ADDICTION – THE BRAIN AND SOCIETY
Is addiction a socially constructed phenomenon or is it biologically constructed? This question was the hypothesis of my assignment, and overall topic. The word addiction is very familiar in our society, but what it defines is something that is still being explored with no defined answer. Until future studies take place on addiction people make assumptions along with their own theory and point of view on this matter. Addiction, especially drugs is a major concern for our society. Addiction affects the addict and their loved ones, and society as a whole with rippling effects. The two scientific points of views that I explored was the biologist versus the sociologist. Both valid sciences study the same issue on two different spectrums, and it was interesting to see the results of my research for myself because all the information derived was new to me.
The term addiction was previously applied only to such ‘hard’ drugs as heroin, where there are obvious signs of tolerance and physical dependence in regular users. There are painful or even life-threatening physical withdrawal syndromes when drug use is stopped. Over the recent years its definition has changed, and the term ‘substance dependence’ is used to include both psychological dependence and physical dependence. For example, the alcoholic who cannot stop drinking or the cannabis type of smoker drug habit has come to control their aspects of life is not less of an addict compared to the cocaine user, even though they may suffer only mild withdrawal signs when drug use is stopped.
It is well known that addicts have been, and continue to be, the subjects of stigma and prejudice. Most of society does misunderstand the reasoning why individuals become addicted to drugs or how illicit drugs change the brain to encourage compulsive drug abuse. Drugs abuse and addiction are mistakenly viewed as strictly a social problem and may characterize those who take drugs as morally weak. A common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behaviour. The problem is people often underestimate is the complexity of drug addiction; stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower it’s a disease that impacts the brain. Through new scientific advances we now know more about how exactly illicit drugs work in the brain, and from new discoveries neuroscientists have developed new hypotheses about the origin and nature of addiction.
The way nerve cells normally communicate with the brain gets disrupted by drug chemicals. The way the brain normally sends, receives, and processes information get distorted; and there are normally two ways this happens: (1) can be by imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers, and/or (2) over stimulating “reward circuit” of the brain. The neurotransmitter is similar in chemical structure to that of marijuana and heroin chemicals and is also naturally produced by the brain. Because of this similarity, the brain is fooled by the receptors that activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages. Drugs such as cocaine can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, preventing the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. This is needed to shut off the signal between neurons, and disruption produces a greatly amplified message that ultimately disrupts normal communication patterns.
The brain gets targeted directly and indirectly through its reward system when circuits get flooded with dopamine. The neurotransmitter dopamines in regions of the brain are what that controls movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. How it works is the overstimulation of this system produces euphoric effects as a respond to the drugs. Normally it responds to natural behaviours that are linked to survival such as eating, spending time with loved ones, etc. As a result a motion pattern is set that will “teach” people to repeat those behaviours of abusing drugs.
When drugs are being abused the brain will adapt to the overwhelming surges of dopamine receptors in the reward circuit. The impact on the reward circuit is lessened, thus reducing the abuser’s ability to enjoy the drugs and the things that previously brought pleasure. Addicts are compelled because of the decrease of dopamine in the brain to continue the use of drugs to function back to normal. And, with every use they may require larger amounts of drugs then they original started off to achieve the dopamine high, also an effect known as tolerance.
Brain chemical system and circuit can be permanently changed through long term abuse. A neurotransmitter influencing the reward circuit and the ability to learn is called a glutamate. Optimal concentration of glutamate is altered by drug abuse, and the brain attempts to compensate impairing cognitive function. Facilitate non conscious (conditioned) learning by drug abuse, which leads the user to experience uncontrollable cravings even when the drug is not in their presence when they see a place or person they associate with the drug experience. Showing variation in areas of the brain that is particular for judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behaviour control are shown in brain imaging studies that show visual difference from a drug user. All these facts into consideration drives an abuser to seek out drugs compulsively disregarding the consequences or in other words to become an addict to illicit drugs.
Remind you, biologist are not taking to affect addiction on matters aside from drug intake, such as sex or gambling addiction. Medical science still needs further research on substance abuse addiction versus physical activity addiction. Although their medical point of view is valid to a point, it has to be more complete.
On the other hand, sociologists look at addiction through the social context and have proven results through extensive research. Some of the results look at drug addiction as it relates to contributing factors in one’s environment. The most commonly cited risk factors said to predict drug use are the community, the family, school, and one’s peers. The community in which one resides plays a large role in drug use and addiction risk for the individual. Statistics have shown that communities with an encouraging or positive attitude toward drug use often increase the risk for an addiction. Further, it has been predicted by cultural deviance theorists that those living in low socioeconomic status or “transitional” neighbourhoods are more likely to use drugs and acquire an addiction. However, it must be noted that this may not be the case for all residents in these neighbourhoods. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), adolescents with family incomes less than $20,000 were more likely to have used alcohol, inhalants, tobacco products, and prescription drugs, than those living in a family with an income of $75,000 or more. The study found rates of 35.4% and 25.2%, respectively.
