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What is drug and alcohol addiction or otherwise known as substance abuse disorder? Drug and alcohol addiction are a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of drugs and alcohol despite harmful consequence. People with a drug and alcohol addiction have an intense focus on using a certain drugs or alcohol to the point where the person’s ability to function in day-to-day life becomes impaired. People keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems. The term addictions indicate a severe and uncontrollable reliance on drugs or alcohol but even less severe use can be extremely destructive to your personal and professional life and over all sense of well being. You may not be addicted but it may be causing you a problem.
People with a drug and alcohol addiction may have distorted thinking and behaviors. Changes in the brain’s structure and function are what cause people to have intense cravings, changes in personality, abnormal movements, and other behaviors. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control.
Repeated substance use can cause changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the substance wears off, or in other words, after the period of intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, euphoria, calm, increased perception and sense, and other feelings that are caused by the substance. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.
When someone has a substance use disorder, they usually build up a tolerance to the substance, meaning they need larger amounts to feel the effects.
“Addiction is the addict’s fault”
Addiction is so much more complicated than that. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations. And like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Addiction in its most extreme forms, will cause cognitive decline, organ failure, and premature death. Addiction is actually a public-health crisis, a symptom of our failure as a society to protect those at risk. Addiction is not someone else’s setback. It is our collective problem and one that can only be solved when we all take responsibility for it.
“Successful people don’t get addicted”
This simply isn’t true. The truth is that anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addictions is not something that happens to losers; addiction is something that can happen to anyone. People struggling with addiction are stupid. Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy struggled with alcoholism, as did the nineteenth-century painter Vincent van Gogh. First Lady Betty Ford was addicted to painkillers and now there is a recovery center named in her honor. Horror writer Stephen King, one of the world’s bestselling authors, needed a cocktail of drugs to get him through the day before he got sober. Your physician, your child’s teacher, your favorite actor, or singer may also be an addict. It is important to understand that addiction is often a hallmark of misdirected intelligence and underserved creativity, not of laziness, moral failings, or stupidity.
“All it takes is willpower to stop addiction”
Many people use mind-altering drugs every year, but only one in every ten of those who try them actually becomes addicted. For the alcoholic or addict, it is not a matter of willpower. Willpower is the exact thing that leaves the second you put a drink to your lips or take that first dose of your drug of choice. It is at that moment that your craving kicks in, and you lose the power of choice. If you aren’t an addict, this is one of the hardest things to understand about your loved one’s behavior. Our subconscious wiring and learned behaviors become so automatic that they create an inability to see clearly and remember what happened last time. Can you have one or two drinks and stop? If you can’t, it’s not because you have no willpower; it’s because you have an illness. There is no human power great enough to keep you from using. No, willpower alone will not stop addiction. What you need to do is heal your brain, which will enable you to take control of your life.
“The cause of alcoholism is alcohol. The cause of drug addiction is drugs”
Everyone of us have opioid receptors, cannabinoid receptors, and numerous other receptors in our brains that provide us with a system of pain relief and feelings of pleasure, which is all perfectly natural. Seeking out good feelings, enjoying the natural endorphins and adrenaline that our bodies produce, and looking for ways to relax and have fun are all part of being human. It’s when we abuse drugs, alcohol, or pleasurable behaviors that we have a problem. Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the founding fathers of integrative medicine writes, “There are no good or bad drugs; there are only good and bad relationships with drugs.” Popular addiction specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate, has noted, if it were the substance or behavior itself that causes the addiction, everyone who goes shopping would become a shopaholic and everyone who eats food would become a food addict. Your alcoholism or drug addiction is but a symptom of a larger problem of compromised psychological and physical well-being.
“It’s okay for kids to experiment with drinking and drugs – they’re just being kids”
Most parents believe that it’s harmless for teenagers to experiment with drugs. They laugh it off, shrug their shoulders, and say, “It’s no big deal. Kids will be kids.” We are all bombarded with advertisements glorifying the use of alcohol and, more recently, marijuana, which serve to reinforce the idea that these potentially addictive substances are just good old-fashioned fun. But the more we learn about the vulnerabilities of the developing brain, the more we discover that early drug and alcohol use is the opposite of harmless. And it’s not “just being a kid.” We know without a doubt that the earlier you start drinking or using drugs, the more likely you are to succumb to addiction later in life. The fact is the younger you start, the worse the outcome can be for you. Young people’s brains are more vulnerable to addictions. You have a six times greater chance of being an alcoholic if you start drinking before age fifteen than if you start at or after age twenty-one. Those who start using marijuana at an early age are nearly twice as likely to become addicted. The truth is that kids who are involved in lots of extracurricular activities; who have positive, healthy outlets for stress and anxiety; and whose parents are keeping closer tabs on what they’re doing, where they are, and who they’re with are less likely to become addicts. Using drugs in your teens is not harmless. It’s potentially devastating.
“You have to hit rock bottom before you can climb out of addiction”
Most people believe that you have to “hit bottom” or “bottom out” to conquer your addiction. That simply isn’t true. You can jump off the addiction train at anytime; you don’t have to wait for it to be going so fast that the train derails and falls into the ocean. However, the challenge is that the farther along you are, the less likely it is that you have any choice in the matter. But the truth is that you can – and should – stop the train at any point. You don’t have to hit bottom. It’s possible you won’t be successful at first, but then you try again. Don’t stop trying!
“If an addict doesn’t want to be treated, there’s nothing you can do?”
