The video below—entitled Everything We Think We Know About Addiction Is Wrong—isn’t bad, but it only covers two facets of addiction—physical addiction (when you supplant the natural “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins with a chemical substitute, your body decreases or even discontinues the production of the natural chemicals, thus making it difficult to cease taking the supplemental one, the attempt of which causes a serious or even deadly reaction, otherwise known as withdrawal), and (adult) circumstances/environment and social disconnectedness (basically, self-mediating for depression, loneliness, boredom, low self-esteem, stress, disconnection, etc).

Both of these aspects of addiction are, of course, valid; but they’ve left out another critical aspect, which helps explain our current culture of addiction. And that is, the first 5 to 7 years of a child’s life, their brain is still developing, and their environment during that time affects that development. If they are raised in an unloving or neglectful or abusive environment—even if their parent(s) are simply distant or disconnected—then the dopamine and dopamine receptors in their brains don’t develop normally, because they are underused or unused during that time. Dopamine and dopamine receptors are key in the feelings of love, happiness, contentment, connectedness, etc, and are also linked to motivation (dopamine-deficient mice will eat food if you place it right in front of them, but wont bother to go get it if it’s a foot away from them, they’ll starve to death first). 

So people raised in unloving, neglectful, abusive, or merely disconnected environments never fully develop normal levels of dopamine and receptors—instead are deficient in both—and as a result are generally depressed and agitated and feel unloved and unhappy etc. And worse, they’re not motivated to do much of anything, much less anything strenuous that could potentially change their health, minds, and lives for the better.

But then, the first time they try a chemical—which acts on the dopamine receptors, mimicking dopamine—BAM! for the first time in their life they feel normal, connected, loved, happy, all those things they’ve not felt before, or at least not very often. And anyone who’s been deprived of those feelings their entire life, then they suddenly experience them—how would they NOT be instantly addicted? And who, knowing this, could blame them?

I like to define addiction thusly: Trying to fill an internal void with something external. So the biological condition of deficient dopamine and dopamine receptors, suddenly supplemented via an artificial, external chemical, makes perfect sense. This would also include non-chemical addictions, such as food or sex or gambling or video games, etc., because those activities stimulate dopamine and endorphin production as well. Same effect as taking a drink or a drug.

In my opinion, we have now had multiple generations in which a large portion of the populace has been raised in unloving, neglectful, disconnected environments, and as a result many adults are now dopamine deficient, and so much of our society and culture has become addiction-based (drugs, alcohol, TV, shopping, gambling, video games, Facebook, sex, porn, religion, work, food, tobacco, exercise, what have you).

Anyone interested in more on this, I invite you to look into the work of Dr. Gabor Maté, in particular his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He’s the only one I know of who has been saying what I’ve been saying for years. I was able to identify the “trying to fill an internal void with something external” aspect of addiction on my own, when I successfully beat my 25-year addiction seven years ago—but Dr. Maté’s work educated me about the childhood environment/trauma element, and why many of us are more susceptible to addiction than others.

In summary: perhaps Robert Palmer’s song Addicted To Love ain’t so far from the truth…