An Addiction – What is it?
An addiction is a complex brain disease that is manifested by compulsive use of an outside resource to feel normal despite negative consequences. Addiction is caused when an action or substance is perceived as pleasurable in the brain. Once use happens for the addict, the brain attempts to recreate those pleasurable experiences by sending out signals along neurological pathways. This urges a person to use the substance or take similar action again and again to recreate the same repeated effect. Addiction can form when those neurological pathways become more permanent. It is a clinical, neurological process that left unabated is 100% fatal. An addiction can take on many forms like drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, shopping, etc. The most common form of an addiction is exhibiting an over-use of alcohol and/or drugs. Changes in the brain’s wiring from drug and alcohol use effect the way the brain relates to judgement, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control. People with addiction develop distorted thinking and often times their reality is off-kilter.
Why Do People Get Addicted?
Most people take drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, some of those include but are not limited to:
- Feel good
- Feel better
- Perform better
- Peer pressure
An addictive substance stimulates the pleasure center of the brain through neurotransmitters such as Dopamine or GABA. Dopamine and GABA are molecules that send messages across the brain’s reward center. It gives the individual a feeling of pleasure and reinforces behavior critical for survival like eating food or having sex. When a substance is ingested into the body, the substance floods the brain with abnormal large quantities of Dopamine, GABA and/or similar neurotransmitters leaving the addict feeling not just good, but a great sense of relief and euphoria. This is where addiction comes into play. Addicts want to stay in a constant state of euphoria. They do this so frequently, that they become willing to go to any lengths and suffer the negative consequences to stay in this state of relief. As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adjusts to the excess Dopamine. Research has shown that there is a link between the repeated use of an addictive substance and how the brain experiences pleasure. When an addict repeatedly uses the substance a tolerance builds – requiring larger quantities of the substance to produce the same desired effect.
No single factor can predict that a person will become addicted. However, a combination of factors influence the risk of addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to developing an addiction.
Is Addiction Hereditary?
Biological, psychological, and environmental factors have all been believed to play an equal role in the onset of addiction. According to NIH (2010), genes account for approximately 50% of an individual’s risk of becoming addicted. As human biology varies, some individuals are more genetically predisposed to addiction than others. Circumstances like gender, ethnicity and the presence of other mental health disorders can also influence the risk of addiction. However, a great deal about addiction in genes remain unknown.
Environment can play a large role in developing addiction as well. The interaction between an individual and their environment can provide the perfect catalyst to early onset addiction. Factors in one’s environment linking addiction may include but not be limited to:
- Socioeconomic status
- Social network
- Abuse, neglect, or abandonment
- Peer pressure
- Parental guidance
Development of an individual can also increase the predictability of an addiction. When environmental and biological factors interact in a person’s developmental stages, the person is at a greater risk of becoming addicted. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier the drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction.
Nurturing relationships and creating a stable and loving environment for an adolescent can help develop strong brain architecture when the brain is still undergoing development. It can reduce the risk of addiction and help prevent mental illness from developing later in life.
Self-indulgence from time to time should not necessarily be classified as an addiction. Addictions involve a frequent ritual. Just because you go out every once in a while for a few drinks does not make you an addict, however if you need certain substances to function or partake in social activities, you may be facing one.
Based on the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) and World Health Organization (ICD-10) an addiction must meet at least three of the following criteria:
Do you use more alcohol or drugs over time to produce the same desired effect?
Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you have stopped using? Have you experienced anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting? Experiencing an emotional withdrawal can have similar symptoms and are just as significant as physical withdrawal
3. Limited control.
Do you sometimes drink or use drugs more than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Does one drink lead to more drinks sometimes? Do you ever regret how much you used the day before?
4. Negative consequences.
Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
5. Neglected or postponed activities.
Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use? Have your priorities shifted because of your use?
6. Significant time or energy spent.
Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught? How much energy do you use covering up your use to loved ones or friends?
7. Desire to cut down.
Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?
Is Addiction A Disease?
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a chronic disease is one generally lasting three months or more and cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear. There has been much speculation and controversy between addiction as a choice and the “disease concept;” but scientific research is proving to show the latter. For decades the concept has been taught in training programs as well as patients in treatment programs.
Addiction follows a similar pattern to other chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, tuberculosis, and Alzheimer’s. With professional help, the person may go into remission but may have several relapses before beating the disease entirely. Addiction is also considered a disease because it can cause physical changes in the nerve cells of the brain.
These changes in the brain can remain for a long period of time, even after the person stops using substances. It is believed that these changes in the brain can leave the once-addicted person vulnerable to environmental factors, such as triggers. Triggers can cause cravings and have often led many to relapse. Relapse is a return to drugs or alcohol use after an attempt to stop and indicates the need for more or an alternate approach to treatment.
While there is an element of choice involved, making a correct choice seems to be much harder for those who are addicted. The vast majority of individuals are not addicted because they want to be, but they feel they need the substance. In often cases, their bodies have become so dependent on the substance that they really do.
