The Difference Between Types of Addiction (And Why It’s Important to Know Them)

That’s only true if you don’t know anything about the SCIENCE of addiction.
Source: nyacyouth.org

So, here in my home state of New Hampshire, we’ve been working through cannabis legalization for some time. And last month, we saw a huge step towards decriminalization.

Of course, one issue I keep seeing come up is people questioning or challenging the idea of whether marijuana is addictive or not. Well, as someone who studied the science and psychology behind addiction as part of his college life, I wanted to explain something about addiction that most people overlook; there’s a very real chance that you’re using the word ‘addiction’ wrong and that’s because people use (or misuse, as the case may be) the word to describe three very different problems that I’d like to explore with you.

Physical Addiction

This is what most people in the scientific community mean when they talk about whether or not something is addictive.

The way things we do or consume that make us “feel good” work is by triggering the release of stored dopamine that binds to dopamine receptors in the brain and creates a feeling of mild euphoria as a reward to encourage that behavior.Drugs like cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol (yes, cigarettes and booze are drugs) work by increasing dopamine production and, essentially, flooding your brain in dopamine.

There’s a problem though; having too much dopamine in you all at once can cause the aforementioned receptors to become desensitized while natural dopamine production drops off. This means that you need more of your fix to get less than stellar results over time.

Cannabis, however, doesn’t work like that. While it does trigger dopamine release, it doesn’t directly increase its production. As such, it doesn’t desensitize receptors or reduce natural production with extended use. Therefore, It’s NOT physically addictive.

That said, you can’t exactly sleep on cannabis. While physical addiction isn’t a problem, you still have to contend with…

Physical Dependency

Have you ever skipped your morning coffee and felt like complete ass the rest of the day until you finally get your caffeinated bean buzz? Well, congratulations; you are the victim of a physical dependency.

Physical dependency occurs when the long-term use of a particular drug results in negative, often painful, withdrawal symptoms after being taken off the drug in question. It’s basically your body’s version of the time you were running late and couldn’t find your car keys causing you to freak out because, “GODDAMN IT, IT WAS JUST HERE!”

This is a serious issue with cannabis and withdrawal symptoms DO exist. However, it’s worth noting that the withdrawal symptoms of Cannabis are arguably no worse than caffeine withdrawal. And unlike dependencies with other drugs like heroin (which have the potential to be lethal), the symptoms are often manageable enough to be handled without a doctor using nothing more than drinking water and exercise.

Now you’d think that would close the issue, right? It’s possible to be dependent without being addicted. Ergo, Cannabis is non-addictive but can result in dependency if used too often or starting use too young. However, there’s another form of “addiction” we need to discuss…

Psychological Addiction

Typically speaking, medicine doesn’t delve into psychological addiction. That’s because, in psychological addiction, the problem isn’t physical; it’s mental.

That’s not to say psychological addiction is psychosomatic or “not a real problem;” it’s just harder to pin down the cause. The causes for psychological addiction include genetic disposition, environment, mental health, and much more.

But, the point in cases of psychological addiction is this; the object of obsession is NOT the primary cause. The problem is that the person has formed a mental/emotional link to an object to the point that they can’t function normally without it.

So, there is a potential for cannabis to be psychologically addictive. However, 1) cases are extremely rare, 2) Weed is not the problem, and 3) by the definition of the term, ANYTHING can be psychologically addictive. That’s why people are constantly claiming addiction for things like social media, video games, and sex. The objects themselves aren’t addictive; the “addict” is just using them the same way Linus from Peanuts used his security blanket and similarly freak out without them (though not always to the same degree).

Why Know The Difference (Beyond Just Cannabis)?

So, beyond making a credible defense against the anti-weed crowd, why should YOU care so much about knowing the difference between these three categories?

Well, for starters, addiction is a very serious problem that damages the physical and mental health of those that suffer as well as puts a strain on friends and family. By constantly misusing the term “addiction,” we diminish the problem for sufferers and those close to them.

What’s more, knowing the different types of addictions/dependencies helps provide insight on how to better treat suffers. By finding solutions to the physiological end of the problem (i.e. finding ways to repair damage and weaning the body off a chemical safely) while providing for the victim’s psychological needs (addicts have been found to respond to treatment better when kept mentally amused and allowed to socialize), we can give these people the help they ACTUALLY need when they need it.

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