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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 January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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