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Why We’re Addicts

By Brittany Bishop and Amanda Sands
Published: December 2010

Almost everyone has a compulsion. Whether it’s obsessive cleaning, nail-biting, or even chewing gum, compulsions are a natural aspect of human life. While many urges result from harmful and chemically addicting drugs, an ever-growing epidemic of psychophysical ‘€and sometimes unnoticeable’€compulsive disorders exist in everyday life.
While observing a compulsion, one must look at both the emotional connection to the act and any sections of the brain that are unusually abnormal centers for certain activities.
Every habit has an emotional origin. When we find ourselves in situations that make us nervous or scared, we develop compulsions. Even though most of us dislike and want to cease our habits, we are inclined to repeat them due to the relief the action has brought us in the past.
Sometimes even the guilt of performing the habit increases your stress level and drives you to repeat it again.
No matter what we do, whether it’s ridding ourselves of all germs or checking Facebook, we relieve stress in the most addicting and inescapable manners.
Although many compulsions result from nervousness, compulsions can become more serious and become routine activities, turning into an unmanageable burden in a person’s life.
For instance, one may need to touch a door handle three times before allowing oneself to pass through, while another may have to carry around hand sanitizer and use purifying wipes on objects before touching them.
According to neurobiology teacher Jordan Kraus, obsessive-compulsive behavior is definitely neurologically based.
“The disorder is the result of differences in how someone’s brain is wired and the amount of neurotransmitters their brain makes or how those neurotransmitters bind to receptors in their brain, Kraus said.
In patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), areas of the brain associated with anxiety, habit formation, skill learning, and irregular chemical levels in the brain are affiliated with the condition.
The chemical abnormality causes specific circuits in the brain to stimulate the same reaction by continuous triggering.
Whether these chemicals cause or correlate with OCD is still unknown, but once the affects take place, they aid in the continuation of the compulsive behavior.
Many of these compulsions can result from genetic encoding that naturally creates very apprehensive and tense people.
“Certainly biting your nails would be signs that one was anxious or uptight, Kraus said. “Absolutely everything is encoded in our DNA, even [traits like biting your nails].
Along with genetics, these urges may stem from uneasiness or the effects of past events.
Some last a few years while others last a lifetime.
Adolescents tend to maintain habits until they reach the point in their lives when they feel stable, or when they finally conquer their fears.
“Many of the addictions among adolescents, like caffeine and nail biting, are anxiety-induced, and so it’s an OCD also, but [resulting from] the pressure of life or school, psychology teacher Lily Eng said.
Contrarily, when young children are subjected to highly stressful situations, the neurotransmitters released can physically change their brains permanently.
These high levels of stress usually result in diagnosable medical disorders such as multiple personality disorder or abusive behavior, but they can also result in subconscious fears that trigger compulsions.
The real issue with these compulsions is how to rid oneself of them. If you have an anxiety disorder, like OCD, psychiatrists can easily prescribe medication that corrects imbalances in the brain.
If the habits are stress-related, relieving stress with meditation or working to face your fears can solve the problem.

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