Addiction is a life-shattering illness. It rips families apart and destroys lives. It is historically defined as a physical and/or psychological dependency on a mood-altering chemical (e.g. alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs, etc.) or behavior (sex addiction, gambling addiction, internet addiction), although it can also be viewed as a continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it. It often starts with experimentation and social use coupled with the thought that one can quit whenever he/she wants. It has many end results: living on the streets, alienating one's family and friends, and in some cases death. For most addicts, addiction is a lifelong illness, with relapses occurring even after long periods of abstinence or sobriety. Addiction is rarely arrested without the help of an addiction treatment center.
What is a Drug Addict?
A drug addict is defined as a person who is unable to live a normal life without using drugs. He or she has a continuous craving for a certain drug. All aspects of his or her social life are disrupted because of addiction. Addicts may be either mentally or physically dependent on a drug, or both. The addict who is mentally dependent takes the drug to feel psychologically refreshed and/or mentally functional. The physically dependent addict shows physical signs of withdrawal if the substance is not available. Drug rehabilitation centers and alcohol rehab programs exist to help individuals who suffer from drug addiction and alcoholism recover.
Although addiction does begin when a person makes the choice to use drugs or alcohol, addiction does not mean simply using drugs. Addiction encompasses the feelings and behaviors behind drug use that drive an addict to abuse substances. Recent scientific studies have found evidence that drugs not only interfere with normal brain functioning creating powerful feelings of euphoria, they also have long-term effects on the brain's activity and functioning. Due to this, drug addicts lives become unmanageable behaviorally, and they are rarely able to just quit using on their own, so treatment becomes a necessity. Addiction is a state of unmanageability in life brought on by an individual's inability to control his/her substance use. Addiction manifests itself in the form of powerlessness over one's drug of choice, and the suffering of negative consequences as a result.
If you suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism, then you know how it tears families apart and ruins lives. We strongly encourage you to check into a drug treatment center or alcohol rehab program and get the help you need. If your loved one has a drug problem, encourage him or her to seek treatment, or plan an intervention. There are many treatment centers available to help addicts, alcoholics, dual-diagnosis sufferers, and individuals who suffer from behavioral addictions. Available resources include drug treatment centers, counseling, group meetings, intervention planning, and much more.
Addiction is a disease and should be characterized as such whether or not it is alcoholism, the broad spectrum of chemical dependency, or sex addiction, and should not be construed as an addict's lack of willpower, personal strength, inability to make informed decisions, or personal fault of character. Genuine willpower to overcome an addiction is a daily (minute-by-minute) struggle — battle — to overcome addiction and to lead satisfying and productive lives.
The causes of addiction have been the subject of thousands of studies by specialists from many fields. Everything from low self-esteem, genetic predisposition, lack of self-discipline, self-medication, depression, family history of substance abuse, and many more theories have been presented as factors in addiction. But, the main cause of addiction begins with the chemicals in the addictive substances and how they affect the brain. After repeated use, these chemicals change the way a person’s brain reacts to pleasure or pain. Eventually, the person no longer seeks pleasure from the substance, but instead, is compelled to take more simply to quiet their uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Regardless of any physical or emotional reasons for the drug abuse, the outcome is usually the same. In most cases, professional treatment is the only option for overcoming the addiction.
Understanding how an addiction happens is an ongoing process among addiction specialists, researchers, and treatment facilities worldwide. Through years of working with addicts and conducting various tests and studies, it becomes obvious that addiction is not the result of one specific cause. Although each addict has their own reasons for experimenting with drugs, some common factors involved include environment, genetics, emotional issues, and life experiences. Some Addictionologists theorize that addicts may have deficiencies in their brain reward systems that make them more vulnerable to the effects of certain classes of drugs (such as opiates and benzodiazepines). Regardless of the theories about the actual causes of addiction, if a person repeatedly engages in drug or alcohol abuse, he or she will likely eventually develop an addiction. This happens because the addictive chemicals create changes in the brain that alter how the person reacts to pleasure or pain. Over time, more of the substance is required to provide the desired effects. As time passes, the person is no longer seeking pleasure from the drug but is seeking relief from the withdrawal symptoms.
Regardless of the substance involved, addictions can have a devastating effect on a person's health and all other aspects of their personal life, as well. Drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances interfere with the brain's response to pleasure and pain to cause a euphoric state. The chemicals in the substances overstimulate the “reward circuits” in the brain and change the way the cells send, receive, and process information. Over time, with repeated use, more of the substance is needed to get the desired effects. The brain is wired to want to repeat pleasurable activities. This is why people overindulge in food, sex, exercise, drinking, and drugs. If the substance is withheld for any length of time, the brain sends out warning signals in the form of withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, agitation, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and much more. In essence, drugs and alcohol hijack the brain and use it against the individual.
Addiction is considered a disease because of the effects drugs or alcohol have on the brain. According to ASAM (the American Society of Addiction Medicine), addiction is a primary disease comprised of more than bad choices or behavioral problems. The brain has been adversely altered by the chemical substance, therefore, like any chronic disease, professional treatment is required to overcome the condition. In many cases, lifelong treatment and monitoring are necessary. Research shows that addiction results in distorted thinking, perceptions, and feelings which cause a person to behave irrationally. Because of this, addiction is no longer about making choices. The person’s behavior is a manifestation of the addiction, it is not the cause of the addiction. As with other chronic diseases, a person must make a conscious choice to make changes in their life that will improve their condition. For instance, heart patients or diabetics make the choice to eat healthier and exercise more. An addict must make the choice to seek treatment and take personal responsibility for their future.
