Addiction As A Disease

In recent years, there’s been a shift in the way society views addiction. More people are finally beginning to see addiction for what it is: a disease.

Addiction is psychological. It offers a fast track to the brain’s reward system and produces a craving for the sensations experienced by using substances.

While some people are more susceptible to developing an addiction, there’s no single reason for why anyone experiments with drugs. Some factors may include:

  • Fitting in socially with peers
  • Reducing stress or anxiety
  • Improving athletic ability
  • Subsiding signs of depression

No matter how or why someone gets started, using drugs can impact chemicals in the brain; an addiction can potentially develop.

This is not something that develops overnight for any individual. Generally there’s a series of steps that individuals go through from experimentation and occasional use [to] the actual loss of control of use. And it really is that process that defines addiction.

- Dr. Kathleen Brady, an addiction expert

If left untreated, an addiction may cause lifelong physical and emotional consequences. Your loved one doesn’t have to suffer in silence. There are a multitude of treatment options available to provide them with the tools necessary to regain control of their life.  

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The Effects Of Addiction On The Brain

When a drug is consumed, it interferes with how the brain functions. It sends confusing messages that the brain translates into needing more of a certain chemical or producing less of another chemical.

Over time, the brain will stop producing certain chemicals because it becomes dependent on receiving what it needs from the drugs.

Take Caffeine, for example. Every morning when you wake up, your brain automatically releases the chemicals that will energize and motivate you for the day ahead. One morning, however, you need a little pick-me-up; you had a restless night and didn’t get as much sleep as usual. After some consideration, you decide on a cup of coffee to give you a boost. The following morning, you have another cup of coffee and continue this habit over the course of weeks and months. Before you know it, you’re craving coffee every morning just to be able to function.

Drug addiction works in a similar way; there’s a void without the drug in the body’s system. Should an individual stop feeding an addiction, withdrawal symptoms may arise. For instance, if you were to quit drinking coffee every morning, your brain won’t be able to recognize what it’s lacking immediately. This in turn triggers withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, and restlessness.

The brains of addicted people have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brain that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving. It is as if the individual was in a state of deprivation, where taking the drug is indispensable for survival.

- Dr. Nora Volkow, director of National Institute on Drug Abuse

Addiction Treatment Options

Today, there are countless options available to help your loved one recover from an addiction. To move forward with the recovery process, they’ll need to keep an open mind and live in the present moment. Resisting support from an addiction treatment center will only make the addiction continue on its path of destruction.

Oftentimes, people hold back from beginning treatment because of fear. People may fear that:

  •      Their addiction is beyond help
  •      They’ve gone too far into an addiction
  •      People will judge their actions
  •      They’ll face a rehab stigma 

Usually, the early stages of treatment or therapy start at a great baseline with small steps of improvement. As treatment goes deeper, the addiction counselor will start probing at underlying factors that could incite an addiction. When faced with difficult memories, quitting may seem like the easiest solution. During this stage, your loved one will need a support system to encourage them in continuing treatment.

The recovery process is about healing the body, mind, and soul. It’s about your loved one’s health and being their best self. Addiction isn’t a choice or a moral failing; it’s a disease. You can help your loved one heal by understanding how addiction impacts their brain functions and offering nonjudgmental help in times of need.

Treatment for an addiction is a lifelong process that takes commitment and motivation.

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