Most people associate National Addictions Awareness Week with alcoholism and drug addiction but addictive behaviours go well beyond substance abuse. It can even include addictions to sex, gambling and even hoarding.
All addictions activate the same brain reward patterns that are associated with the 'high' of a drug. You know, that feeling of euphoria that makes you draw self-portraits of yourself that look like this. Heroin addicts are soothed by the use of a needle, even if there is no drug injected, this behavioural addiction can be just as powerful as the chemical changes that happen in the brain.
These behavioural or process addictions, just like their substance abuse counterparts, stimulate the release of dopamine in the reward centers of the brain. The flood of dopamine in areas of the brain like the nucleus accumbens caused addicts to have a surge of positive emotions. Mice that have their nucleus accumbens removed are often cured of addictions, although most people aren't interested in having part of their brain surgically removed to stop them from buying too many shoes.
Sex addictions have broken up many-a-Hollywood couple which has made it an almost laughable disease of the too-hot-for-you but it isn't just the David Duchovny's of the world that crave the orgasmic euphoria. Hoarding and shopping result in the same brain changes. Although, I must admit, I'd have a lot more shoes if the act of purchasing was orgasmic. Maybe I'm simply not prone to addictions.
Addictions are not simply a result of bad choices, they result from brain chemistry changes and feedback loops on overdrive. This National Addiction Awareness Week maybe it's time to stop teasing your shop-a-holic friends and understand that their compulsions are not simply a bad habit.
Can't help throw in a Rob Ford joke here – his list of addictions is loooonnnggggg – food, cigarettes, alcohol, oh yeah, crack. You can't apologize and move on, sorry Toronto, you need serious therapy.