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Scientists Say This Is Probably the Real Reason Why People Have Addiction

Scientists Say This Is Probably the Real Reason Why People Have Addiction

$700 billion a year. Yes, that is the whopping bill the USA has to fork out because of addiction every year. This is the cost in terms of health care, lost working days to the nation for addiction to drugs, alcohol and smoking, just to name a few. What is the solution? The first step would be to understand what really causes addiction and what is the latest scientific explanation for this. Secondly, we could look at the role of decriminalization of drugs and how this may lead to a safer and healthier society.

Why do people get addicted?

The problem arises when the pleasurable activities such as sex, food, gambling or use of drugs and alcohol becomes compulsive and starts to interfere with work, health and relationships. It is interesting to note that in the early 1930s addiction to alcohol and other substances was seen as having a lack of willpower or character. But now scientists are investigating the real cause of addiction and their results are surprising, to say the least.

One view is that people become addicted to a substance or behavior because it gives them some comfort or relief from some sort of psychological stress. Alcohol can give a sense of euphoria in the short term especially when anxiety and depression are present. The long term effects are damaging to health. Even more troubling is that the addiction prevents the sufferer from looking for the cause and in seeking treatment.

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Researchers have homed in on the lateral habenula region of the brain which governs whether we see something as being rewarding or having too many negative consequences. Experiments with rats seem to indicate that is one of the areas of the brain affected by alcohol, but more studies need to be done.

More rat experiments in the 1980s got a lot of publicity from ads which were run by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA). Here, one lone rat was put into a cage with two bottles, one containing water and the other a mix of water and cocaine. The rat became addicted to the drugged water, kept on coming back for more and then died. The advert then warns:

“Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

The message was clear that there were strong chemical agents which were causing the craving and addiction. You can see some of the PDFA ads which were broadcast in 1987 here. Chemical agents could not explain an addiction to gambling, however.

The view from Rat Park

But Professor Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University and author of The Globalisation of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit, was not so sure. He started experiments with the famous Rat Park.

He put some rats in solitary confinement with a water bottle and another with a mix of drugs. Then for another group of rats, he created Rat Park. This was an ideal environment for them where they had exercise wheels, balls to play with and great food. The researchers noticed that the rats in solitary were addicted to the cocaine mix while the rats in Rat Park hardly touched the stuff and were extremely happy and contented. None of them died.

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Alexander’s crucial question was whether humans might be similar to the rats. Could one’s environment and psychological state really determine whether a person would become addicted or not? Unfortunately, the impact of the study on the theory of addiction was almost nil and Rat Park was closed.

The questions that need answers.

People on medication do not become addicted whereas the typical street addict is hooked for life, unless he or she seeks rehab. Could it really be just due to the fact humans need to bond and receive affection from a loving and caring environment? The figures from the return of the Vietnam War veterans would seem to support this theory.

It is a well known fact that about 20% of these soldiers were heroin or cocaine addicts. But after they returned home, a whopping 95% of these addicted soldiers simply gave up the habit. Only a tiny number actually needed rehab. Like the rats in the cage, they had no need of any drugs once they were back in a safer and more caring environment. We cannot imagine a more terrifying cage than war!

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Is decriminalization the answer?

Look at what Portugal did. In the year 2000, the government decided to decriminalize drug use. They wanted to treat drug addicts, rather than punish them. Now, more than 10 years later, the drug use ratio has fallen by 50%. Of course, more innovative treatment methods and reducing some of the risk factors played a part in this turnaround.

This may well be the way forward. The vast sums of money spent in chasing, arresting, trying and imprisoning drug users was used in helping drug users to reconnect with society again and to help give them a purpose in life. In other words, they have helped them get out of their solitary confinement cage.

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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