Addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system which occurs over time from chronically high levels of exposure to an addictive stimulus. An individual can become addicted to various things:
- Alcohol and/or drugs
- Internet including videogaming, social media, and email
Recent advances in neuroscience help us understand that anticipating a reward for completing a task or achieving a goal excites the neurons in the midbrain, which releases dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centers. This causes us to experience pleasure, causing some individuals to become obsessed with continued pleasure-seeking experiences. The behavior or “need” to keep playing a game, constantly check email, drink alcohol, or gamble online can become compulsive.
These types of compulsions and addictions can lead to increased emotional stress, disruptions in career and important relationships. Often times, an underlying psychological disorder, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, is occurring simultaneously. Treatment is aimed at both disorders to improve overall quality of life. I have had success working with clients with a variety of addictions both in treatment facilities and in my private practice. Clients have been able to reduce or abstain from the behavior and re-focus on more goal-directed activities and improve their important relationships.