Breaking Free from Addictive Behaviors

January 15, 2020
Addictive Behaviors - Aiken Regional Medical Centers, Aiken, SC

According to the American Psychological Association, addiction is a complex brain disease that involves compulsive behavior and a loss of control over whatever the person is craving, such as alcohol or drugs.

Changes in areas of the brain that regulate decision-making, behavior control and judgment are what leads to intense cravings for drugs or alcohol, says Merry De Leon, MD, FABPN, a psychiatrist and Medical Director at Aurora Pavilion at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. “When people use drugs or consume alcohol, the brain function changes and causes cravings to become stronger,” she says. “Becoming intoxicated can result in feelings of pleasure or calmness, enhanced senses or in getting high. Unfortunately for many, the addiction consumes their life and they lose control.”

A key component in addiction

The chemical neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for the pleasurable feelings people experience when they participate in enjoyable activities. When dopamine is activated, it signals the brain a reward is coming. But it is also a major factor in addiction, because dopamine levels increase by as much as 10 times the normal level when drugs or alcohol are used. The spike in these levels causes the “rush” that many substance users talk about and, over time, the brain needs more of the substance to get the same feeling.

Dealing with addictive behavior

A good way to deal with addictive behavior is to set boundaries, Dr. De Leon says. “Make sure they are simple and clear. Setting boundaries helps family and friends avoid getting caught up in manipulation tactics. The substance user will try and blame others, but setting boundaries and holding firm is a helpful strategy,” she says.

Getting help

The Adult Substance Use Disorders Program at Aurora Pavilion can help those struggling with a range of chemical dependency issues. The level of care and treatment plan details are determined through an initial assessment. There are both inpatient and intensive outpatient programs available for those dealing with drug, alcohol or dual diagnosis issues.

Recognizing Addictive Behaviors

For family and friends of loved ones suffering from addiction, there are often noticeable changes in behavior.


It starts with small lies that can eventually lead to drawn-out tall tales. They tell lies to throw people off from the truth.


Will convince loved ones that this is the last time they drink or use drugs, that they have it under control and promise to get help, but it’s only temporary.

Criminal Behavior

When money is low, the substance user may start selling drugs, steal from the homes of family and friends or engage in robbery or shoplifting to feed their habit.

Blame Others

The substance user does not usually see they have a problem, and will often blame others for their misfortune.


Spouses and children of substance users can often become victims of physical, emotional and verbal abuse.