EP 43: What Is Addiction?

According to the Addiction Center, over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction (excluding tobacco). 100 people die every day from drug overdoses (This rate has tripled in the past 20 years). On this episode, we want to help tackle this problem by discussing:

  1. How can addiction affect you and your family?
  2. The types of addiction.
  3. What is the root cause of addiction?
  4. How do low serotonin levels impact addiction?
  5. How to prevent addiction.

What is addiction? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness1.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are several factors that can contribute to the development of addiction. These include biology (the genes that people are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction), environment (a person’s environment includes many different influences, from family and friends to economic status and general quality of life), and development (genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction risk)1

Brain chemistry plays a significant role in addiction. Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities1

How do nutrients affect the brain chemistry that is involved in addiction? Nutrients can affect brain composition and behavior by increasing the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, catecholamine, or acetylcholine. These increases can occur subsequent to food-induced increases in brain levels of tryptophan, tyrosine, or choline1 It may be possible to influence these levels with dietary changes or supplements.