Understanding Addiction

Understanding Addiction

This article was written by Susan Busfield, LPC, LCADC – Clinical Coordinator of the Substance Abuse program at Center For Wellness, with input from Dr. Gagandeep Singh – Owner/Executive Director

There is a tragic irony in the fact that this article was written before the passing of Robin Williams.  If we learn anything from his passing, it is that we must be vocal and outspoken about mental health and substance abuse issues.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable, drug/alcohol craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of extremely negative consequences. For many, addiction becomes chronic, and the  progression of symptoms occurs over time. Relapse is often a common occurrence, even after long periods of abstinence. Treatment works, and recovery is possible.

How quickly does someone become addicted to a substance?

There is no easy answer to this for several reasons. If and how quickly you might become addicted to a drug depends on many factors, including your genetic make up, the biology of your body, the type of substance used, and other variables.  All drugs are potentially harmful and some may have life-threatening consequences associated with their use. Individuals also have varying sensitivities to substances. While one person may use a drug one or many times and seem to suffer no ill effect, another person may be particularly vulnerable and overdoses with the first use. There is no way of knowing in advance how someone might react. Symptoms and consequences from addiction can develop over time. Sometimes less obvious reactions may be taking place without the user fully being aware of the total impact on their health, relationships, or lifestyle.

How do I know if someone is addicted?

If a person is compulsively seeking and using substances despite negative consequences or conflict, this is an indicator of problematic use or, possibly, addiction. Has the person’s use been the cause of problems such as loss of job, debt, legal issue(s), or physical or emotional problems brought on by regular use? Often family conflicts begin to arise, changes in a person’s social relationships occur, and more time, money, and energy are spent seeking, using, and recovering from the use of substances. There is no perfect screening tool or test to show if someone is addicted, however professionals are able to determine risk factors and identify patterns that might indicate addiction among adolescents or adults.

What are the physical signs of substance abuse or dependence?

The physical signs and symptoms of substance use vary depending upon the person and the drug being abused. In addition, each substance has short-term and long-term physical effects. For example, someone who abuses marijuana may have a chronic cough, or worsening of asthmatic conditions. Stimulants like cocaine, increase heart rate and blood pressure, whereas opioids like heroin may slow the heart rate and reduce respiration – in overdose, these can be fatal. Tolerance is a condition where a person’s body begins to adjust to the effects of a substance and the body’s response is to require more of that substance to get the same desired effect. When a person has developed a tolerance to a substance and uses said substance, withdrawal can occur as the substance is leaving the body. Withdrawal effects vary based on the person, the substance, and the amount of substance used. For example, withdrawal from alcohol could vary from a ‘hangover’, dehydration, headache, irritability, sensitivity to light, to more severe symptoms like tremors (shaking hands/body), seizures, and dangerous changes in blood pressure.

Isn’t addiction a voluntary behavior?

A person may start out taking substances voluntarily, but, as time passes and progression evolves, the behavior and use begins to change from voluntary to compulsive.  One of the reasons why this is believed to occur is because the continued use of drugs and alcohol changes your brain. The changes that happen can be subtle or dramatic and can lead to emotional or behavioral shifts.

Isn’t becoming addicted to substances just a character flaw?

Addiction is a brain disease.  Every type of drug of abuse has its own individual mechanism for changing how the brain functions.Regardless of which drug a person is addicted to, many of the effects on the brain are similar. The effects include changes in memory, mood, motor coordination, thought process, and body function. These changes have a large influence on multiple aspects of a person’s behavior. A substance can become the single most powerful motivator in the addicted person’s existence. He or she may find themselves doing almost anything for the drug, despite the risk, and experiencing, of a range of significant negative consequences. This comes about because substance use has changed the individual’s brain, their behavior, and their social and other functioning in critical ways.

Are there effective treatments for addiction?

Addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral based therapies and, for some, medication assisted therapies can help.  Treatment may vary for each person depending on the type of substances being used and the individual’s specific circumstance. A professional can assist with determining the appropriate level and course for treatment. In many cases, multiple strategies and resources may be needed to achieve success. Treatment that addresses the problem from multiple disciplines has been proven to show good results.  For example, an individual may first require a medically monitored detoxification from the drugs to safely and successfully withdraw from the substance(s). This often follows emotional and behavioral changes made in a treatment setting (inpatient or outpatient) with cognitive-behavioral strategies, employing group and individual counseling modalities. Identifying and making changes in lifestyle are an important component of effective treatment and recovery. This often includes developing a network of sober supports such as those in 12-step programs, along with other resources to assist emotional and social changes. The most important factor determining successful treatment is the individual struggling with the substance use, themselves. Their willingness and desire to utilize treatment tools and recovery supports towards effective change are of paramount importance to successful treatment.

What can I do to help someone with addiction?

Many family and friends find themselves wanting to help a loved one, especially when that person is in a crisis situation. It is often at these times that well intentioned people may inadvertently enable unhealthy addictive behaviors.  It is hard to accept, but often the best way family or friends can help is by letting the situation unfold and encouraging the person to seek help and treatment. Educating yourself about the complex disease of addiction, understanding the symptoms, patterns, and behaviors associated with addiction is very helpful. Family and friends need resources and supports too!  Attendance at 12-step meetings such as ALANON, or CO-Dependence ANONYMOUS can help the individual deal with their own feelings that arise from loving someone with an addictive disease. The best steps family and friends can take are to realize they did not cause the addiction, they cannot control it, and they cannot cure addiction, but treatment and support for all affected is available!

Center for Wellness Is an Intensive Outpatient Program offering exceptional treatment to adults and adolescents identified with substance use disorders. In order to nourish and cultivate a new beginning clients are encouraged to participate in a variety of individual and group therapies designed to develop the tools necessary to succeed in recovery.

Visit our main site: https://centerforwellnessnj.com

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