Thanks to Nikki over at http://www.lovemetreatme.net for giving me the idea for this blog post, please feel free to check out her blog as well.
An addiction has been described as a brain disease or as a psychological disorder or even a compulsive behavior where one cannot do or live without a particular drug(s) or alcohol or any other substance even when it’s causing harm to them. They are basically out of control and cannot seem to get their urge in check.
We’re all addicted to one thing or the other whether we want to admit it or not, you could be addicted to coffee or even a particular brand of chocolates or even your favorite blanket or music band – all this are positive addictions. But when your addictions begin to have negative effects on not just your life but your relationships and health then there is a need to worry because that’s a negative addiction. For this blog post I’ll be focusing mostly on drug and alcohol addiction.
Drug and alcohol addiction
No one ever plans to get addicted to drugs, infact most times it begins as harmless fun or just normal teenage experiment but slowly and surely it begins to develop into an addiction where one cannot seem to imagine living without that drug substance or alcohol and you just feel trapped within it’s four walls.
All forms of negative addictions are awful and you might not realize how much damage you’re doing to yourself and those around you in your quest to fulfill that urge. You might be hurting relationships and friendships, you might be breaking people’s trust, you might abandon work or just quit school all at once but at that point nothing else seems to make any sense or be worth your time if it isn’t favouring your addiction.
Do you know the difference between addiction, tolerance and dependence?
Now many people find it difficult to differentiate between this three equally important words. Tolerance is when the body develops resistance to a particular drugs over time due to repeated use either after short term use or long term use. For example :One can become tolerant to pain killers after some time of usage aand this could lead to increased intake of pain killers and yet the person isn’t addicted. But then the person’s body stops responding to the effects the drugs are supposed to have.
Dependence as the name implies occurs when the body begins to rely on those particular drugs – the drugs could either be addictive and non addictive. An addict can also be dependent. It can be treated by slowly reducing the amount of drugs the person takes as its treatable.
Example : One classic example is the character “Dr House in the medical series HOUSE who was addicted to pain killers to numb the leg pain he experienced every day and whenever his pain killers was taken away from him, he would go into an overdrive or hysteria because his body has become used to having that pain killer perform the functions of dulling the pain.
, When a person is dependent on pain killers the body has grown used to having that pain killer numb whatever pain so when the person suddenly stops taking those pain killers, the body begins to react and produce signs such as increased levels of pain and withdraw symptoms as well.
Addiction – is a mental and psychological disorder that affects the brains chemistry and ability to function normally where one has an uncontrollable desire to do drugs, take alcohol or engage in activities without any care to the dangers it presents. It’s persistent and might last for as many years possible with the person feeling restless if he or she isn’t able to satisfy the urge immediately.
Drug addiction and your brain
Although addiction used to be thought of as a sign of moral weakness, it is now understood by the majority of those in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sphere to be a condition that arises in association with changes in the brain caused by the use of addictive substances. This is because nearly all addictive drugs either directly or indirectly activate an area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, that is normally stimulated by naturally rewarding activities important for survival like eating, having sex, or spending time with friends.https://drugabuse.com/addiction/
Most of the addiction cases has been found to be due to genetic and environmental factors as one is most likely to develop an addiction when he or she is brought up in a home where their parents or relatives are addicts or when one passes through situations such as child abuse or deals with mental health issues etc. Or when one is brought up in an environment where drugs are easily accessible and readily made available.
When one consumes large amounts of drugs for a persistently long amount of time, the brain begins to secrete excessive amounts of the “feel good” hormones -dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for depression of mood and sleep as well as for dulling pain sensation. While, dopamine controls the brains rewardand pleasure centre which is a part of the limbic system designed to motivate you into wanting more and more of this drug due to the pleasure derived.
Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter in the body. This allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being sent through the network (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain)
Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters. This too amplifies or disrupts the normal communication between neurons.(https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain)
At a point due to the persistent use of this substances the body stops producing some of this neurotransmitters like dopamine and instead relies on the drugs to produce this neurotransmitters. This excess production by this drug causes the production of some sort of euphoria where one become basically takes the drugs not just to get high but keep up with this feeling. This euphoria and excess dopamine production causes the brain to replace other healthy activities with the need for drugs. At this point without this drugs the person feels depressed and just unhappy become the body has ceased to naturally produce the neurotransmitters that would otherwise be responsible for the feeling of happiness.
After some time the body begins to develop some sort of resistance and tolerance to these drugs and makes the drugs seem less pleasurable and at this point the addict requires a larger amount of drugs to produce the same experience and euphoria he or she experienced before. At this point the body begins to to react not just to the drugs but can cause the need for drugs to arise by just been around people you do drugs with or old places where you did or do drugs and even smells that reminds you of drugs all triggers this need.
Even people who have been sober for years are at risk of having this triggers when they come across places that might remind the brain of drugs taken. The changes that occur during one’s addiction can still occur even after one has stopped taking them.
Why you can’t just quit drugs.
Drugs basically cause different parts of your brain to to act and react abnormally and as the brain continuously grows and undergoes different changes even as adults this abnormal changes in the brain begins to have dramatitic effects on the brain.
