Healing Addictions: Does Getting High Equal to Getting Hooked?

For decades, scientists believed that addictions were driven by the pleasurable effects of the substance/behavior in question – that addicts compulsively seek the enjoyable “addictive effects” that make life fun, fun, and more fun. It was thought that addicted individuals become unduly tied to this pleasure train, seeking the feeling of “being high” even when their lives are falling apart as a result. And this belief was not unreasonable, given the fact that addictive substances and behaviors trigger a huge surge of dopamine (and other hyper-stimulating neurochemicals) in the brain, resulting in feelings of excitement, power, control, contentment, etc. It seems only natural that after experiencing this type of pleasure we’d want to go back for more, again and again.

On the surface, this dopamine-centered analysis rather neatly explains the all-too-human propensity for addiction. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse once gave this theory a stamp of approval. However, if this pleasure = addiction theory is correct, then everybody who ever enjoyed a glass of wine would eventually become alcoholic, anyone who ever took an opiate (even by prescription) would eventually become a junkie, etc. But that’s not what happens. In fact, only around 10% of the people who experiment with an addictive substance or behavior get addicted.

So there must be more to addiction than just pleasure. Certainly pleasure opens the doorway to addiction, but it doesn’t exactly push people through and then lock the door behind them. So what does drive certain people toward addictive substances and behaviors over and over, even when their lives are disintegrating as a result?

Modern science tells us that the risk factors for addiction are part nature and part nurture – a witch’s brew of genetics and environmental factors. Research also tells us that one of the biggest risk —> Read More