Personal Care

Why Understanding Your Brain Can Help Fight Addiction

No one person in this world is the same. Even identical twins have their own distinct personalities and traits which help them stand apart from their siblings. This is down to the complex genetic make up of the human body, inside which millions of cells are working and growing together, leading to the creation and development of a distinct, individual person every single time.

Add on top of this external influences and environmental factors which influence our thoughts and feelings on the world, and it’s no surprise we’re all unique beings. It’s with this context that we need to approach any understanding of the human condition – and especially the elusive question of what drives certain people towards addictive behaviour.

Understanding the issue of addiction

Many associate addiction with harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, but legally attainable substances can prove just as problematic. Alcoholism, for example, is estimated to cost the NHS about £3.5 billion a year, and the rise of prescription drug abuse has led to  many rehab facilities such as the Delamere clinic in Cheshire offering treatment options exclusively for this.

Some people believe that there are those with an ‘addictive personality’ who are more inclined to suffer from such issues – but is there really such a character trait as this?

Well yes and no. Scientists have confirmed that there is no one personality type that certainly leads to addiction, however it is believed that those who have certain traits in their character that could have a higher risk of becoming addicted to substances.

This is where an honest conversation with yourself about your personality traits and your relationship with substances could help mitigate your risk upon forming an addiction.

Traits such as apathy, risk taking, obsessive compulsive tendencies and experiencing other mental health disorders could all predispose you to a higher risk of addiction. By spotting these traits and taking measures to restrict or control your exposure to potentially addictive substances, you can give yourself every chance of avoiding severe addiction issues in the future.

The brain’s immune system

While character traits are one area that can predispose us to addictive tendencies, scientists are also researching how our brain can also play an important part in how our bodies cope with and react to substance abuse.

Research has found that the brain’s immune system cells, which are known as the microglia, become inflamed when exposed to potentially harmful substances. Scientists believe that there may be a correlation between addiction and the amount of microglia cells you have in the medial prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain which controls pain, memory processes and decision making.

This theory has been confirmed in tests on alcohol dependent mice, with alcohol seeking behaviour and withdrawal symptoms both lowered when microglia cells were reduced in the brain. It’s an exciting development which could help produce new types of therapy and treatment for those suffering with addiction.

Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing if you have an increased number of microglia cells in your body, so for the layman this information is more of an interesting factoid rather than an actionable piece of advice. It should, however, help you to see that addiction is a disease and not just a choice that you should feel ashamed by – and this is the most important lesson of all. Just as some people have weaker bones and are more likely to suffer breakages, others are naturally less robust against the lure of addictive behaviour.

Be kinder to yourself

So, what does all this information tell us? Essentially, we need to be kind to ourselves, spot potential risks and do more to protect ourselves from harm. Stress and anxiety can be big triggers for turning to harmful substances, so recognising these feelings and dealing with them in alternative ways can be very helpful.

It’s always worth being aware about all the external help that is out there to which can aid people when they’re feeling down or worried about addiction related behaviours. There are several helplines open 24 hours a day seven days a week which you can call and, if things do get on top of you to a point where you need a short stay in a facility, the UK is home to some of the best. It’s important to remember that there is always help available – and that there’s no shame with needing support to overcome such issues.

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