What is Addiction?



When differentiating between “physical” addiction and “psychological” addiction in newborns of addicted mom’s, it is a slippery slope of distinction. It is known that physical addiction comes about through an array of neuroadaptive changes and the laying down and strengthening of new memory connections in various circuits in the brain. We do not yet know all the relevant mechanisms, but the evidence suggests that it is the long-lasting brain changes from prolonged drug use that are responsible for the distortions of cognitve and emotional functioning that characterize addictive behaviors, possibly including the cravings of psychological addiction.

Scientists are characterizing physical addiction as a circumstance occuring when a person’s body becomes dependent on a particular substance and that this person builds tolerance to that substance, so that the person needs a larger dose than previous to achieve the same effect. Psychological addiction is characterized by the scientific community as the cravings or desire involved in needing the chemical. One form of addiction is neurochemical, while the other is a perceptual experience of needing the substance.

It is hypothesized by the medical community that the baby’s brain has not had a long enough period of exposure to become actually addicted or physically dependent on the drug beyond the withdrawl period. This distinction does not mean that the baby has not experienced a neuroadaptive response in utero and possible permanent nervous system damage as a response to the drug. It simply means that we can not confidently state that a baby is neurochemically “addicted” as we define addiction in the adult population.

On the other hand, babies definitely experience withdrawl from drugs as is described as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. It is speculated that based upon what we know about “learning”, the baby has learned how it feels to be influenced by the drug and perceives the absence of it.

— Written by Kim Barthel
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