Addiction is a chronic brain disorder which causes an individual to repeatedly engage in the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol despite their detrimental. 60 percent of susceptibility to addiction is largely related to genetic factors and not only does it develop as a result of using mood altering substances, but also due to certain behaviors or process, such as eating, sex or gambling as it generally stems from a malfunction in the reward circuitry of the brain.
Consuming a mood-altering substance or engaging in a behavior that activates the brain’s reward center sooner or later causes damage to the brain’s reward circuitry. While such habits or experiences may not necessarily lead to an automatic addiction in some peoples, there are individuals who are, unfortunately, naturally inclined based on their genetics, their neurobiology and how a habit or addictive substance interacts with their psychological and social factors.
There are many reasons why people use addictive substances, even when they know their detrimental effects. Teenagers are particularly at risk because not only can peer pressure be very strong, but the habit is usually formed out of curiosity or a way of asserting their independence. In many cases, stress plays a major role in starting and continuing drug use and individuals who suffer from social anxiety, stress, or depression will start using drugs in order to relax or feel less anxious. People who take drugs such as cocaine or heroin often do so to experience feelings of pleasure, relaxation, satisfaction, power, self-confidence, and increased energy. In this respect, these feelings of initial euphoria may be perceived as positive effects until the drugs take over an individual’s overall life and what once seemed like a pleasurable activity turns into a full-blown addiction.
Everyone’s path to addiction is inherently different and many factors influence the development of addictions and aside from a genetic predisposition, age, poor social support networks, the experience of trauma or other co-occurring mental illnesses have been shown to add to a person’s level of risk. The good news is that there are many routes to recovery because just like other chronic diseases, addiction is both preventable and treatable. Individuals can achieve full social functioning, including a physical, emotional and psychological improvement.
Addiction affects the brain’s executive functions such as memory, organization, time management, planning skills, self-control, emotional regulation, etc. Over time, those who develop an addiction may not be aware of how their substance use has dominated their lives and causing problems not only to themselves but also to those around them. It is not always easy for an individual with an addiction issue to admit that they have a very serious issue, which is why it’s prudent for immediate family members and friends to raise their concern rather than wait for the individual to do so.
Acceptance is usually the first step. Through raising their concern, those closest to a patient can help him or her accept that they have a problem and that they need help. This follows a thorough assessment from a licensed alcohol and drug counselor as well as an evaluation by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. While a general practitioner may ask for blood, urine and other lab tests, they are not necessarily diagnostic tests for addiction, but they are important to assess whether the drug is still in the system and in most cases such tests are used for monitoring a patient’s treatment and recovery. Additionally, many mental health professionals today follow a principle published by the American Psychiatric Association known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Those diagnosed with any form of addiction must meet certain criteria for drug dependence as laid out in the DSM manual such as:
- A patient’s body has developed a tolerance due to substance use
- A patient experiences a physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms or uses drugs or alcohol to avoid experiencing said withdrawals
- They often try to quit or cut down their substance use
- They often take higher-than-intended doses of the substance
- They habitually spend a lot of time either trying to acquire the substance, using it, or recovering from its effects
- They have given up most or all of their social, occupational or recreational activities
- They continue to use their substance of choice regardless of its health ramifications
Patients diagnosed with an addiction and meet at least three of the above Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria should seek and enter chemical dependence programs that offer within them a plan that is solely focused on helping them overcome their dependence and prevent relapses. Additionally, depending on a patient’s level of addiction, a treatment program should also address any related medical or mental health disorders a user may have and include individual, group or family therapy sessions as well as the following:
Depending on the level of addiction, a patient may require different levels of care and setting such as outpatient, residential or inpatient programs to allow them to go through a detoxification in the quickest and safest environment possible. The main aim of a detox is to get the addictive substance out of a patient’s body and while there are at-home detox kits available, they are not an advisable option for many reasons. For starters, detox from substances such opioids or alcohol have been shown to be a particularly dangerous process that requires an inpatient program and medical supervision to ensure a patient’s safe withdrawal.
Additionally, since at-home detoxification programs are unsupervised, they are often ineffective because the various processes of the body as it rids itself of the drug can produce unpleasant or fatal consequences that the patient may not know how to deal with in the event something goes wrong. The initial period of detoxification can be intense for many patients, for example those with an opioid dependence will experience very strong withdrawal symptoms within several hours after their last dose of drug use. And while symptoms such as excessive sweating, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle aches or spasm, etc may not life-threatening at the time, they can be quite uncomfortable also other unexpected withdrawal symptoms may arise such as violence, hallucinations, psychosis, injury to self, seizures, tremors, etc, that may require hospitalization and stabilization.
