Why people become addicted – deltaFosB

By David Joel Miller.

Is there really something different in the brains of addicted people?

Yes there really does seem to be a physical change in the brain that accounts for why some people become addicted to chemicals, drugs in particular, and behaviors also. These brain changes may explain why and how people move from just experimenting, trying new novel exciting things, to the point of being addicted. Once addicted, the brain begins to demand more of the chemical or the behavior it has become dependent on.

One possible explanation for this brain change is deltaFosB.

It was quite by accident that I came across a description of deltaFosB and how it was causing a behavioral addiction. That instance had nothing to do with drugs, alcohol or chemical dependency but came from the field of research on erectile dysfunction.

Erectile dysfunction was once considered purely a problem among older men and presumably their partners. Recently we have discovered there is a group of men who are developing erectile dysfunction at an amazingly young age.

The common denominator in this early onset of erectile dysfunction? Watching pornography. A few views appear to be no problem but those who watch a lot gradually develop a dependency on the watching of porn and become unable to be aroused by a real physical partner. The brain has rewired itself to become dependent on or addicted to porn to achieve sexual arousal.

For more on this see: Your Brain on Porn.

For those of you who like to watch – there is a YouTube TEDx Talks video on this research titled The Great Porn Experiment.

These brain changes do not happen suddenly but a little at a time.

Research on cocaine, morphine, nicotine, ethanol (drinkable alcohol) and Delta (9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta (9)-THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, found they all produce specific changes in the brain. These changes do not happen suddenly from one dose but gradually over time the levels of deltaFosB increase and at some point, different for different people or different for different mice, and the brain begins to rewire itself to depend on the drug.  Interestingly enough each drug changes the brain in a different characteristic way.

Patterns of addiction for different drugs involve different changes in the brain. For more on this see: Distinct Patterns of ΔFosB Induction in Brain by Drugs of Abuse by Perrotti LI, Et. Al. Department of Psychiatry, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.

A full explanation of the chemistry involved is beyond my expertise or the scope of this blog but I have included a few links to some resources on the topic for those of you who are so inclined.

Wikipedia describes the role of deltaFosB this way.

“The ΔFosB splice variant has been identified as playing a central, crucial (necessary and sufficient) role in the development of many forms of behavioral plasticity and neuroplasticity involved in both behavioral addictions (associated with natural rewards) and drug addictions.”

How many doses does it take to become addicted – Gene Expression.

Genes are a lot more complicated than we used to think. When I went to school back in the post dark-ages era, we thought genes were yes or no things. You inherit your gene for eye color, hair color, height and so on from your parents in a predictable, dominant-recessive way. Right?

Not really.

There is a thing called gene expression.

My gene for hair color dictated dark black hair. At least in my teens it did. Those of you who have seen my blog bio picture realize that most of my hair is now gray, Ok maybe we should call it white. How did the gene for my hair color change?

As we age, or under the influence of environment and substances our genes can “Flip.” That switch in our genes moves and now that gene for black hair becomes the gene for white. The same thing happens for behaviors and for drugs.

That chemical that used to be just an extra add-on for your pleasure becomes something you must have just to feel passable.

Here is a specific study on the process for those who take cocaine.

Expression of the transcription factor deltaFosB in the brain controls sensitivity to cocaine.

Now we have an explanation, of sorts, for how someone can use a substance or do a behavior for a while with no problem and then at some point the switch flips and they are now addicted to that drug or behavior. Presumable this would also allow us to determine which behaviors fit the model as true behavioral addictions and which are just bad habits.

Can we flip that switch back? So far we have not found a way to turn an addict or an alcoholic back into a non-addicted person. You can dye your hair or you can let it go but once you turn grey you are stuck.

Be careful with the behaviors you practice and the chemical you use. They may be changing your brain.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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Is he Internet addicted?

By David Joel Miller.

Is this just having fun or is it internet addiction?

Internet addiction

Internet addiction
Photo courtesy of Flickr (mandiberg)

How much internet usage is a problem?

When it comes to behaviors how can you tell when enough is too much?

We know that behaviors can become problems. Some like pathological gambling can destroy lives and families but when is a behavior an addiction?

Is internet addiction a real addiction?

It would appear so. Brain scan studies show that in both drug addicted individuals and people with problematic internet usage the same areas of the brain light up when they think about their preferred activity. The brain has changed in response to their habit and has resulted in characteristic symptoms of addiction.

The hallmarks of addiction are; building up a tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, excessive involvement with the drug or activity and continued participation in the activity despite negative consequences. We should also mention here that cravings for the drug or activity are the factor that maintains the addiction.

