  • cigarettes
  • sex
  • candy crush
  • facebook
  • snapchat

Have you ever watched a movie or a tv show and seen characters eating or drinking something and all of a sudden you really wanted some, too? Most of us have had that experience, which is why restaurant commercials show us the yummy food up close.


Great advances are being made in the understanding and treatment of addiction as a brain disease.

Addiction usually begins between the ages of 18-25 and 95% of alcohol addiction begins before 21 years of age. So, what differences are in the teenaged brain that results in such easy addiction?

There are two main parts of the brain which interact with each other: our reward system vs. our decision making system.

The reward system is activated when we engage is pleasurable activities or when we engage in behaviors which trigger our dopamine pathway. When dopamine floods our brains, more dopamine receptors are created which in turns drives a need for more activities or substances which trigger our brains to release more dopamine.

The frontal lobe is the decision making part of our brain. It’s job is to consider consequences and use logic to plan and make informed decisions.

Brain imaging shows the reward circuit responds when pictures associated with person’s addiction are flashed before them for as little as 33 milliseconds. The decision making part of the brain does not even have a chance to respond.

Another factor driving youth addiction is that teens and young adults have less ability to override their impulsivity in the first place. Many addicts also have a lot of genetic cards are stacked against them in the first place. Many people want to stop and they cannot despite the catastrophic consequences.

Many of us have routines where we do the exact same thing in the exact same order every time we do it. For example, a smoker may:

  • get in car,
  • close door,
  • put key in ignition,
  • turn key to start engine,
  • put on seatbelt,
  • light cigarette,
  • put car in gear and drive away.

Each step of getting in car and driving away is a trigger. Each step is preparing them for lighting their cigarette. For someone who smokes crack in the neighborhood, The neighborhood itself is a trigger. The trigger is not only in the brain, it is the sights, smells, experiences, and people they smoke with.

A dangerous misconception in the treatment of addiction is that individuals do need to hit rock bottom before they can get help. The sooner you seek treatment the better the results will be.

To help break the addiction pattern you have to address all of the co-occurring things which feed off of each other. This includes:

  • Changing friends if your friends use.
  • Do not allow yourself to get bored.
  • Keep yourself busy.
  • Seek professional help as soon as possible
  • Join a support group

Substance abuse indicators:

Inhalant intoxication:

  • -unsteady gait
  • -slurred speech
  • -lack of coordination
  • -belligerence or assaultiveness

Cannabis intoxication:

  • -increased appetite
  • -dry mouth
  • -euphoria
  • -sensation of slowed time
  • -tachycardia
  • -social withdrawal

Opioid intoxication:

  • – initial euphoria then apathy
  • – impairment in Attention or memory
  • -pupillary constriction
  • -drowsiness

Narcotics use:

  • -frequent scratching
  • -pupil constriction, fixed
  • -dilated pupils during withdrawals

Leave a Reply