The psychology of addiction is complicated, tapping into the argument of choice vs disease. Due to the physical action of drug and alcohol consumption, many argue that it’s a choice. Yet the reward and reinforcement of consumption shows the psychological disease that addiction is, and how impactful emotional factors can be.

An addiction can be caused by a multitude of influences, can display through a variety of symptoms, and can result in a range of consequences. Each can be of physical and psychological natures, yet the latter is the most concerning.

Trauma, mental health issues, stress, instability, and impaired functionality of the brain can all cause addiction. Mental illness and emotional unavailability can stem from consumption. Long lasting psychological impairment, known as a dual diagnosis, can also be the outcome of long-term substance abuse.

The psychological motivations of addiction are individual, are sensitive and are worrying, requiring specialist help, support, and treatment. We at Nova Recovery, a private hospital can help you understand and recover from the psychology of addiction.

Reach out for our support, to recover physically and psychologically from addiction.


Causes of addiction

There are myths about addiction and its cause. Genetics, environments, and active choices are associated with addiction development through such outlooks. Yet this is untrue, as additional influences can also cause addiction.

Physical experiences and stimuli can increase the risk of addiction, as can psychological feelings and associations. Emotional factors, such as trauma, abuse, and mental health issues, are in fact some of the most influential stimuli when fuelling an ongoing addiction, as the condition develops and attacks the brain.

The psychology of addiction is linked to associations, learning and positive reinforcements, found to ingrain the condition on a deeper level. Here’s some insight into the psychological element of addiction, along with covering the choice vs disease argument.


Choice vs disease

It’s understandable why addiction is branded as a choice at face value. Drug and alcohol consumption begins with initial use, which is a conscious action. However, such action will be motivated by a trigger, which can be anything from pre-existing illness, psychological trauma, and toxic relationships.

As consumption continues, the psychology of addiction presents itself as a brain disease. Targeting the mind, actions become taught, habitual, and strongly associated with positivity and reward, to the point where the brain becomes accustomed to consumption.

At this point, the argument sways towards disease, as a habit, like any form of routine behaviour can be difficult to break and undo without intervention.

A drug and alcohol addiction can develop to a point where their presence will take control over choices, outlooks, and responses, making dissociation something very hard to achieve alone. Addiction treatments, mental health treatments and rehabilitation efforts will be required at this point, to treat addiction clinically and holistically.


The psychology of addiction

Whilst drug and alcohol consumption can start physically and can continue to result in physical symptoms and effects, the psychology of addiction is much stronger. An addiction can begin, develop, and continue due to the below factors.

Positive associations: When the positive feelings of drugs and alcohol are experienced, associations can be made. Although physical associations are common, psychological links are usually intense. This is down to the impacts that substance abuse has on the mind.

Initial consumption can be extremely positive for the brain, commonly found through stimulants and hallucinogenic drugs. Where consumption increases happy chemicals, where it masks any negative feelings, where it offers positive effects or where it feels rewarding, associations will be made. The mind will associate drugs and alcohol as positive reinforcement, turning into cravings and urges.

To treat the psychology of addiction, dissociation must be made, by restabilising the reward circuit and central nervous system.

Taught behaviour: As humans, our brains are consistently learning, digesting information, and developing. If a positive association is made, consumption will become a taught behaviour, an everyday norm, and a part of a routine.

As taught behaviour can be psychologically justified, it can be challenging to unlearn drug and alcohol consumption.

Mental reliance: For some individuals, drugs and alcohol are initially consumed to manage poor mental health, such as depression and anxiety. If their effects work, a mental reliance can develop, which associates consumption as a coping strategy. This is a form of self-medication and can be very dangerous, known to aggravate dual diagnosis risks.

The psychology of addiction makes it a multifaceted, sometimes complicated disease, as it involves emotions, brain structure and chemicals, and learning. Yet with the right support, it can be treated and managed both physically and psychologically.


Treating an addiction

At Nova Recovery, we are a specialist private hospital for both addiction and mental health recovery. We understand how lasting and strong an addiction can be due to its layers.

We offer a range of treatment programmes to work through its layers, by understanding how addiction has started and developed. We also offer mental health treatments to heal the brain, reduce lasting impacts and treat dual diagnosis.

Our treatments are designed to understand the cause, suppress the cause, and overpower it with positive emotions, coping strategies and behaviours. Making use of addiction treatment services, including cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, and stress management, we educate our clients, support them emotionally and offer recovery-driven tools.

Tailored to individual needs, we can provide you with your own residential treatment programme to recover from and manage your addiction.

If you’re displaying any common signs and symptoms of addiction, we encourage you to reach out. Whilst you may feel in control of your actions, there’s a strong chance that your mind and mental health will be vulnerable to the psychology of addiction.

Consumption can develop into a habit through the learning process, substance abuse can develop into a mental reliance, and associations can disrupt the reward circuit. Reach out to experience the right type of treatment to treat your addiction, its severity and cause.

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John Gillen - Author - Last updated: September 8, 2023

John has travelled extensively around the world, culminating in 19 years’ experience looking at different models. He is the European pioneer of NAD+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) treatment to Europe in 2010; and recently back from the USA bringing state of the art Virtual Reality Relapse Prevention and stress reduction therapy. His passion extends to other metabolic disturbances and neurodegenerative diseases. The journey continues. In recent times, John has travelled to Russia to study and research into a new therapy photobiomudulation or systemic laser therapy working with NAD+ scientists and the very best of the medical professionals in the UK and the USA, together with Nadcell, Bionad Hospitals own select Doctors, nurses, dieticians and therapists. Johns’ passion continues to endeavour to bring to the UK and Europe new developments with NAD+ Therapy in preventive and restorative medicine and Wellness. In 2017 John Gillen was made a visiting Professor at the John Naisbitt university in Belgrade Serbia.