Let’s look at how these characteristics will manifest in someone with an internet addiction. We think there is a difference between high levels of computer usage and a true internet addiction. Computers and the internet have become parts of modern life. They can have good and bad aspects. Many jobs now require the use of the computer, often for many hours per day. We use computers and the internet for business, person and social applications. Some usages have more risk of becoming a problem than others.

Internet addiction is one of these “behavioral addictions” or compulsions that are poorly understood and little researched.

First the 4 characteristics of addiction applied to excessive internet usage. Then some information on possible psychiatric connections.

1. Tolerance.

People who become addicted to the internet need more and bigger computers, more software, and the time they spend on the computer continues to increase. They may spend excessive (for their income) amounts of money and time on their computer activates.

2. Withdrawal.

When unable to do their usual activities the internet addict will become angry, fearful, anxious or depressed. Should their connection fail they are unable to do other activities in the place of their internet routine.

3. Excessive usage.

What is excessive is a matter of perspective. Most addicts can’t see that their activity has become excessive until it has become too late. Neglect of other areas of the life is a good sign this activity is becoming excessive.

Does the internet user stay up too late and then are they tired all the next day. Does this time online interfere with their job, school work or family life? Is this person neglecting their role responsibilities?

All of these are signs that the use of the internet has become excessive.

4. Continued usage despite negative consequences.

The internet addict will begin to lie to others around them about their usage and the nature of their online activities. We have talked elsewhere, or will soon about how this lying may be a sign that the person is using the internet in the service of another addiction, like an affair, gambling or a sexual addiction. The lying we are talking about here is not about covering up the why of their usage but this lie is about covering up the extent of their usage.

Poor school work or job performance are common results of excessive internet usage. Chronic fatigue with loss of motivation and interest in other activities occurs. Social isolation, with few friends and few offline activities also occur.

Psychiatric considerations and co-morbidity.

So why should we be concerned about an internet addiction? They could be addicted to books (an incurable condition for a writer.) As long as they do not lose their job or family, what’s the harm?

Internet addiction may be a symptom of other disorders rather than a primary disorder. Internet addiction coexists with several other serious mental health problems. Those with an internet addiction often have depression from mild all the way to serious. Anxiety is a common co-morbidity and may be of the generalized, over-anxious, variety or the social phobia type.

Among those with excessive internet usage alcohol and marijuana abuse is common. Addictions travel in flocks and switching one addiction for another is commonly reported in recovery circles.

Internet addiction is not yet a recognized disorder in the DSM. One variation Internet Gaming Disorder has been proposed for further study. The mental health community is still not quite sure how to understand this internet addiction thing.

Some authors have proposed that this may be a variant of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.) Use of the internet may be a way of reducing anxiety in those with OCD. Other authors have noted that the anxiety in Internet addiction is more like that in drug addiction, the addict becomes anxious when they are unable to get the thing that is the object of their addiction.

Internet addiction may be another of those catch-all groups that is really a set of similar symptoms that represent several distinct disorders. A cough can be a symptom of many illnesses and what if excessive internet usage is really a symptom of many differing mental health disorders?

Three variations of internet addiction appear likely

1. Internet Gaming.

This variant is the need for repetitive playing of games and racking up points. They may be playing against others online or this may be a solitary activity. Research currently distinguishes this from internet gambling. Gambling Disorder (formerly called Pathological Gambling) seems the same online and offline and pathological gamblers move between various settings and games of chance.

2. Cyber Sex.

This appears to fit in with other sexual issues. It is distinguished from the use of the internet to facilitate affairs or other crimes. This can vary from sex chat and sexting all the way to a pornography addiction. In a cybersex addiction the goal is to get sexual gratification online rather than the goal of meeting a real person offline.

3. Obsessive use of the internet for social contact.

This includes frequent usage of emails, text messages and social media sites. The internet addict may become obsessed with how many friends they have on a particular site, what others are saying and so on. This reliance on the internet for human contact may lead to a lack of social skills and few friends when in offline situations.

One serious concern with excessive reliance on the internet for social contact is the risk of pain caused by online stalking and cyber bullying which can result in suicide or other emotional crises.

Hope this brief summary of the problem of internet addiction and the link to other behavioral disorders may be helpful to someone. As always appropriate comments are welcome.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.

If you would like to stay connected to the posts on counselors soapbox, hear about the progress of my book in progress or the flow of the conversation about mental health and substance abuse issues – please subscribe or follow counselorssoapbox.com

10 Rules for recovery after an affair.

By David Joel Miller.

Recovery after an affair.

The common perception is that once the affair is discovered the couple is headed for divorce. The truth is that up to 70% of married couples stay together, for a variety of reasons, after they discover that partner was having an affair.

Among those who do divorce many will later regret making that first impulsive decision.