Drug use in the community and by parental figure contributes to a higher chance of drug use and addiction by the child in the home, simply because it reinforces the behaviour as acceptable throughout society. Similar to these contributions a positive attitude in the family also seems to be a risk factor for developing addiction. A survey conducted by NSDUH in 2003 found that adolescents living with a mother who abused alcohol and/or drugs were more likely to have used alcohol or drugs themselves within the past month compared to adolescents whose mothers did not. This was a rate of 26.7% compared to 18.6%, respectively. Another factor to consider is conflict between family members and home management problems. Drug use, and then later addiction has becomes a way to self-medicating oneself in order to relieve the constant stressors experienced in family life.
School performance and participation for children and adolescents can be predicting factors of drug use. It is predicted by social control theorists that weak conventional bonds in a society increase drug use and abuse, and the stronger one’s attachment, commitment, and involvement in outside activities, such as school or sports, the less of a chance that one will engage in drug-using behaviours. In 2005, NSDUH found that adolescents who participated in school-based, community-based, or church-based activities had lower rates of cigarette, alcohol, and illicit drug use, than those who did not participate in any extra curricula activities. This study also concluded that the number of activities that an adolescent participated in had an effect on drug use as well. The rates for illicit drug use were 18.3% for adolescents who did not participate in any activities, 11.9% for those who participated in one to three Reimer 6 activities, 9.4% for four to six activities, and 6.8% for seven or more activities in the past year. It is also in the school setting that we expect children to make friends and connections to the outside world. Peer influence and the association with friends who engage in drug-related behaviour is believed to be the single largest contributing factor of drug use, abuse, and addiction in our society today. Watching others engage in and encourage such deviant behaviour can only lead to a negative impact on the individual who is observing. A combination of these different environmental factors begins to reinforce the notion that drug use and addiction are acceptable in our society; a fiction that must be corrected at an early age, as these attitudes often lead to drug use and addiction.
Again, sociologists are looking at addiction as “not” a medicinal drug affect. This leaves out important domains on the topic of addiction and overall an incomplete research in the end.
The goal should be to challenge humanists, social scientists and neuroscientists to bridge the disciplinary divides within addiction studies by engaging each other's claims and methods. There has been examining and indentifying of the social and culture roots Social scientists and humanists have been actively seeking out different evidentiary for the root of this addictive behaviour. But rarely do both researchers engage in each other’s field. For example, the ways the addiction practices often are reinforcing the social order is a finding in socio historical studies. Contribution to the propagation of gender, class and ethnic inequalities, and impose stigmatized identities on both willing and unwilling subjects are examined factors. Nevertheless, focus on the social, cultural and political dimensions of addiction seems often to come at the expense of a consideration of physiology, biochemistry and neurobiology. The domain of the pathological body, whereas social scientists often produce analyses that seem to overlook that drugs are chemical substances. Whereas scientists tend to reduce that drug users have bodies and focus solely upon that. The understanding of the human body has been altered in many ways because of contemporary sciences to better understand the substance impact in our body. In my opinion it is essential to overcome the biology and culture dualism along side with meaningful studies.
The result of this topic is to encourage neuroscientists to consider the social connection of their laboratory findings and the cultural relation in which their work takes place. Also to persuade social scholars to integrate biologically oriented addiction science into their studies. Addictions are syndromes of dependence that have multiple triggers and pathways, ranging anywhere from the cultural to organic spectrum, but are probably informed by a combination that we could usefully consider a ‘cultural biology’. Addiction research can be characterized by its division into multiple regions – the biological, the social and the psychological – the overlaps of these realm are important sites of inquiry. The experience of addiction is exclusive to any of these separate domains; that is, that no single model can entirely explain the aspect, just as no account of an individual's addiction fully describes the subject who may view themselves in relation to the social whole or in other roles apart from their drug use.
Social construction and biological reductionism needs to be acknowledged that each approach has had and continues to make important contributions towards understanding addiction at extreme poles of. Individually, it contributions illustrate productive, interdisciplinary and sub division of issues relating to addiction which can take a number of different forms. The collection addresses problems and meanings of addiction, especially in relation to recent developments in addiction science. I enjoyed taken part in this debate through research by the whole concept. For me personally, I fell into the categories of people with preposition notions about addicts, and the words “addition, and drugs” are well known, but the concept is very little known. I really thought their personal choices are affecting our society, and wanted to dim them, and I still feel this way about drug dealers because they play an important role in the destruction of our future youth and the drainage of our community. But for those individuals battling addiction I am now more respectful because I understand the biology portion, and will consider the sociological factors. I am now able to view a person as a whole and not as an addict. Addiction is major part of their life, but does not define them.