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Addiction As A Developmental Disorder

 

Our working understanding of addiction has grown and adapted over the years to include many different things, ranging from addiction as a series of poor choices to addiction as a developmental disorder. While it can be difficult to stay up-to-date with the current information on addiction, the importance of keeping ourselves consistently informed on new developments in addiction studies cannot be overstated.

Addiction can mean many different things to many different people. In fact, it can even mean different things depending on the year or decade in which you’re getting your information.

Our understanding of addiction is ever-changing due to studies, experiments, and knowledge gained over time.

The Evolution of How We View Addiction

For a long time, addiction was viewed as a “phenomenon” or “epidemic”. There was a time many people assumed addiction was the result of bad choices and that mere will-power was all that was needed to kick an addiction.

Because addiction can manifest in different ways (compulsive drug abuse, changes in our pleasure/reward centres, and reduced inhibition responses), we started to view addiction as a uniquely “mammal” problem.

While studies over time have shown that other mammals (such as mice and rats) are able to be overcome with addiction, we then started to dive more into what makes humans specifically so susceptible to addiction.

As a society, we started to conduct studies and pool resources into experiments that proved that  there was a psychological/biological component to addiction. We began to associate addiction with a disease that hijacks parts of our brains, lowers inhibitions and skews how we view pleasure and rewards.

Thinking of addiction as a brain disorder allowed us to acknowledge that addiction is a chronic medical condition involving changes to the reward, stress and impulse-control centres in our brains. [1]

For many, the only way to understand and treat addiction is to accept that this condition is the kind of disease that takes hold of the patient and wreaks havoc. For many people, thinking of addiction as a disease isn’t a coping mechanism or excuse, it’s merely a fact. Once you contract the disease, even if it’s done through your own will of extended recreational drug or alcohol abuse, it takes on a life of its own.

Addiction as a Developmental Disorder

The idea of addiction being something of a developmental disorder was brought to light in the early 2000s. While there were quite a few people circling this idea, Dr. Chambers from Yale School of Medicine published a journal in the American Journal of Psychiatry explaining his thoughts on addiction as a developmental disorder.

In the published works, Dr. Chambers explained the idea behind this new way of thinking: drugs tap into a neural imbalance that resides in young adolescent minds. The circuitry that typically releases chemicals that associate good experiences with the motivation to repeat them develops far more quickly during this critical time of human growth.

As a result, Dr. Chambers explained, young people who experiment with drugs are susceptible to a more profound effect of the drug on the developing brain, and this can often lead to permanent changes in brain function. [2]

Young minds are drawn to new experiences, and while this is a great thing – because this is how we all learn – we cannot deny the vulnerability that desire can bring with it.

The motivational parts of the young mind are rapidly expanding as we grow, and within this area of the brain, dopamine plays a key role. Dopamine is also at the heart of the addictive effects of many drugs out there, such as cocaine.

Adding that desire to the underdeveloped part of the young brain that helps weigh risks and rewards makes young minds specifically vulnerable in certain ways that we can prevent, with the right targeted prevention plans.

New Information Can Change the Our Addiction Treatment Plans

While it may have seemed strange to some when studies revealed that addiction could be thought of as a disease of the mind, it may also seem strange to shift our thoughts to addiction as a developmental disorder.

However, adapting our thought process and treatment plans to the new information that is constantly being uncovered about addiction and the human brain can ultimately change the way we view and treat addiction.

Shifting to this idea that links vulnerability to normal developmental changes in the adolescent brain can really help us find new methods for addiction prevention in the younger population.

Sources

[1] NIDA
[2]
American Journal of Psychiatry

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