Your family and friends may be telling you to kick him, or increasingly her, to the curb. But should you call it quits? What does it take to recovery from an affair? How can marriage counseling play a role in mending the pain?

1. Don’t make sudden decisions when you discover an affair.

Give both of you time to think it through. You have a lot of time and emotions invested in this relationship. You owe it to yourself to see if it can be repaired before you junk it.

2.Both of you need to process how the affair affected you.

Both partners in the relationship may need therapy to work through their feelings about the affair, their relationship and how it reached this point.

Therapists recommend that the non-affair partner write a letter to the affair partner telling them how they feel and how this has affected them. This is the kind of letter you need to write but do not need to send. Process these feelings first in your own therapy. Eventually you may be able to read this to your relationship partner and help them to understand how this has affected you.

3. You need to create empathy for the non-affair partner.

Many people who have had affairs have very little understanding of how this has affected their partner. They will say in counseling that they have ended the relationship and that should solve the problems. Having them listen to the non-affair partner talk about how they were hurt by the affair and what feelings this created in that person can increase empathy and understanding.

4. Avoid staying together after the affair and ending up living two separate lives.

Some couples arrive at this point as a result of unspoken feelings. They will stay together for the children, for the economic needs or because of the problems of splitting assets. What they don’t plan on is having an emotional close relationship ever again. Most of these efforts fail as the two people involve find that they are living a life devoid of love and affection.

Even if the couple plans to try to make this relationship work, avoiding having those tough talks about their plans goals and future may result in a relationship that feels like to unrelated people living in the same house.

5. Rebuilding trust after an affair is a long hard process.

The most devastating part of finding out your partner had an affair is the feeling of betrayal of your trust. It takes a long time and lots of effort to rebuild that trust. You need to let each other into both your lives and make sure neither is hiding anything. Do not tell your partner you are going to get gas for the car and then turn up several hours later with leftover takeout food. If you plan on several stops tell your partner, if plans change call them and let them know or stick to the plan and make a second trip some other time.

6. Do not use counseling or therapy as a way to get even with your partner.

Trying to use marriage counseling as a way to get even with the affair partner makes things worse. No amount of betting them up will erase what happened and it will result in fresh wounds that may never heal.

7. Give the non-affair partner all the information they need but no more.

Many partners want to know every detail, what did you two do in and out of bed. It is important to stop keeping secrets but beware of giving more details that requested. Non-affair partners can suffer from symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After hearing about sexual activity between the partner and the affair partner the non-affair partner can experience intrusive thoughts. They may imagine graphic images of their partner engaged in sexual activity with another person.

8. Make post affair counseling a repair effort.

Give the partner that had the affair a chance to show their intentions. Do they do small things to make it right but quickly slip back into old behaviors? Let them know that you hope for and expect the best but they will need to prove their desire to change and make it right by making visible changes in their behavior.

9. Get extra honest with each other to rebuild trust.

Affairs are about the fights you never had. If there are problems in the relationship talk them through. Work on expressing your feelings, being careful to ask to have your needs met rather than run your partner down. “I feel disrespect when you do not help clean up after dinner.” Not “You are such a pig!” You never clean up after yourself!”

One key characteristic of affairs is the need to keep secrets. The non-affair partner sometimes feels then may have contributed to the affair by not asking what the other person was doing and feeling. Some people who have had affairs tell me that they felt they had a sort of permission to have the affair a “don’t ask don’t tell” code.

Couples may need to have a lot of those talks about sex and relationships they did not have before they entered this relationship. Women frequently have a different definition of an affair than a man will. She thinks that flirting and emotional closeness with another woman is cheating. He may think that anything short of intercourse is OK. That attitude and some alcohol has led to a lot of one night stands.

10. Avoid problematic use of drugs and alcohol.

Drugs and alcohol lowers inhibitions. People with an untreated substance use disorder are at increased risk to engage in affair behavior. Drinking and using places encourage sexual activity. People who abuse alcohol and drugs may accept those kinds of behavior as a part of the “Partying” lifestyle.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.

If you would like to stay connected to the posts on counselors soapbox, hear about the progress of my book in progress or the flow of the conversation about mental health and substance abuse issues – please subscribe or follow counselorssoapbox.com

5 ways the Internet may destroy your relationship

By David Joel Miller.

Signs internet usage may destroy your relationship.

Love

Love

The internet has changed how we all live our lives for good and bad. It can help you find information, directions and possibilities. Singles can use online dating sites to find dates or even long-term partners. It can create a lot of happiness.

Internet usage can also destroy relationships. Here are five ways your or your partners internet usage could be jeopardizing your relationship.  These are not discreet problems. A particular person or couple may be affected by one or several of these problems and sometimes one problem can morph into another.

