Our brain is an interesting tool. We want to perfect it and make it learn new things which help us go through life, but we also are subject to its whims and fancies. How does it work? Can I become addicted to something? What does the average person have to do to become addicted to medication or worse?
The Little Rewards
Our brains work on little rewards. This is the premise behind Game Theory, which develops games which offer small, achievable challenges. These challenges have little rewards for completing each task, urging us to go on with the game. Your brain releases little drops of dopamine (the comfort hormone) when it achieves these tiny rewards.
Over time, these little rewards add up to a small habit that is formed, which is why computers, games, and apps can become addictive. We’re talking actually addiction-inducing. Alchemy Sober Living talks about these little chemical changes which add up and compound over time.
Slightly Spiked Rewards
There are other activities which spike these small rewards to an even higher extent, creating an endorphin-serotonin jump. Unlike the dopamine which just comforts us, endorphins and serotonin make us feel really good and ready for anything.
What are these other activities?
These extra spikes include sex, alcohol, drugs, sports, physical challenges, and even medications. That means that even your average, over-the-counter medication can produce the same chemical effect in your brain as sex or illicit drugs.
The Chemical Cycle
Habits are created by having a cue-routine-reward cycle. Something cues us to begin the habit. Going to bed cues us to brush our teeth. Putting our sneakers beside our bed cues us to go for a run in the morning.
When things like medication give us a reward for taking them, we want to take more. Eventually, mental and chemical habits form. Our cue is that we feel average. We don’t feel “great” anymore like we did before. So, we take the medication (routine), which makes us feel better (reward).
Medications are supposed to make us feel better when we are sick. They are supposed to give us some semblance of normality while we go from being sick to being well again. Unfortunately, you can increase this effect by taking the medication when you are well. It is a soft drug. And, judging by the way your brain is responding to the chemical cycle, it is on its way to becoming a hard drug.
A Gradual Addiction
Can people get into illicit drugs after becoming addicted to their medication? Absolutely. Ordinary people like you and me can actually develop a “tolerance” for our regular medication and can eventually upgrade to illicit narcotics. It takes more and more of our regular medication to make our brains feel “great” again and this leads to a need to upgrade the dosage. If our doctor won’t prescribe it for us, then we reach out to dealers on the street to satisfy our needs.
Can an average person become addicted to their medication all by itself? Yes, definitely. You don’t have to develop a dependence on something harder to be considered addicted. You can simply develop a chemical need for your medication that you did not have when you first started using it. Pain management is one thing. However, if you are still taking the medication months in the future (and hiding it when someone is around), then you are probably addicted to it now.
What Can You Do?
You can ask your doctor what his or her expectations are for how much pain you should be in. Ask him or her how long you should have your pain. If the pain does not stop, tell your doctor this and insist that they get you non-pharmaceutical treatment for your pain.
Higher pain tolerance is not the answer. Higher dosage of medication is not the answer. Your doctor will tell you what to expect over time. Take good and gentle care of yourself while you are healing. Then, dispose of your medication in a safe and easy way. Throw it in the trash.
If you feel that you are continuing to abuse medication when you shouldn’t, join a Narc-Anon (Narcotics Anonymous) group which can help you sort through your feelings on the subject. It is better to help ourselves than hinder ourselves. Life is priceless.