Most people are told that if you don’t want it badly enough, your treatment will fail. You are often shamed and scolded and exhorted to care more and try harder. You can always get treatment even if you aren’t ready. You can be helped even if you know, deep inside yourself, that you don’t want it. It’s often more difficult to convince young people they have a problem than adults. However, if your loved one is sick, you must help him or her get well. If an addict in your life does not want treatment, do everything in your power to help him anyway.
“Drinking and drugs are fun. Being sober is boring.”
The human brain thrives on stimulation. We all want to feel good and there is nothing wrong with seeking out pleasurable experiences. We are hardwired to look for pleasure and do everything we can to diminish pain. However, this can become a problem when the pleasure you have found is bent on destroying you. Maybe you’re worried that once you stop using, you’ll never have fun again. Drugs and alcohol are something you can enjoy with others, which gives you a sense of intimacy and belonging that was lacking when you were sober. The most effective addiction programs teach you to replace unhealthy pleasure-seeking behaviors with healthy, nonaddictive, pleasure-producing activities. There are many ways to feel good and still stay sober. There is such a thing a thing as pure and simple clean sober fun. Sobriety is not boring.
“It’s all in your genes. You're hardwired to be an addict”
When we’re looking for something to blame for addiction, genes make a good punching bag. Based on studies that looked at addiction in siblings, particularly twins, it appears that 50 to 60 percent of addiction is hereditary. Does that mean you will be an alcoholic or an addict if one or both of your parents is one? Of course not. However, in the wrong environment – stress, childhood neglect, nutrient deficiencies, drug or alcohol use during gestation, or a toxic chemical overload dumped on you during your early years – your genetic tendencies become a recipe for trouble. You may have been told that your addiction is genetic and that you have no control over your diagnosis and your treatment. But don’t let anyone fool you into believing that you have “bad” genes. We know now that it is actually possible to activate or deactivate your genes through lifestyle decisions. Although DNA does play a role in addiction, human behavior is much more complicated than simple on/off genetic switches. Paying attention to your lifestyle choices (nutrition, gut microbiome, stress, sleep, exercise, and connectedness to a supportive network of other people) plays a much larger role in potential gene expression. This is good news. Your genes are not your destiny. You have the power to influence how the genes you that put you at risk for addiction are expressed.
“Making lifestyle changes cannot help you as an addict”
Lifestyle changes are actually the key to both overcoming addiction and mitigating the poor health outcomes resulting from substance abuse. Nonmedical interventions, including better eating habits, more exercise, reduced stress, and finding other ways to produce natural, healthy, sustainable feelings of euphoria (as opposed to potentially lethal drug-induced highs), are crucial when it comes to treating addiction. You too can implement these changes and experience peace and serenity as never before. The more exercise you enjoy, pain relief you seek from natural sources, and stress you reduce; the better the foods you eat, the restorative sleep you get, and the more connected you become to people in a positive drug- and alcohol-free way of living, the less your risk for relapse. Not only that, but you will be healthier in every way. Now, will you make lifestyle changes and stick to them perfectly? No. Is it worth starting the journey to address and eventually conquer your addictions? Absolutely. Your journey is uniquely your own. Take ownership of where you are now. You can do this. Don’t give up. I fully believe in you and I am always cheering for you.
Thomas, P. & Margulis, J. (2018). The Addictions Spectrum: A Compassionate, Holistic Approach to Recovery. HarperOne, New York, NY
People can develop an addiction to:
o PCP, LSD and other hallucinogens
o Inhalants, such as, paint thinners and glue
o Opioid pain killers, such as codeine and oxycodone, heroin
o Sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics (medicines for anxiety such as tranquilizers)
o Cocaine, methamphetamine and other stimulants
In addition to substances, people can also develop addiction to behaviors, such as gambling, sex, pornography, gaming, screen time or even a shopping.
The answer is simple.. is it causing you a problem in your life ??
People with substance use and behavioral addictions may be aware of their problem but not be able to stop even if they want and try to. The addiction may cause physical and psychological problems as well as interpersonal problems such as with family members and friends or at work. Alcohol and drug use is one of the leading causes of preventable illnesses and premature death nationwide.
Symptoms of substance use disorder are grouped into four categories:
Effective treatments for drug and alcohol addiction (substance use disorders) are available.
The first step is recognition of the problem. The recovery process can be delayed when a person lacks awareness of problematic substance use. Although interventions by concerned friends and family often prompt treatment, self-referrals are always welcome and encouraged.
A medical professional should conduct a formal assessment of symptoms to identify if a substance use disorder is present. All patients can benefit from treatment, regardless of whether the disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. Unfortunately, many people who meet criteria for a substance use disorder and could benefit from treatment don’t receive help.
Because drug and alcohol addiction affect many aspects of a person’s life, multiple types of treatment are often required. For most, a combination of medication and individual or group therapy is most effective. Treatment approaches that address an individual’s specific situation and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems is optimal for leading to sustained recovery.
Medications are used to control drug cravings, relieve symptoms of withdrawal, and to prevent relapses. Therapy and counselling can help individuals with drug and alcohol addiction better understand their behavior and motivations, develop higher self-esteem, cope with stress, and address other psychiatric problems.
A person’s recovery plan is unique to the person’s specific needs and may include strategies outside of formal treatment. These may include:
These 13 principles of effective drug addiction treatment were developed based on three decades of scientific research. Research shows that treatment can help drug-addicted individuals stop drug use, avoid relapse and successfully recover their lives.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse. These principles are detailed in NIDA’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
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