How Common Is Addiction?
About 10% of any population is addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is more common than diabetes. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 21.5 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2014.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that almost 87% of US adults admit to drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Over 16 million American adults and almost 700,000 adolescents meet the benchmark for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA), more than 24 million Americans 12 years or older have used an illicit drug within the past 30 days. That number represents almost 10% of the US population, and what’s more, it indicates an increase of over 8% within the last 10 years.
Can Addiction Be Cured?
Like any chronic disease, addiction can be effectively managed with proper treatment, but not fully cured. As a bio-psycho-social disease, if it is left untreated or mistreated it can and will result in death. A cure is defined by the recovery of a disease and the restoration of health. Addiction can be treated, controlled, and managed; however, substance users may have to deal with relapse prevention and cravings for the rest of their lives. Individuals cannot “just stop” using for a few days to be healed. Often, long-term or repeated care is needed to stop using and fully recover a person’s life.
Mental Health Vs. Addiction
Addiction can be common for people with mental health problems. Although they can be closely linked, one issue does not cause the other. Mental health disorders are caused by a number of factors similar to addiction including genetics, the environment, and/or other outside issues. If a person is dealing with a mental health disorder, alcohol or drugs are able to make the mental health problem worse.
Depression and anxiety are common mental health disorders that many people in today’s society suffer from. It is common for alcohol and drug abuse to make underlying conditions exasperated. Substances may sharply increase symptoms of the illness or trigger new symptoms.
It can be difficult to diagnose a substance abuse problem as well as a co-occurring mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, or bi-polar disorder. It is wise for individuals consider their family history of mental health issues as well as to seek out dual-diagnosis treatment centers.
Like any common chronic disease, multiple treatments can be necessary to treat substance abuse but don’t have to be the exception. Addiction is considered a highly treatable disease and recovery is tough, but possible. The road to recovery can involve setbacks and struggles along the way, however many have achieved long-term sobriety. For individuals the hardest step is often the first one – asking for help and accepting that one has a problem. Many addicts stay in a state of denial due to shame or guilt about their using, however addiction shouldn’t be considered a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Asking for help can provide relief and kick-start the journey to recovery.
To combat addiction, exposure to environmental and internal factors that foster strong motivations to use must be reduced and countered with other motivators. Treatment facilities are capable of providing this type of structure by removing an individual from their current setting and implementing a structure, routine, and by providing new and healthy coping skills. Stress and addiction are inextricably linked. Finding ways to reduce and combat stress can lead to a healthy lifestyle and prevent relapse. Treatment and rehabilitation centers are one of the ways that individuals can start their path towards sobriety.
Types of Drug Treatment Programs
Detoxification – Detox is the initial process where the body is rid of the unhealthy substances and/or negative toxins. Often times an individual resides in a hospital or medical setting with fully-trained professionals while going through dangerous or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This can last a couple days up until a couple of weeks.
Residential Treatment – Residential treatment occurs after the individual has detoxed from the substances that was causing their addiction. Residential treatment involves living in a facility away from work, school, family or friends. Residential facilities are usually fully staffed and are monitored around the clock while the individual attends extensive therapy and treatment daily.
Partial Hospitalization Programming (PHP) – Partial hospitalization can occur after an individual has completed residential treatment or in lieu of those who wish to attend therapy at a facility for 8 to 9 hours a day. These individuals continue to live at home while continuing treatment.
Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP) – Intensive outpatient can be utilized as a step down program for those who have completed residential treatment or PHP. IOP usually consists of 9 hours of therapy a week either day or night and can be scheduled around work or school. Patients typically live at home and commute to a facility to receive treatment.
Outpatient Treatment (OP) – Outpatient therapy consists of minimal treatment for at least 3 hours a week. The most common modalities for this level of care consist of relapse prevention and continuing a new way of life in sobriety. The patient typically commutes to a facility to receive their treatment and live at home.
Sober Living Homes – Sober living homes are structured recovery communities where people on the road to recovery live in a safe, supported, drug-free environment. These homes usually follow residential treatment while an individual is still attending an PHP, IOP or OP program and attempting to create an assemblance of a new life. These facilities offer drug testing and monitoring to provide accountability.
Each person is different. Different treatment techniques work for different individuals. It is important to find a program that will be unique to the person and cater to their specific needs and issues. It is important to find a program that feels right to the specific individual.
Addiction effects every aspect of your life. Treatment should not only encompass the substance use, but health, relationships, career, spirituality, and well-being. Treatment modalities should include implementing a new way of living while also addressing reasons the individual turned to substances in the first place whether that be a traumatic event, adoption, environmental factors, abuse, etc.
There are multiple places to turn to for help. If you or a loved one may be struggling with an addiction, SoberNation has plenty of resources.
If you feel you or a loved one need help with an addiction, SoberNation provides tools and resources as well as a 24/7 hotline. (866) 207-7436