The real cause of addiction – A reply to the Huffington Post
The Huffington Post recently published an article on ‘the likely cause of addiction’, stating that addiction is caused merely by a ‘lack of love’ or ‘lack of belonging’, which is simply NOT TRUE. Here is our Programme Director Alastair Mordey’s response…
An article was published last week in the Huffington Post, titled “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”. I do not normally write personal responses to articles around the web, but this one really struck me – and not in a good way.
In the article, the author suggests that addiction is essentially a learnt behaviour brought about by ‘a lack of belonging’, or even ‘a lack of love’. This tends to reduce the cause of addiction down to a purely environmentally-caused phenomena, when in fact, abundant research has proven that the cause of addiction is genetics in 40-60% of sufferers.
The wider point he seems to be making, however, is that most (if not all) drug addicts actually are not addicts at all. He proposes that addicts will generally stop abusing drugs when their environment changes for the better – which is a meme I hear promulgated a lot by anti-disease theorists recently.
‘Addiction’ though, is a primary, chronic and progressive mid-brain illness. I apologise if that is ‘liberal’ or even just plain old boring, but unfortunately that is what addiction is – and it is a medical fact. The actual ‘disease of addiction’ almost always pre-exists actual drug use, which may seem illogical. However, that is only because the word addiction is an inaccurate term we use to describe the second part of the illness, the behavioural part. But 40-60% of ‘addiction’ sufferers genetically inherit a primary illness which predisposes them to addictive behaviour. A primary illness is an illness that just exists on its own. It does not need to be caused by anything…not drugs…not environment….not lack of love…it is just there. Cutting edge researchers are calling this primary illness ‘reward deficiency syndrome’ and it comes before addiction.
The symptoms of this illness (or the actual causes of addiction) involve an inability to feel reward, pleasure, purpose or meaning in the way that ‘ordinary’ people do. This stems from a genetic mutation in the dopamine receptor sites in the brain. The brain chemical dopamine provides us not just with pleasure and reward feelings, but also with meaning and purpose. That is why addiction is sometimes referred to as a ‘spiritual’ illness. Without finding something majorly pleasurable to correct the deficit, and boost dopamine levels, addicts will fail to find the meaning in life that ordinary people take for granted. A reward deficient ‘addict’ will use any dopamine ‘booster’ they can get their hands on; heroin, crack, meth, alcohol, prescription drugs, power, status, sex, love, romance.
So going back to the Huffington Post article – the cause of addiction is not a lack of belonging. Poor dopamine tone in the mid brain (which is inherited) causes feelings of lack of love and belonging regardless of whether the sufferer actually is loved or not.
And therefore, the real cause of addiction is as follows:
- A POORLY FUNCTIONING DOPAMINE SYSTEM –
- LEADING TO CHRONIC FEELINGS OF LACK OF REWARD, PLEASURE, MEANING, BELONGING AND PURPOSE –
- LEADING TO THE NEED TO SELF-MEDICATE THAT SITUATION.
What is more, is that addiction is a chronic disease – which means it is incurable! For people with ‘the disease’ (not misguided recreational users) once this self-medicating starts then the situation gets a lot more complicated than these “poor environment/it is not a disease/you can get over it” theorists would have us believe.
The Cause of Addiction: More Complicated than Many Believe
Addiction is in essence, a memory disease. Once the sufferer finds their drug of choice they will finally gain some feelings of meaning for the first time in their life, and their brain is not going to forget that beautiful silver bullet whether it be crack, sex or chocolate. Once the addict’s brain has discovered crack-sex-chocolate, it has discovered the solution to the way they have been feeling (or so it thinks). The brain is going to be mightily pleased and will help the sufferer to make an executive decision which inevitably will be – DO LOADS OF DRUGS OR YOU’LL DIE!! But why does it become so urgent? Well, for anyone who thinks that being reward-deficient does not seem that bad, just remember that the dopamine system evolved to help us survive, by learning to do nice things (such as eat food or find a mating partner) again and again. So, if you have a malfunction in how you feel reward, you will basically feel like – YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T GET REWARDED. Some say that addicts (before finding a substance of choice) experience a deep and disturbing boredom that ‘ordinary people’ just would not understand.
In my view, there is something really misguided about telling sufferers of an illness that they do not have a disease just because it is trendy to debunk scientists and doctors. Addiction is a chronic and incurable disease which we have to learn to ‘live with’ if we have it. This means that addicts will require consistent treatment – as would be the case with other chronic but perfectly manageable illnesses such as diabetes. If you are a genetic addict and you do not treat it, it will almost certainly end in disability or premature death. The definition of addiction from The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states exactly that – it is not just an opinion of mine.
Now I may not sell many books with this, but I feel it is incredibly important for all addicts – and those affected by addiction – to know the true cause of addiction. For those who are addicts, parents of addicts, and friends and loved ones of addicts out there – addiction really is a disease – not a simple lack of belonging.
– Alastair Mordey
The Cabin Addiction Services Group