Now I know what you are thinking, addiction usually means drugs, right? However, it could be anything, video games, exercise, junk food, etc. In my case, soda. Now, flexing my psychology degree (which I regret cause I no longer want to work in that field) I do have an idea how it affects me and my brain.
I think I have mentioned this before, but I stopped drinking soda for six years when I gave it up for lent (even though I am totes not religious) and didn’t start drinking it again until my first time in Korea back in 2014. Since then, I’ve been drinking a lot, nearly everyday. I know it is bad for me and how it affects my body but I just can’t stop. I do want to, really bad. The last time I stopped it was cold turkey. That worked for a little bit but the first two weeks were the hardest. It is even harder now cause its everywhere and I live dead center between many, many convenience stores.
Now you’re probably thinking, “why don’t you just stop? Why don’t you just stop buying soda?” Well, it sounds easy. It should be that easy, but it is actually not. Here why.
How Addiction Develops:
The human brain is a complex organ controlling every voluntary and involuntary action we make. The brain controls basic motor skills, heart and breathing rates, emotions, behavior and decision-making.
There is a part of the brain responsible for addiction. The name for this part of the brain is the limbic system. This system, also known as the “brain reward system,” is responsible for producing feelings of pleasure.
When a person takes an addictive substance (which could be anything, or in my case soda), the limbic system releases chemicals that make the user feel good. This encourages habitual substance abuse.
The overwhelming, involuntary need to use a substance, regardless of the harm it may cause, is due to actual changes that have occurred in the brain reward system. Feeding the addiction becomes priority number one. [I am not that bad like I would be if I were on drugs, but it is kinda close.]
Activating the Brain Reward System:
The abuse of addictive substances activates of the brain reward system. Frequently activating this system can lead to addiction.
The brain reward system is naturally activated when we take part in actions that are good for us. It is part of our natural ability to adapt and survive. Whenever something activates this system, the brain assumes something necessary to survival is happening. The brain then rewards that behavior by creating feelings of pleasure.
Addictive substances hijack this system, causing feelings of pleasure for actions that are actually harmful. Unfortunately, addictive substances have a far stronger effect on the brain reward system.
The Biochemistry of Addiction:
Dopamine plays an important role in the reward system. Dopamine is a natural chemical in the brain that sends signals to the limbic system. When introduced into the limbic system, the addictive substance either mimic dopamine or cause an overproduction of it in the brain.
The reason normal actions that activate the brain reward system (food, drinking, sex, music, etc.) don’t reprogram the brain for addiction is because they produce normal levels of dopamine. Junk food can be an exception to this since they are designed to get the eater hooked.
Addictive substances can release up to 10 times more dopamine than natural reward behaviors.
Substance use floods neuroreceptors with dopamine. This causes the “high” associated with using the addictive substance. After continued abuse, the human brain is unable to naturally produce normal levels of dopamine. In essence, the substance take the reward system hostage.
The result is craving the substance that will restore dopamine levels to normal. A person in this scenario is no longer capable of feeling good without it.
This is essentially how addiction works and is a little of what I am going through. I know addiction runs in my family. I am just glad it isn’t a bad substance like hard drugs. I know this is something I can over come. I know I can, I just have to find the right tools, motivations, and determination to break it. When I finally start taking my exercising seriously, I’ll add this to my ‘Path of Ninja’ series when I get around to starting that.