An abrupt and unsupervised cessation from different classes of drugs will result in different withdrawal symptoms and the intensity of symptoms experienced will vary from person to person depending on:
- The length of a patient’s addiction
- A comorbid dependence on different drugs, including alcohol
- Tolerance develops from persistent substance abuse
- The existence of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety or a physical condition such as chronic pain when a patient enters a detox program
- The short-acting or long-acting life of a drug
Individuals suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol should discuss the specifics of their situation with their doctor in order to choose the best type of detox for their needs. No one method is right for everyone and depending upon the drug, patients might have different options in drug detox methods which may include:
- A medically supervised “cold turkey” detox where patients experience the full brunt of the withdrawal symptoms with no pharmacological assistance
- Short-term medicated detox
- Long-term medicated detox
Counseling is an integral part of a drug and alcohol treatment program. Patients diagnosed with addiction can either receive counseling from a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, a psychologist or psychiatrist. Common problems that can also be addressed through psychotherapy include difficulties in coping with everyday life, the impact of a traumatic event as a result of a medical illness or loss, like the death of a loved one as well as specific mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
Depending on the problem or issue a patient may be experiencing as a result of their addiction, psychotherapy may be used in combination with medication or other therapies to treat mental health conditions and may be conducted on an individual, family, couple, or group setting. Research shows that about 75% of individuals who enter psychotherapy are better able to function in their lives because this form of therapy improves emotions and behaviors linked with positive changes in the brain and body.
It takes a collaborative effort between the patient and doctor to get the most out of psychotherapy. Patients must follow through with their treatment plan, while being both open and honest about their addiction and what they want to get out of the therapy in the long run. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals often use several types of psychotherapy depending on a patient’s level of addiction, present mental circumstances and his or her preference.
Psychotherapy is mostly designed to address deep-rooted mental health conditions that are known to contribute to drug or alcohol abuse. In most cases even after a medically supervised detox, patients who haven’t gone therapy to resolve certain social stimuli and psychological factors that render them susceptible to physical dependence are prone to relapses. There are different types of psychotherapy methods that licensed psychiatrists or mental health professionals use:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is designed to help individuals who are diagnosed with addiction, identify and change their thinking and behavior patterns that are harmful and replacing them positive thoughts and functional behaviors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective psychological treatments for addressing moderate to severe depression and anxiety (two of the most common conditions that those with substance abuse disorder mainly suffer from) because it focuses on a patient’s state of mind and thought patterns.
Successful cognitive behavioral therapy sessions involve empathic communication to identify a patient’s problem and help them establish attainable goals. CBT is a healthy collaboration between the counselor and the patient, with frequent feedback, homework, including the use of teaching and learning tools that promote positive behavioral change.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
This form of therapy is vital in cases where those diagnosed with addiction need to learn healthy ways of understanding and coping with any unresolved interpersonal issues such as significant life changes, conflicts, social or work roles, or problems relating to others that are difficult. In addition to helping patients improve their communication skills through learning healthy ways to express emotions, IPT also focuses on relationship development and therefore can help those in therapy mend and improve what their substance dependence has ruined in their families.
This is yet another form of therapy designed to allow a patient the liberty to fully express and speak their mind as openly as possible. Also known as “depth psychology”, psychoanalysis gears on making the unconscious conscious where a patient can release repressed emotions such as those of their dreams, childhood memories or underlying conflict without any interference from outside. This form of therapy provides an insight into a patient’s unconscious mind in the hopes that any fragments of vivid or repressed memories will emerge in the course of the treatment.
This form of therapy is designed to build self-esteem, reduce anxiety, strengthen coping mechanisms, and improve an addict’s social and community functioning. Supportive therapy has also proven effective as it uses positive guidance and encouragement to helps those with a drug or alcohol dependence to deal with issues related to any mental health conditions as a way of developing their own resources and becoming more self-reliant.
Self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use a 12-step model that boosts motivation, decreases isolation and shame among individuals who have been diagnosed with drug and alcohol dependence. One of the biggest hindrances of recovery is a relapse, which can occur when a patient lacks adequate support from people who understand what they are going through. Getting involved with and regularly attending a self-help group can be a life-changing experience because for starters, it provides a basis of social accountability and personal acceptance of underlying issues. It creates an environment that fosters honesty, openness and breaks down barriers that can help those that want to recover to overcome their drug and alcohol dependence.
