America might be home of the: shopaholics, gamblers, coffee addicts, cookie monsters, sugar addicts, drug addicts, alcoholics, chocoholics, and exercise junkies. Addictive tendencies maybe more common than rare and it appears that developing the addiction tendency may be a little out of our control.
Canadian physician, Gabor Mate, MD, who primarily works with drug addiction and mental illness has discussed the problem of addiction and the factors that increase it. For hundreds of years mothers and fathers tended to their infants and babies, nourishing them physically and emotionally. Addiction tendency occurs when the original way of life is destroyed. He believes the industrial revolution dramatically changed humans’ ways of life, by increasing isolation, increasing parent-child separation and thus, effectively creating an addictive tendency.
When human babies are born their neural pathways and circuits are still developing, just as in the womb, the child continues to develop outside of the womb. The human brain is shaped by the environment. The visual circuitry, the opioid/endorphin circuit, the dopamine circuit, the stress control, and impulse control are under development. For development of a healthy brain a: low stress environment; emotionally available, constantly available, parent or caregiver is necessary. Without these the proper brain circuit doesn’t develop. When a proper brain circuit fails to develop the brain struggles with: endorphins/opioids (the ability to feel love, connection, reward, pain relief), dopamine (incentive, motivation, curiosity, sense of being alive), stress control/adrenaline (ability to regulate stress), and impulse control (the ability to stop/say no).
Chemicals (found in drugs or “drug-like” foods, i.e. sugar) become a way of self-medicating. People with normal brain development release endorphins or natural opioids when feeling love, connection, or reward. If this is stunted, the only time someone may feel strong feelings of love, connection, or reward is from a drug. The human brain can develop new circuits later in life, but it takes time and support. The longer someone uses drugs the longer it takes and more support they will need. Drugs deplete factors necessary for neurotransmitter production; often making the person feel worse without exposure to the drug, this “locks” someone into a drug dependency cycle. Addictions can be treatable once the problem is consciously recognized and acknowledged, and the person is given compassion, support, as well as, vital nutrients that promote neurotransmitter formation and brain circuit development.