Published on May 26, 2020 by Autumn Rise Foundation, Inc. in ARF Blogs
We have all heard the phrase ‘addiction is a disease’, there is no doubt that it is, but the underlying psychology and manifestation isn’t fully understood. I’d like to introduce the statement ‘conditioning is powerful’ to the discussion of addiction.
Last month with ARF we covered Mental Health. It is a convenient segue for this month’s topic: addiction. Mental health has a large role in a person’s susceptibility to substance abuse. A scientific study shows anxiety to be present before substance abuse, and depression typically follows after abuse (Merikangas, 1998). We have all heard the phrase “addiction is a disease”, there is no doubt that it is, but the underlying psychology and manifestation isn’t fully understood. I’d like to introduce the statement “conditioning is powerful” to the discussion of addiction.
The cost of drug abuse in the US is astounding; it is largely considered to be one of the most substantial avoidable costs of any disease or disorder. On average substance abuse costs the US about $740 Billion dollars annually in costs related to crime, healthcare, and lost work productivity (drugabuse.gov). Healthcare costs alone for the abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and prescription opioids are roughly $221 Billion dollars. These numbers rise every year, but they are a testament to the strength and effects that these drugs have on the brain. We often underestimate the psychology of human operant conditioning and it has detrimental effects.
When people initially try drugs, it is often to gain some form of positive reinforcement, they want to feel good and feel high. With repeated exposure, tolerance is steadily built and requires an increase in the dose of the drug to have the same effect. With prolonged use and dependence your brain adjusts to this “new normal” and shifts your pleasure scale lower and lower until you no longer feel neutral or balanced when you are off drugs; feeling discomfort becomes your new normal (Koob & LeMoal, 1997). Your brain does not allow for you to feel a high sensation all the time, so as the drugs keep coming in, it makes the necessary adjustments to accommodate for the consumption of drugs that it is certain will come. Once a person reaches this stage of drug abuse, they are no longer seeking drugs for positive reinforcement and pleasure, they are seeking drugs to avoid negative reinforcement and physical pain that accompanies withdrawal.
All this explains self-destructive behaviors of drug addicts because they are aware that nothing else aside from those drugs will give them pleasure; not even life-sustaining things like food and water. Conditioning and positive reinforcement drive our behavior more heavily than we realize. If you are a support system for a recovering addict, a healthy mindset is to separate the person you know, from the behaviors of the addict you see. Learn the common behaviors of drug abuse victims from the DSM-V and stay informed.
Written By: Michelle Koduah, CMO
Autumn Rise Foundation, Inc.