1. Cyber flirting and emotional affairs.

sex-on-a-cork-board

Talking inside games or chat rooms can start off innocently enough. In the relatively anonymous environment it is easy to flirt, make sexual comments that would never be allowed in real life. You think you are getting to really know the other person at a very rapid pace.

In the online world you do not have to see the person when they are tired or cranky. You can put only your best, often fictitious, self forward.

People with disclose to an anonymous avatar feelings that they have been unable to express to their life partner. The feeling of being understood and cared for can be created quickly and look more real than it is.

More than one person has fallen in love with someone on the internet only to find out that this person never existed or was very different from the way they represented themselves.

Emotional affairs involve a giving of feelings and self to a stranger that should have been saved for the partner. People will tell their secrets and their partners confidences to a comparative stranger often with disastrous results.

Some partners of people having emotional cyber affairs describe them as even more painful and damaging than a real life one night stand. You can alibi the one time sex, alcohol, being out-of-town, overcome by a momentary weakness. But the time spent in romancing a cyber affair partner and the keeping of the secrets this entails is a more sever breach of the trust that a relationship partner can excuse.

2. Cyber sex.

Cyber flirting can easily expand to cybersex. IM allows a conversation that can quickly escalate in emotional intensity. People can live out their sexual fantasies; describe desired sex acts that they feel uncomfortable describing to a real live partner.

People become their alter egos; the unemployed man becomes a jet-setting playboy. The middle-aged mother of 6 becomes a hot twenty-something model and this fictional couple describes all the emotional and sexual acts they wish they could do. People may fanaticize about behaviors that given the chance to act out in real life they would decline.

This cyber flirting or cybersex can involve masturbation and become a substitute for real life sexual activities.

These cybersex activities may include sexting and incurring time spent thinking about and participating in fantasy sexual activities.

3. Internet created sexual affairs.

Cyber flirting and cybersex may move into the real world. Online infidelity often begins with looking for an affair.

Adult dating sites and the relative anonymity of chat rooms have made it easier than ever before for people to find other people for sexual relationships. The relative anonymity of the internet encourages people to talk more openly and that feeling of intimacy can develop much more rapidly.

These internet arraigned sexual liaisons may go on for years, one partner after another.

Often these internet facilitated affairs are discovered accidentally. When they are discovered there can be an explosive reaction from the relationship partner.  This sudden disclosure of the infidelity can result in separations and divorce.

Even when the affair goes undiscovered or if the couple decides to stay together after the disclosure of the affair, this event can permanently damage or alter the relationship.

Developing the online relationship requires dishonesty and keeping secrets. To facilitate this behavior the partner having the affair needs to become more secretive and dishonest. The relationship couple moves farther apart emotionally. A distance between the couple may be created that can never be bridged.

4. Internet pornography.

The internet provides a ready access to pornography. There are graphic images of all manner of sexual activity. Some of these activities may be illegal, child porn for example.

Porn can also be computer generated with no real people involved in the activities the viewer sees. This material can quickly create a distorted view of sexual reality. Not many people have near perfect bodies. Even the most sexually adventurous person can’t engage in all the activities that are portrayed on the porn site.

A real live partner pales in comparison to the images on the web.

Viewing graphic sexual materials is very emotionally exciting and the occasional view can quickly escalate to an addiction. The magnitude and destructive properties of porn addiction has only recently been recognized and the harm porn can cause has been underestimated.

This should not be taken to mean that we should return to the Victorian era when no bare skin showed and sex was a taboo subject. Some sexual behavior and arousal is normal and healthy. Researchers have made the case that some viewing of sexual materials can inspire a couple to be more adventuress.

What is a problem is when this becomes a habit that races out of control. Sexual arousal is a very powerful force and can quickly lead to some form of sexual addiction.

5. Internet addiction.

In this internet activity the sexual component is absent or minor. One member of a relationship becomes more and more involved in their on-line activities to the point of failing to meet relationship responsibilities.

They can play on-line games and forget to go to bed with their partner. They may stay up later and later to play on-line games or other activities.

Eventual this online need overtakes their real responsibilities. People with an internet addiction may miss work or come in late from being up all night gaming.

They may experience real emotional withdrawal reactions, anger and anxiety, when they are unable to participate in their customary on-line activity.

If you or your partner has developed any of these internet issues your relationship does not have to end. Marriage or relationship counseling can help. Relationship may become stronger and better as a result of the steps you take to repair these problems.

In future posts I plan to explore internet addictions, affairs and other relationship issuers in more detail. Hope you all stay tuned and follow counselorssoapbox.com

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.

If you would like to stay connected to the posts on counselors soapbox, hear about the progress of my book in progress or the flow of the conversation about mental health and substance abuse issues – please subscribe or follow counselorssoapbox.com