Nature as a Drug

Nature as a Drug
- 40% - 60% of susceptibility to addiction is hereditary.

- 23 million Americans (1 in 10) have an addiction to alcohol or drugs.

The word "addiction" is derived from a Latin term for "enslaved by" or "bound to." Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction — or has tried to help someone else to do so — understands why.

While alcohol and drugs are the historical causes of addiction, it has recently been shown that certain pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can hijack the brain as well.

Addictive drugs, for example, can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably.

The Brain’s Reward Center
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal.

When a person senses a feeling of pleasure, there is a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex, which is so consistently tied to the feeling of pleasure, that neuroscientists refer to this region as the brain’s pleasure center.

The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release.

This seems to promote the idea that the more extreme application of something “pleasurable”, the more addictive it becomes. Something I seem to have come across, anecdotally, is that there seems to be some correlation between the level of someone’s extreme adventurism and their level of past or even present addiction to something more harmful.

Substances like alcohol, drugs, and nicotine are the quickest and easiest ways to get the same high that someone could get from something more natural, like nature.

Environmental Clues
In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught.

How can nature stimulate our pleasure center’s release of dopamine? Humans are hard-wired for key environmental cues we receive from nature. Think about how humans evolved thousands generations ago on the African Savanna. Picture one of your distant ancestors roaming the near desert at the end of a particularly dry Summer season. How much pleasure would it bring her to detect the color green off in the distance, or hear the sound of running water, or song birds singing in the trees? I can only imagine the overwhelmingly joyous feeling that she must have felt knowing that she was going to survive another season just from a few sensory inputs provided by Mother Nature.

Oh how glorious that first swim of the rainy season must have felt.

80 percent of all deaths are lifestyle related. We know that there are certain lifestyle traits that are harmful and even life-threatening, and yet we continue to live them anyway. While most of us would not consider ourselves addicts, our compulsion to live a lifestyle that we know is harmful is about as close to addiction as we can get. We are all on the addiction spectrum of some sort, it’s just a matter of to what degree.

Addiction is not to be taken lightly, and for those with serious addictions, nature is hopelessly underwhelming as a cure. But for the majority of people that are addicted to a lifestyle that is chipping away at their lifespan, nature could be the therapy to replace what’s currently feeding those troublesome pleasure receptors. Nature is a great thing to get addicted to. Or at least it’s a start.