Addiction has become undoubtedly entangled in modern American society. Whether it’s gambling, food, sex, technology, alcohol or drugs, the deadly disease hijacks the human brain with severe ramifications. Recent eruptions in the number of opiate addicts and overdoses have shined an even brighter spotlight on this critical public health issue.
There is an inclination to equate addiction to a moral failing, lack of willpower, or simply bad judgment. Dr. Rita Goldstein, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains that due to our ‘evolutionary legacy,’ the reward center in the brain is designed to make us feel good when we do things like eat food or have sex. Yet, with prolonged addiction, a chemical imbalance occurs, and as a result, the reward center takes priority over rational thinking or the threat of negative consequence. When addictive behavior is continually reinforced, further imbalance occurs, weakening the part of the brain meant to counterbalance impulsive behavior.
The good news: Dr. Anna Rose Childress, Research Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Pennsylvania School of Medicine, observes that with abstinence, with or without the use of medications for recovering addicts, the brain can begin rewiring pathways created in the midst of addiction. The road to recovery is not yet paved in the golden promise of a cure, but understanding the biology of addiction is a critical component of treating the disease.