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Even without the added strain of a substance abuse problem, the world can be a difficult and unforgiving place. For many people, each day is a struggle and none of us can ever be sure of what tomorrow will bring, which can feel a lot like having an ominous cloud always hanging overhead. But this is always why it pays to invest in an umbrella.

Addiction is an extremely complicated, enigmatic disease that we’ve only just begun to understand. Fortunately, the amount of research being conducted on the effects of substance abuse on the brain is staggering and the amount of incoming information is almost more than we can process.

We’ve known for some time that the disease of addiction ‘hijacks’ the brain’s reward pathway, but this past week we’ve learned more about how and why that happens. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts-based rehab center has released a series of five concise steps that are spreading across the web like wildfire; these steps are potentially life-changing for the many addicts who aren’t seeking treatment due to fear of losing their jobs. Elsewhere in the world, a Mumbai woman petitions the court system to put a ban on internet porn due to her husband’s porn addiction, which has prompted the age-old question: Is porn addiction real? And how much is too much? Finally, high school students in Pittsburgh listen to a presentation on the dangers of addiction, but what’s different about this presentation is that the speakers are people who have been directly affected by the disease.

New information illustrates how addiction hijacks the brain

The vast majority of our behaviors are based on potential outcomes. When presented with a choice, we base our decision on which option is the most beneficial or, as it were, pleasurable. It’s an evolutionary trait that our hominid ancestors developed to help them survive and it’s why things like eating and creating children (through sexual intercourse) feel good; otherwise, we would never do these things.

We’ve long since known that addiction hijacks the brain’s reward pathway, but a new meta-analysis has provided a bit more insight into the matter. Basically, the study found that parts of the reward system that involve reward anticipation are weakened in people who suffer from addiction… unless the behavior in question involves substance abuse. In other words, addicts experience stronger reward anticipation where alcohol and drugs are involved and weaker reward anticipation is basically every other instance.

In practice, this would explain certain behavioral characteristics that most addicts exhibit. For instance, it makes more sense why people who become addicted often give up on many of their previous passions and pursuits; according to this study, the anticipation of the reward a person would experience from pursuing and achieving these pursuits is significantly weakened while he or she feels even greater reward anticipation for alcohol and drug use.

Five steps to help you (1) get treatment while (2) keeping your job

There are many reasons why an addict might be reluctant to seek treatment, but one of the most compelling reasons is the loss of one’s job for a number of obvious reasons. If the individual has a family, his or her job is what allows him or her to care for those family members. If there’s no family, the job is what funds his or her substance abuse problem. As well, there’s the fear that being identified as an addict will result in him or her getting fired; after all, taking a leave of absence to go to rehab would require a person to admit that he or she is addicted, right?

It’s a complicated situation for which Summit Behavioral Health in Massachusetts has created a series of steps that are meant to help people get treatment for their addictions without losing their jobs. According to coverage published by Yahoo, the steps are as follows: (1) Check to see if one’s employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP), which are designed to help with personal and work-related problems. (2) Examine the company’s alcohol and drug policy to see if it addresses situations in which an employee may need rehabilitative treatment for addiction. (3) Know one’s rights, particularly with regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would prevent discrimination for having an addiction so long as the individual’s work performance has been satisfactory. (4) Research treatment options and have a plan in place. (5) Consider the aspects of the situation, including how long one might be without pay while in a rehabilitation program as well as the actual cost of the program.

While some of the steps outlined above might seem commonsensical, this information is far from common knowledge. Again, fear of losing one’s job remains one of the top reasons why addicts don’t seek treatment, so it may be a good idea to note these five steps for individuals who may need them in the future.

Is porn addiction real? And how much is ‘too much’?

With her 55-year-old husband allegedly addicted to pornography, a Mumbai woman appealed to the court system to put a ban on porn. Of course, the situation has reinvigorated a familiar conversation in which we wonder whether porn addiction is a real thing and how much pornography is ‘too much’.

For the most part, it boils down to the fact that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) doesn’t recognize pornography as an addiction. The obvious response would be to ask oneself the question of whether or not one’s consumption of porn is adversely affecting his or her life in any way, in which case there’s a strong indication that one’s pornography consumption is excessive. Specifically, does watching porn negatively affect one’s relationships, work performance, family life, &etc.?

But there’s compelling evidence to suggest that porn is, in fact, an addiction. According to Dr. Sameer Malhotra, it’s the fact that watching porn stimulants the dopamine/reward pathways that opens up the potential for addiction. When porn is consumed excessively, a person risks reaching the point of getting much more enjoyment from pornography than from real-life relationships, and this is the point at which is can quickly spiral out of control. Some of the specific signs of porn addiction include feeling a kind of ‘high’ while watching porn that makes it difficult to stop, requiring more and more porn to achieve the desired level of arousal, and becoming more sexually aggressive.

From the horse’s mouth: Students see effects of addiction firsthand

With rates of relapse after treatment remaining disappointingly high, it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways of preventing addiction before it starts, which makes adolescents and teens a major focus. For many years, schools have been educating students on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse as well as the many effects of addiction, but substance abuse has continued to increase among youths. Part of the issue could be that students don’t find what they learn about addiction via textbooks and academic lectures to be all that compelling, but a recent news report has described an alternative.

During the Newsradio 1020 KDKA Drug Summit in Pittsburgh, hundreds of high school students heard the stories of parents who lost children to addiction, teens with parents who are still battling addiction, and numerous other speakers. Clearly, the key difference between the Drug Summit and most presentations about addiction offered to students is that the speakers weren’t academics or law enforcement officials; rather, they were the “real experts” of addiction, those who have been directly affected by the disease and who can provide a detailed, firsthand account of what happens when a person abuses alcohol or uses drugs.

Footage of the event (provided via CBS Pittsburgh) is intense. In hindsight, it seems almost obvious to have those most experienced with addiction to address those who are most at risk. If more youths had access to this kind of presentation, preventative addiction education would surely be more effective.