Addiction causes are not yet fully understood.
The prevailing attitude toward addiction has been disapproval as addiction was seen as personal failure, resulting from moral weakness and a lack of discipline. The stigma has not been entirely lost and scientific evidence suggests that addition is primarily a biological phenomenon.
In some circles addiction has been described as a disease of the brain.
Addiction researchers have asserted that alcoholism and other dependent states have a genetic bases. Alcohol dependence was thought to be influenced by genes as well as the environment as the risk for alcohol related problems seemed to be higher in the children of alcoholics.
While studies may support the genetic predisposition, identifying the specific genes that lead to the increased risk of addiction has been laborious, but it has been confirmed that that people with a different form of a certain gene are more susceptible to addiction. It is hope that further research into gene therapy can actually lead to the development of new treatment for alcoholics and other drug dependencies.
Research documenting the impact of drugs on the brain may shed some light on why some people may be more prone to addiction than others.
Drug abuse along with other potentially addictive activities such as gambling, sex, or some cases shopping causes the brain to brain to release dopamine, a chemical involved in experiencing pleasure. The surge in dopamine production appears to be powerful enough to compel the user to keep taking the drug or engaging in the behaviour. With prolonged use, the drugs can alter the brain so that experiencing pleasure without the drug is near impossible. and at this point the drug is used to stave off painful withdrawal symptoms. Based on the research, the theory has been surmised that people who are deficient in dopamine are more likely to become addicts.
While most agree that biology may play an important part in addiction, there is still some division, as one group believes that addiction is primarily a behavioral problem that is influenced by biology. They contend that labeling addiction as medical condition similar to diabetes or heart disease can create a false impression that addicts have no control over their own behavior. In the view of this group, people become addicts mostly because of their behavior and not brain chemistry.
There is still very much to learn about how the brain actually works and research is continuing and questions are still being asked.
Critics contend the medical theory of addiction may be flawed, because most people who take drugs do not become addicted.
Addiction to nicotine, which is purportedly more addictive than heroin, can be kicked solely on willpower. The dopamine theory has also come under some criticism with the assertion that the range of activities that stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain far too wide to denote any behavioral tendencies. Addiction to sex, chocolate,work or eating are not related. “Chocolate stimulates the pleasure centers, but only a few people may compulsively eat chocolate or gamble”
The contrasting perspectives on addiction, biological or behavioral has influenced debate over the best treatment for addiction.
Counseling and medication is favored by those who believe that addiction is a disease and believe that controlled abstinence may be the best way to break the habit.
In contrast,opponents of the disease model may insist that addiction can be treated without any psychological or medical intervention.
Research and studies continues to be warranted into finding the best and most effective treatment for addiction.