For a long time, people viewed substance use disorder (SUD) as a sign of poor self-control, evidence of a weak will and a symptom of bad behavior. These negative attitudes contributed to the spread of misinformation about addiction, making it difficult for people struggling with it to admit their problems and seek professional assistance.
However, evidence shows that substance use isn’t just a behavioral issue. Addiction is a condition that changes how the brain functions, creating positive and negative feedback loops that make you unable to go without using drugs.
But what is a negative feedback loop, and how does its interaction with positive feedback loops contribute to substance abuse? Follow along as experts from FHE Health discuss the addiction feedback loop and how breaking it is key to sober living.
Understanding the Components of an Addiction Feedback Loop
A feedback loop can be defined as a circuit that absorbs a system’s outputs and reuses them in future processes. In addiction terms, a feedback loop uses the consequences of taking drugs as a reason to continue using them.
While this might sound illogical, the addiction feedback loop is well-researched. To understand how it drives addiction, let’s closely examine its three main components.
The reward system is one of the most primitive parts of the brain that developed to get humans to learn, work and reproduce.
The brain’s reward pathway is a network that releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone responsible for the pleasure and satisfaction you feel after eating a good meal, buying a nice outfit or having sex. When you perform an action that stimulates dopamine release, a feedback loop is created that drives you to repeat that action so you can keep feeling good.
Drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and opioids make your brain release 10 times more dopamine than regular pleasurable activities. Once the reward system experiences that dopamine rush, it keeps wanting more, creating a feedback loop that encourages you to use drugs to experience the flood of pleasure throughout your body.
Tolerance and Withdrawal
When you continuously abuse drugs, you get to a point where the same quantity of the drug doesn’t produce the same dopamine rush as when you first started using. This condition, known as tolerance, is another type of feedback loop in addiction.
When your brain lowers its dopamine production, your reward system prompts you to use more drugs to obtain earlier levels of pleasure. Thus, if you initially got a dopamine rush from drinking a glass of wine, you’d have to double or triple the quantity to get the same pleasurable feeling.
Drugs change the way your reward system perceives pleasure. When you stop using, your brain stops producing dopamine in response to non-drug activities that used to give you pleasure. This causes negative changes in how you think, feel and behave. These psychological withdrawal symptoms can lead to anxiety, anger and depression. The easiest way to stop experiencing this negative feedback loop is by continuing to use drugs.
Shame and Guilt
Using drugs impacts all spheres of your life, especially after developing substance use disorder. When your judgment isn’t clouded by intoxication, you may realize that substance use has destroyed your relationships with loved ones, gotten you into trouble with the law or made you lose a career you’d spent years building.
The shame and guilt you feel when you realize the full effects of SUD on your life can lead to intense self-hatred that you can easily ignore by staying intoxicated. Thus, shame and guilt are two more effective components of the negative addiction feedback loop.
How Feedback Loops Contribute to the Cycle of Addiction
Positive and negative feedback loops interact to enhance your substance abuse issues and intensify your addiction.
What Is a Positive Feedback Loop?
A positive feedback loop uses the outputs of your reward system to increase your drug use. Thus, the loop encourages you to overcome tolerance by using more drugs and experimenting with more potent substances to experience satisfaction, pleasure or euphoria.
What Is a Negative Feedback Loop?
The negative feedback loop psychology occurs when you try to avoid negative sensations caused by not using drugs. If you want to avoid the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, you must continue using drugs. Similarly, you must remain intoxicated if you don’t want to internalize the shame, guilt and societal stigma associated with addiction.
Breaking the Feedback Loop for Effective Recovery
Identifying and breaking the feedback loops contributing to your struggles with substance abuse are crucial to a successful recovery journey.
Experts agree that a dopamine fast is the first step to discovering the feedback loops driving your addiction. Undergoing detoxification at a facility such as FHE Health can help you overcome the withdrawal feedback loop that usually pushes people to return to drugs. If you get help managing your physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, you can successfully break your brain’s reliance on drugs for pleasure.
The second step to breaking the addiction feedback loop is finding ways to create a dopamine surge naturally. Speaking to an addiction specialist about your hobbies and interests can help you discover ways of restructuring your reward system so it can receive pleasure and satisfaction without the help of drugs.
The Role of Therapy and Support in Interrupting Feedback Loops
Therapy is crucial to breaking positive and negative feedback loops. Holistic treatments that address your physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs can create harmless positive feedback loops that reinforce your sobriety.
Talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), are effective at helping you develop new feedback loops. DBT is particularly useful in teaching you how to regulate the negative feedback loop caused by shame, guilt and self-hatred that would otherwise drive you back to substance use.
Engaging in alternative therapies can also help you find ways of generating dopamine surges without using drugs. Clients undergoing rehab at FHE usually learn how to use breathwork, art, music, exercise and sports to restructure their reward systems and get pleasure from harmless activities.
You can also benefit from these traditional and alternative therapies by undergoing rehab at FHE. Contact us today to learn more about the programs we use to help people with SUD build beneficial feedback loops that contribute to their long-term sobriety.