In simple terms, addictive behavior is defined as “engaging in an activity or behavior regardless of known adverse consequences.” To date, the subject of what causes addictive behaviors remains controversial despite numerous studies and intensive research. Some people consider addictive behaviors a disease while others think of it as a result of poor choices and lack of willpower. Adding to the confusion, some people claim that addiction is the result of genetics, environment, and risk-taking behavior. Because of these conflicting opinions or theories, treatment programs vary in their options and approaches, making it difficult for people to make a choice when seeking treatment. The best options are those that include behavioral modification therapy, life skills training, counseling, nutritional guidance, relaxation techniques, and exercise routines. With these programs, a recovering addict is treated on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level for more lasting results.
Most addicts will testify that they had no intention of becoming addicted when they first chose to try drugs or alcohol. In fact, far into their addictions, many of them still believed that they were in control of their substance use. Over time, as they continued using substances and ignoring the warning signs, they find that their whole life revolves around their drug use. Why and how does this happen? The theories about addiction continue to cause controversy and confusion, but the important thing is that treatment programs are taking heed and have expanded their treatment options in an effort to provide a comprehensive approach to recovery that addresses the emotional, physical, and spiritual factors that contributed to a person’s addiction. People get addicted because the chemicals in drugs or alcohol change the way a person’s brain responds to pleasure or pain. Over time, their brain loses the ability to respond properly if the substance is withheld. Withdrawal symptoms appear, and the person needs more of the drug to avoid the discomfort. The cycle continues and the addiction worsens often ending with dire consequences unless they enter a professional treatment facility.
In today’s demanding, fast-paced society, people reach for drugs to help them change something about their lives. Maybe they want to have more energy, sleep better, relieve anxiety, control chronic pain, focus on tasks better, lose weight, have more fun, or fit in with the crowd. Whatever they struggle with, there is a pill that claims to be the solution. Sadly, these pills eventually become the person’s biggest problem, and the original problem is still there, too. Most people want a quick fix for their problems. Rather than work on changing their diet, or their environment, or their job, they rely on a drug to take care of the issue. On another note, teenagers are taking drugs for a multitude of reasons. They believe that using drugs or alcohol will make them more popular and that they’ll have more fun. Some teens use drugs to escape problems at home such as abuse or neglect. College students often use prescription stimulant drugs to help them stay awake all night to cram for exams. The list of why people take drugs is almost as endless as the number of people who are now addicts.
The effects of drug abuse are not limited to the person who is using the substance. Adverse consequences extend out to affect the person’s family, their community, and society in a variety of ways. Effects on the individual include declining health, emotional instability, and loss of everything that matters in life. In the community, the cumulative effects of thousands of addicts can cause financial hardships, over-extended law enforcement, and increased violence and crime in neighborhoods. As a society, we are affected by substance-related problems on a massive scale. With so many people incarcerated for drug offenses, the prisons are overcrowded and are costing the government millions of dollars. Reduced productivity in our workplaces has placed a burden on struggling corporations. Also, far too many children in protective custody have little hope of a productive or happy future because of their parent’s drug problem. Sadly, the list of negative effects of drug abuse worldwide is extensive and steadily growing. Read more to find out about the effects of drug abuse.
Millions of Americans are using drugs daily just to be able to function in daily life because of chronic pain or illness. Others struggle with depression and use drugs to help them feel normal. Although these drugs are prescribed with the intention of helping someone, in far too many cases, addiction happens and the person’s problems are compounded. Any drug has some kind of adverse effect on the brain and body, and when misused or abused, the dangers are not overstated. Each drug has specific effects on the human brain, but essentially they all disrupt the brain’s natural ability to produce dopamine which is responsible for regulating the reward centers in the brain. After being overly stimulated by drugs, feelings of pleasure, relaxation, pain-relief, and euphoria are experienced. The reward system makes a person want to repeat the experience again and again. Learn more here about why are drugs so addicting.
When we think of a drug abuser, we imagine someone who lives in squalor on the streets, begging for spare change, and wasting away both physically and mentally. But, surprisingly, drug abusers can also be found in the highest echelons of society. Lawyers, CEOs, movie stars, sports figures, doctors, educators, and many other people of affluence have problems with substance abuse. So, defining a drug abuser is not simple, but no matter what their station in life, a drug abuser is someone who knowingly uses drugs for the purpose of gaining a specific state of euphoria, regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before they transition from being a drug abuser to being an addict. Then, as the addiction progresses, the person no longer has a choice in the matter, and their drug use is no longer as much fun as it was before.
The question of whether an addiction is an illness or a "moral weakness" is hotly debated. But, when we look at the facts about how addiction happens, it’s not difficult to see that there is much more to it than a lack of willpower or "character defects". A disease or illness is something that happens to the body as a result of our choices in diet, exercise, etc. Likewise, addiction is a combination of environmental, behavioral, and biological factors similar to the causes of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. When a person has an addiction, eventually, they will suffer consequences to their physical and mental health that require professional medical attention, thus qualifying it to be considered an "illness". Conversely, some people still contend that addiction is a personal choice. They strongly believe that a person can decide to quit if they really want to, and can do so without professional help. Of course, in one respect they are correct because the person’s initial decision to experiment with a drug may have been a conscious decision, but after the drug asserts its control on a person’s brain, their ability to make the choice no longer exists. Regardless of the definition of addiction, the fact remains that professional treatment programs are showing remarkable success in rehabilitating addicts.
Drug addiction is a brain disease. Although initial drug use might be voluntary, drugs of abuse have been shown to alter gene expression and brain chemistry, which in turn affects human behavior. Once addiction develops, these brain changes interfere with an individual’s ability to make voluntary decisions, leading to compulsive drug craving, seeking, and use. The impact of addiction can be far-reaching. Cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and lung disease can all be a result of drug abuse. Some of these effects occur when drugs are used at high doses or after prolonged use, however, some may occur after just one use.