The Science of Addiction in Young Minds

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Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drugs, gadgets like smartphones, computers and gaming consoles, gambling – what are the millennials not addicted to? Pictures showcasing smoking, drinking, and memes inspired by substances are the trend these days on social media. Being on and with their gadgets, away from people, is a cool thing today.

What exactly happens, physiologically and psychologically, when you get addicted to something? Here’s a little insight.

What Is Addiction?

It was previously believed that the brain is rigid and becomes permanent after a certain age. But, with recent advancements in neuroscience, it is now proved that the brain is ever adapting and evolving at a cellular level. Any behavior that we learn or acquire, the cells in the brain adapt accordingly and line up to fire impulses based on the alignment. This is exactly what happens even in addiction.

When you take a substance or use a gadget, the release of the dopamine chemical from the brain gives you a sense of pleasure. This feeling of satisfaction, when repeated, starts to change the firing and alignment of the cells within your brain. As the brain cells align themselves according to the substances, the brain gets hardwired. When this process starts repeating, in order to maintain the equilibrium, the brain starts craving for that particular thing or substance and you are now forced to reuse whatever you had had previously. This behavior of reusing for satisfaction and preventing craving becomes an addiction.

How to Deal with Addiction?

Once an addiction sets in, it cannot be undone immediately. Hence the need for deaddiction and rehabilitation, where the purpose is to rewire the brain by taking away the addictive substance or gadget. This may require months [or sometimes even years] and has to be done with expertise and dealt both with behavioral therapies and medication available to deter the craving along with behavioral disruption.

The real problem is that the earlier the youngsters take substances the more difficult it becomes to wean them away, as an earlier onset of addiction not only impacts them physically but also their developing personality, characteristics and behavior. Substance induced psychosis, mood disorders and personality disorders are a credible threat to both the society and the talents of the young minds that seem to be lost as the addiction prolongs.

Trouble with authorities, disregard for the rights of the other, poor moral grasp, and indulging in unlawful activities are common among youngsters these days, which acts as a catalyst for other youngsters to follow the trend, not to mention the widespread use of social media as an amplifier. Substances being endorsed subtly in movies and adverts, telling young people what to buy and what to eat, rather than what they need and what is healthy, is like a dagger from the back – no one can predict the outcome.

So earlier the intervention and cessation of addictive substances or things, better the response and prognosis. Young people can go back to their lives and be responsible towards family, environment, and following generations.

To hope and to overcome this adversity is the need of the hour. It’s a future that the world needs now more than ever.

Dr Asgar Alam, Consultant Psychiatrist, Chennai

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