Adolescent Process Addictions & Self-Harm
In an effort to understand the brain reward system more wholly, the science of addiction medicine is moving away from a focus on specific drugs and including other behaviors defined as the process addictions. Process addictions can include such areas as food, sex, Internet and gambling addictions (Smith et al., 2012).
Addiction fuels the pathological pursuit of substances or addictive behaviors that are directly connected to the brain reward centers. The human brain produces a number of chemicals- serotonin, dopamine, nor-epinephrine, GABA, and endorphins- all of which works together to produce feelings of well-being. When these chemicals are low or blocked from the brain receptors, it often results in feelings of stress, pain, discomfort and agitation.
This condition is known as the reward deficiency syndrome or RDS. Those suffering from RDS are unable to produce adequate feelings of well-being and may self-medicate to help raise the levels of chemicals to feel and function better.
In recovery-oriented treatment, the emphasis is abstinence from all substances, including process addictions. The concept of addiction transfer refers to the process by which the client may stop abusing substances but turns to destructive process addictions, including self-harm behaviors, to stimulate a neurochemical reward in the brain.
This excerpt is from an article featured in Counselor Magazine’s October 2013 Issue
By David E.Smith, MD, Barbara Nosal, PHD, Lesley Gould, PSYD, and Jessica Hines, MA