Addiction is a condition where a person feels they must use a certain substance even when they know that the substance is harmful to their mental and/or physical health. A person can also be addicted to an activity which may be pleasurable; however, it is detrimental to their life and their livelihood.
How Addiction Happens
Drug addiction rarely happens at once, but the person needs to repeatedly take the drug over time. Not only does the drug need to be taken repeatedly, but every time it’s taken it diminishes the person’s life in some way. How quickly this happens depends on the type of drug, how much of the drug the person takes whenever he or she takes it, how the drug is taken, the person’s age and gender and whether he or she already suffers from a pre-existing condition like mental illness. Addiction also depends on the person’s genetic makeup and the life they led before they started taking the drug. It’s also important that the drug be readily available.
Interestingly, medical professions, mental health professionals, sociologists and others aren’t all in agreement of just what addiction is. They can only agree that it’s destructive to the individual and to society. Addicts, focused on obtaining and using their drug of choice, often find it difficult to hold a job or take care of themselves or their families. Indeed, when addictions to nicotine, alcohol, prescription rugs and illegal drugs are added up, they add up to the number one cause of preventable sickness and death.
The American Psychiatric Association’s’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, describes addiction as a syndrome that can include tolerance to the effects of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when the drug is temporarily stopped. The person will also need to use more of the drug to get the same effect and spends more and more time trying to get the drug to the detriment of social and familial obligations. The person also wants to stop and can’t without a great deal of outside help.
How Addiction Works
When a person takes a drug, the drug enters his or her bloodstream and eventually reaches the brain. This produces the “high” of the drug. Besides the euphoria, other mental changes can include changes in the person’s perception, memory, mood and thinking. The body is also affected. Some drugs cause the heart rate to speed up, the blood pressure to raise and might affect the way a person moves about. The effects of the drug on the cellular level can be even more dramatic. The drug basically changes the way the nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other by changing the shape and number of the parts of the nerve cells. Some of these changes are permanent, especially if the person has been addicted to the drug for a long time.
Though different types of drugs bring different types of effects both positive and negative, all of them cause the brain to release dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that’s released in the deep parts of the brain. This neurotransmitter controls the pleasure centers of the brain. Instead of normal desires for food or sex, the person begins to crave their drug of choice.
Tolerance happens when the person experiences a progressive diminution in the euphoria he or she first felt when they used the drug. This might lead them to use more and more of the drug. Also, the body begins to break down and eliminate the drug after a period of time has passed. In an addict, this can lead to withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be the exact opposite of the euphoria the person felt when he or she first took the drug. Often, the person will go through a great deal to get more of the drug and remove the unpleasant feelings and sensations of withdrawal. Even after withdrawal, a person who was addicted to a drug can undergo cravings for weeks, months or even years. People sometimes return to the drug more to stop their cravings for it than to become intoxicated.
Where to Get Help
Professionals believe that the best way to quit an addiction, or at least to begin to quit an addiction, is at an inpatient facility. An inpatient facility is where the addict lives for a while with other people who are trying to quit their addiction. A facility can have from about 20 to 100 beds. Most treat both men and women, but some are gender specific.
One of the benefits of an inpatient facility is the group therapy session. These sessions can be held throughout the day. These sessions have only a few patients and only last about an hour or two. The participants help each other work though their struggles with the mental, physical or social problems caused by their addiction and help them deal with any fears they have about getting and staying clean. They also help them deal with the cravings and avoid relapse.
Patients are also given tasks like writing daily in a journal or writing down their personal history of drug abuse. Other problems patients can be helped with at an inpatient facility include:
- Overcoming their denial of their own addiction
- Education about addiction
- Education about the recovery process
- Understanding the relationship between their addiction and other life problems
- Learning skills to help them recover
- Developing a plan to guard against relapse
- Involving their families or loved ones in their recovery
Anyone who is suffering from an addiction or who has a loved one who has an addiction to alcohol or drugs, should seek inpatient addiction treatment in order to overcome this devastation and return to a healthy, happy life.