It’s very common for people to think of addiction as a personal condition rather than an illness. You will often hear these people say things like “Just get over it” or “You can stop whenever you want, it’s your decision”. The truth is that addiction is a very real, terrifying and crippling chronic disease. To ‘get rid of it’ is not something that’s easily done. Part of what makes this disease so dangerous is how different it is from person to person, and while there are some standardized procedures that tend to have a similar effect on patients, at the end of the day, addiction is a case-by-case ailment.
From brain chemistry to social behavior, addiction covers a wide range of topics. Here are 4 essential things to understand about drug and alcohol addiction:
1 – It Alters The Brain’s Chemistry
Our brain is what contains our thoughts and directs our actions; it is in charge of everything from primary to secondary functions throughout the body. One of these functions is the perception of enjoyment, pleasure and euphoria, something that occurs when the brain detects a positive response to a stimulus and in turn releases a natural chemical called dopamine.
When a person consumes drugs or alcohol, they experience a sensation of euphoria and happiness that is also known as being ‘high’. It happens as a result of the brain being tricked into releasing excessive amounts of dopamine, thus creating such elation. A person prone to addiction then starts to develop a craving for that feeling.
2 – Becoming an Addict
In the case of alcohol, these brain alterations typically happen when drinking at social events (which also happens to be socially acceptable). For drugs, although it is not recommended, it can be something that is tried as a one-time thing. When this brain alteration happens just once or from time to time, there is no irreversible harm done to the brain. However, prolonged substance or alcohol consumption has a serious effect on the dopamine release rate, and what was once an acceptable dose of dopamine now has no effect because the brain has grown used to it. After a while, the same amount of drugs or alcohol no longer provides that feeling of elation and the person sees no other way but to consume a larger quantity in order to achieve the ‘high’.
Over time they need even more, to the point that a state of mind-alteration is their new norm. The person will be constantly craving that sensation; this is the point where the person becomes an addict.
3 – Why Some People Become Addicts and Others Don’t
You are probably thinking that you know a couple of people that consume rather often, but display no signs of addiction; this is what’s known as ‘heavy consumers’. The line is rather thin between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic, so it’s best to exert caution.
It is very difficult to predict if someone will end up becoming an addict. There are certain risk factors that can be taken into account and the more a person displays these characteristics, the more likely it will be for them to fall into the claws of addiction. These main factors are their biology, environment and development.
Biology: Even though we have plenty in common, each human is built uniquely. From a gene perspective, some people are simply much more resistant to the addictive effects of substances like drugs and alcohol, just as some people are very resistant and can enjoy spicy food while others cannot tolerate them at all. It is also worth noting that people with pre-existing mental disorders are prone to addiction.
Environment: A person’s environment is a big risk factor for addiction, especially in the formative years. From social life to family environment, including quality of life and financial status, this can all factor in to the the decision to start consuming and becoming an addict or detract from it.
Development: Addiction knows no age limit; it can happen at any point in time. However, depending on the combination of biological and environmental risk factors in a person’s development, the younger a person is when he/she tries drugs or alcohol the more likely they are to develop an addiction problem. This is why most prevention campaigns focus on teenagers, as they are the most compromised age group. Their brains are still developing the areas in charge of judgment, decision-making and self-control. In other words, they might grow up with their brain thinking that it’s good to consume and abuse substances.
4 – Can it Be Cured?
Not really. Addiction is a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, asthma or a heart condition. Luckily, just as there are treatments that can repress those diseases to the point that a person leads a fully functional and ‘normal’ life, there are treatments for substance abuse rehabilitation where the person leaves drugs and alcohol behind and never looks back.
Nevertheless, just as chemotherapy can’t guarantee that cancer won’t return, there’s nothing to ensure a former addict won’t relapse, which is something that needs to be understood and accepted.
If a recovering addict relapses, it will not be constructive to get angry, lash out at them or cast them aside. Instead, remind them of the strength they have gathered from their time in recovery and sobriety and assure them that just as they got out of it the first time, they can do it once again.
Take Action Against Addiction
Once a person realizes that addiction is not something that can be swept under a rug, they realize how much power they hold. Helping someone through their addiction and recovery process is a difficult and long journey, one that’s made bearable when they understand the disease and what they are dealing with.
If you know someone who has a loved one dealing with addiction, share this article with him or her. Help them encourage the addict to be treated in a rehab center.
Have you had any encounters with addiction? Share your personal experience and open up the conversation in the comment section below!
Photos are pixabay public domain
Guest Author Bio
I’m Carl Towns, a 28-year-old wanna-be writer. I am also a recovering addict on the path of self-discovery. My goal is to learn as many things as possible and to seize every single moment I live, pretty much trying to make up for all that I missed on the years I was lost in drugs and alcohol (among other things). I’m in love with tech, cars and pretty much anything that can be found online.