Patients who are trying to grow through an addiction treatment and decrease the odds of a relapse can find solace through attending recovery self-help groups because living in early recovery can be isolating. Spending time with people who are suffering through similar issues and in need of help is a much healthier form of social contact. Addiction support groups are beneficial because by providing a platform where patients can hear the stories of others who have gone through similar situations, patients can gain perspective about their own struggle and get insight from others, and consequently foster personal growth.
Though it is a matter of choice, attending recovery self-help groups has continued to prove beneficial as part of a more comprehensive, well-rounded treatment program consisting of detox, various therapies, and aftercare for people struggling with addiction. Generally, a patient who joins a 12-Step group is guided through 12 Steps based on the substance abuse he or she is receiving treatment for to enable cognitive and behavioral patterns restructuring around their drug or alcohol dependence. Self-help programs are also less religious and therefore anyone seeking recovery can benefit from them, provided they are committed to making the program work and engage in other long-term aftercare programs that will further reinforce the 12-steps lessons long after treatment is over.
There is no refuting that the road to recovery is challenging, therefore it’s only prudent for those seeking help to get a form of perspective mainly from a licensed addiction specialist, psychiatrist or psychologist. It also helps to talk to a person who is going through similar struggles because patients are more likely to break their addiction and stay alcohol or drug-free by understanding shared experiences. While engaging in a pleasurable activity is not inherently wrong, it can be very easy for those with addictive personalities to downplay or underestimate their level of substance abuse. Crossing the invisible line for a habit to become a compulsion starts with denial and it’s important to identify some of the classic signs of addiction and address the problem. For example:
- Do you crave for a certain drug or alcohol and present withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, headaches, sweating, diarrhea, or an increase in tolerance when you don’t indulge?
- Are your thoughts consumed not only with the substance, but how to get it, how to conceal it or even how to “stop?”
- Do you find that you can’t moderate or stop once you’ve started?
- Do you find yourself lying to cover up your drug intake or drinking?
- Are you becoming increasingly irresponsible and make promises that you don’t keep?
- Is your dependence affecting your performance, attendance at work, your relationships, your health, and your finances?
- Do you continue to take drugs or alcohol despite the obvious negative repercussions?
Addiction is a progressive mental and physical condition that can start out as harmless or infrequent indulgence to a full-blown disorder that interrupts an individual’s life in entirety. In addition to being genetically predisposed, unfortunately those with mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. There are no two ways about it; overcoming and recovering from addiction to some will require therapy or counseling to address any underlying mental health issues and help patients learn new life coping skills.
Every person’s experience of addiction is unique to them and no one wakes up one morning and decides to become dependent on drugs or alcohol. It is a pathological progression that often causes damage to a user’s health, leads to the destruction of their personal relationships, finances, leads legal problems, overdose even death. The good news is that substance use disorder can be treated and managed at any phase in the process to help patients break their physical and psychological bond with drugs or alcohol.
Studies show that mortality rates as a result of drug-related overdoses are continuing to escalate with most of these deaths caused by prescription drug abuse. This goes to show that drug addiction is a serious disease that is claiming many lives, especially of teenagers who no longer can identify where recreational drug use crosses over into addiction. The dangers of drug or alcohol addiction are far-reaching and no one should become a statistic because not only are there many resources available online to learn about addiction, but there are also effective treatment programs that can help patients stay sober and prevent relapses.
Understanding the impact of addiction can be helpful for those who are in recovery or still on the fence about getting clean. It can also prevent the downward spiral that is part of this protracted, relapsing disorder of the brain. Today there are treatment programs that offer integrated solutions to addiction and those seeking help can choose among one of the many inpatient or outpatient treatment facility whose plan encompass services such as:
- Psychosocial support through counseling and support groups
- Behavioral modification through individual, family or group therapy
- Pharmacological therapy with relapse or withdrawal medications
- As well as education for families, friends and partners of those living with addiction issues
While there are some in the grip of drug addiction who are able to quit their destructive habit without necessarily seeking treatment, others recovering from drug or alcohol dependence can be a difficult, emotional and taxing process. Some individuals are much more susceptible to addiction due to factors such as genetics or environmental issues. Before any form of addiction takes its toll on your life, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with stress because drugs and alcohol are only a temporary fix. Those with dependence issues are often people attempting to self-medicate for their psychological issues, therefore, seeking counseling with a mental health professional is a much more effective way to curb a problem before it gets out of hand. It is possible to avoid slipping into the dangers of addiction by keeping oneself happy and healthy regardless of a person’s background or current situation.