There are numerous misconceptions surrounding addiction. Many mistakenly believe that addiction is the result of weakness, poor willpower, and a lack of principles. The belief is that if a person wanted to stop using drugs or alcohol, all they would need to do is set their mind to it in order to achieve it. They may falsely believe that addiction is a choice and sobriety simply requires a person to just want to quit.
In reality, the face of addiction has changed dramatically and we have come to understand it for what it truly is. Addiction is a complex disease that changes how the brain functions fundamentally. Quitting is not a matter of desire; in fact, quitting is a difficult task, even for those who want to the most. Although this definition of addiction may sound like sobriety is further from reach, this better understanding of how it develops and evolves over time has greatly contributed to the improvement of treatment options available. Understanding the nature of addiction has allowed researchers to develop more effective treatment methods that better address its underlying causes and help people lead productive, sober lives.
How is the Disease of Addiction Defined?
Addiction is defined by the changes it produces in the functioning of the brain and body. It is characterized by compulsive, substance-seeking behaviors that are nearly impossible to control. Despite the consequences of use, a person will continue to seek and abuse substances due to cravings and urges. In some cases, initial use of these substances is voluntary, but after multiple uses, the brain begins to change and a person’s ability to self-regulate is reduced. Cravings can become overpowering and persistent, making it difficult to cease use no matter a person’s desire to stop.
A Chronic Disease
Even if a person is successful in achieving sobriety, addiction is a chronic disease that can plague a person for the rest of their lives. Relapse is always a possibility, and even after years of sobriety, a person can still be at risk. Because of its persistence, relapse is common, but that does not mean it is necessary or that treatment is ineffective. As a chronic disease, it requires lifelong management and ongoing care. Adjustments can be made based off changes over time and treatment must be modified to meet a person’s evolving needs.
Hijacking the Brain’s Reward System
Addiction hijacks the brain’s reward system which leads to the development of dependencies. When the brain’s reward system is working properly, it motivates a person to repeat behaviors that allow them to live and thrive. Drugs and alcohol take advantage of this system and send messages of reinforcement for unhealthy behaviors. This causes a person to continue using drugs or alcohol despite the consequences because of how it makes them feel. Unfortunately, over time, the brain and body adapt to the effects of substances, reducing the feelings they experience when high. Increased tolerance causes a person to begin using higher doses of drugs and alcohol to achieve the same effects. Other things a person once derived pleasure from become diminished and a person begins to fixate on chasing their next high instead.
Not Everyone Develops an Addiction: Factors That Influence Addiction
Using drugs or alcohol does not necessarily mean an addiction will develop. It is impossible to know whether or not a person will develop an addiction, but there are some risk factors that can increase its likelihood. The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. These include:
- Biology: Family history of addiction can cause a person to become predisposed. A person’s mental health can also put them at risk for addiction. The presence of a mental health disorder is one of the lead contributors to the development of addiction.
- Environment: Economic status, living conditions, poor coping mechanisms, or high levels of stress can contribute to addiction’s development. Peer pressure, exposure to substances in the home, and normalization of substance abuse early on in life can influence risks.
- Development: The earlier in life substances are used, the more likely it is that addiction will develop. Using drugs or alcohol in adolescence can have detrimental effects on brain development. Because the brain and body are already undergoing critical changes, it is a particularly problematic time to experiment with substances.
The Path to Sobriety
Although overcoming addiction can be a difficult journey, it is possible with proper care. Like other chronic diseases, it may not be cured, but there are ways to manage it in a healthy way. The risk for relapse can last for years or even for a lifetime, but research shows that continued therapy and the use of numerous treatment methods can improve the successfulness of long-term sobriety. Treatment that is tailored to the unique needs of the person and able to evolve to meet their changing needs tend to be the most successful. Those who take a holistic approach to their recovery also tend to experience higher rates of success. Recovery requires maintenance and care for physical, mental, and emotional health.
Even the most severe, chronic cases of addiction can be treated and managed. While not all of the effects of substance abuse can be reversed, it is possible to achieve varying levels of success. With long-term treatment, monitoring, and continued support in recovery, a person is able to achieve sobriety and overcome addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.