Addiction is a complex brain disease involving altered function of reward and motivation systems. It includes substance abuse as well as behavioral problems such as excessive gambling, video games, work, food and sex. Although facing negative consequences, individuals struggling with addiction have difficulty making rational decisions and controlling their behavior.
Addiction is a brain disease that is more likely to affect individuals exposed to toxic stress during vulnerable periods of their life. Periods of greatest vulnerability include early years and adolescence. When the brain's reward system does not function properly, people are at increased risk of moving from use to abuse of substances and behaviors. We believe that adolescents and teenagers are often mislabeled as "troubled" when in actuality, they are struggling with a mental health issue. Substance abuse is often a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem in the child's life.
Addiction is typically a gradual process and involves many distinct but interdependent factors, including the timing of various experiences.
Research clearly shows that most adults with addictions first developed these problems during adolescence or young adulthood. This finding makes sense from a developmental perspective, since teenagers have greater access to alcohol, drugs, and other potentially addictive experiences as they gain more independence from their parents. From a biological perspective, adolescence is a time in which the parts of the brain responsible for impulsivity, decision-making, and executive control are undergoing considerable change and are not yet fully mature. Exposure to experiences that can alter brain architecture in these same areas may increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.
DHD increases risk. Research has now shown that children with poor impulse control, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, may also be at risk for addiction. These children may engage in risky behaviors at earlier ages and more frequently than other children. From a prevention perspective, understanding the factors that contribute to developing an addiction is crucial so that we can monitor and mitigate risk appropriately.