A common misperception is that addiction is a choice or moral problem, and all you have to do is stop. But nothing could be further from the truth,” says Dr. George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “The brain actually changes with addiction, and it takes a good deal of work to get it back to its normal state. The more drugs or alcohol you’ve taken, the more disruptive it is to the brain.” Researchers have found that much of addiction’s power lies in its ability to hijack and even destroy key brain regions that are meant to help us survive (https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/10/biology-addiction)
To add to that, repeated use of drugs can damage the essential decision-making center at the front of the brain. This area, known as the prefrontal cortex, is the very region that should help you recognize the harms of using addictive substances.
“Brain imaging studies of people addicted to drugs or alcohol show decreased activity in this frontal cortex,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “When the frontal cortex isn’t working properly, people can’t make the decision to stop taking the drug—even if they realize the price of taking that drug may be extremely high, and they might lose custody of their children or end up in jail. Nonetheless, they take it.” (https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/10/biology-addiction)
Teens are especially vulnerable to possible addiction because their brains are not yet fully developed—particularly the frontal regions that help with impulse control and assessing risk. Pleasure circuits in adolescent brains also operate in overdrive, making drug and alcohol use even more rewarding and enticing.
At the point where. A person starts taking drugs there is drastic reduction in the persons thinking capacity from that time on. , the person’s thinking ability becomes stagnant at the point where the addiction began reducing the ability to think properly due to the effects the drugs have had on the neurotransmitter “glutamate” making it harder for the person to think and learn.
Loss of brain tissues and death of some brain cells also affects the persons thinking even after the person has gone sober. Quitting an addiction is more than just staying away from drugs, it requires a long time for the brain to recover from the effects of those drugs hence the need for a long term treatment and also understanding from those around such a person.
Addiction could also lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD as well as other mental health issues. Mental health issues could usually result from addictions and could as well be the cause of addiction.
Myths About Addiction
Addiction only affects people who lack character or are uneducated.
This disease can affect people from all income groups, education levels, races, religions and creeds. It has nothing to do with someone’s character or morals. Addiction can make someone behave in a way that runs contrary to the way they normally would.
Addicts can stop if they want to badly enough.
An addict who is actively drinking or using drugs is not able to make choices about whether or not they will use their drug of choice. Their addiction is in control of the situation. It’s not a question of willpower or whether the addict wants to quit or not.
Since addiction is a chronic disease, there is no sense in going to treatment.
Many people live with chronic diseases. They get appropriate treatment and make lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life.
Anyone who is addicted to drugs is beyond hope and can’t be helped.
This is simply not true. It’s impossible to lump everyone who has a substance abuse problem into one category and declare that they can’t achieve sobriety over a long term.
Why Addicts Can’t “Just Stop” On Their Own
Most people who are living with an addiction can’t stop using on their own. Getting free from chemicals is only part of treating addiction. If an addict simply completes the detoxification (detox) portion of going to treatment, he or she is at high risk for a relapse.
The person may have gotten clean for a time, but the issues that led him or her to start using drugs or alcohol haven’t been addressed. There is always a reason why a person starts using drugs or alcohol. They may have been looking for a way to deal with some type of emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress, etc.
No one ever plans to become addicted. Some people start on the slippery slope toward addiction when a friend offers them a legal pain medication that has been prescribed for someone else. For others, the road toward addiction starts with their own prescription drugs.
Effective drug and alcohol treatment includes therapy that will address the underlying issues leading to the addiction, such as individual and group therapy sessions (https://greatoaksrecovery.com/addicts-cant-just-stop/)
How to overcome addiction.
Addiction is different for every individual, detoxing isn’t the only answer for addiction. There are different ways of treating different addictions some of them are according to https://drugabuse.com/treatment/addiction-recovery-steps/
- End use safely –
- Note that you need to end your substance use smartly and safely. Deciding to spontaneously and suddenly discontinue drug use can be hazardous and deadly, depending on the drug.
If you are considering ending use, be sure to consult with an addiction professionalabout the safest way to do so. Removing the substance will likely trigger unwanted symptoms depending on the type of substance and the level of use.
- Get behavioural counseling – detox is an important segment of treatment, but it is not the only part. Once abstinence from the substances is established, the focus can shift to behavioral counseling. Counseling will have the goal of maintaining sobriety and reducing the risk of future relapse. Examples of modalities are : support groups, out patient and in patient counselling. Some therapies include : cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy
- Get help for mental health issues – Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often play a role in the development of addiction, as many people use substances to self-medicate their condition. Other people will experience unwanted mental health effects as a result of changes in the brain that are commonly seen during active addiction and early in recovery
- Medications – Medications that treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns can reduce triggers of future use and end the need for self-medication with alcohol or drugs.Other medications will target addiction and recovery directly by treating symptoms of withdrawal during detox and preventing relapse in the future. This is referred to as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and is available for opioid dependence etc.
- Learn tools for relapse prevention When focused on relapse prevention, the individual will:
- Identify triggers that lead to use or cravings for substances.
- Acknowledge behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that precede use.
- Learn coping skills and healthy supports.
- Develop a safety plan with lists of behaviors and contacts to utilize when symptoms are high.
5. Surround yourself with supportive and positive influences – surround yourself with people who want the best for you and would support you on your journey to sobriety. Not judgemental people who would end up throwing your addiction in your face or belittle your efforts to better yourself. .