A surprising number of people are addicted to something. That "something" provides pleasure, relief or reward. That "something" goes way beyond drugs. Everything from video games to food to exercise can be craved by an addict. Eventually, the pathological pursuit of pleasure disrupts life.
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute On Drug Abuse, in her recent interview with 60 Minutes Morley Safer, "Addiction is a chronic disease." The pleasure centers in the brain become damaged in those with addiction. This damage interrupts the normal balance of dopamine to the point that behavior is driven unconsciously without "brakes."
Are you at risk for this chronic disease? Are you at risk to become an addict? Or are you already addicted to something? Your family history, your personal history and your current situation are all risk factors to consider.
When it comes to addiction, at times the apple does not fall far from the tree. Looking back into your family tree might reveal uncles, cousins, grandparents or parents whose lives have been driven by the pathological pursuit of pleasure. The vulnerability to addiction is an inheritable trait via the genetic code.1 One generation of addicts seems likely to produce another generation of addicts and so on. This trend might also be related to upbringing and environment. A young child surrounded by the culture of addiction in an environment saturated by triggers has very little chance of making it to adulthood unscathed. If your family history puts you at risk, beware.
Your personal history could also put you at risk especially if you have already had a brush with addiction. For example, a recovering alcoholic is likely to substitute one source of pleasure for another because the brain is already wired for pleasure seeking. Even if you have not experienced uncontrollable cravings, you might be at risk because of a history of trauma or psychological distress that has not been resolved. Your past can make you vulnerable.
Your past can also boil up into a current source of distress or stress. Any ongoing emotional stress can make you susceptible to the temptations of escape, relief, reward and pleasure. If you are already surrounded by other addicts, the temptation will grow even stronger. Before you know it, you might become addicted to something.
Can you recognize the signs of addiction in yourself and others? According to the American Society for Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by a "diminished recognition of significant problems with one's behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response." The key operative word in that statement is "dysfunction." If you or someone you love is addicted to something, life falls into a cycle of dysfunction. Life spins out of control because it is weighed down by a habitual ball and chain. Productivity at work and home suffers because an addict can't keep up. Eventually, an addict disconnects from personal relationships, social networks and life. But if you are an addict already, you probably don't even realize what is happening to you. Talk with someone who can be honest with you if you think you are at risk and your life is already spinning out of control.