What is addiction?
In its simplest terms, an addiction is the strong compulsion to get, use or perform something, whether legal or otherwise. Sex, gambling, alcohol, drugs and many other things in life are addictive, and when we crave these things beyond anything else, it often comes with a set of negative consequences.
The acquisition and use of drugs, for example, is often a top priority for drug addicts, and the process of finding and using drugs often comes at the detriment to the user themselves. A person might, for instance, put themselves into financial risk and conduct illegal activity in order to acquire drugs, and the continual using of these substances will have a direct impact on a person’s health.
Addiction has been described as a medical disorder by large populations of the science community because it alters the brain’s chemical makeup and changes a person’s behavior or appearance. Various substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medications and even some more ‘everyday’ over-the-counter drugs can fuel an addiction, and while many other things in life are addictive, drugs are considerably more damaging to a person’s welfare state.
Is addiction a disease?
According to many medical bodies – including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine – addiction is defined as a disease.
Much like any other disease – including diabetes, cancer and heart disease – addiction is caused by a plethora of behavioral, environmental and biological factors, and the consequence of leaving something like addiction disease unattended for so long will require a similar course of action as, say, diabetes – in short, a person will need medical attention and, if untreated, could face life-threatening repercussions.
Heart disease and substance addiction, for example, can be compared in many ways:
- Both addiction and heart disease disrupts the normal functions of one of the body’s vital organs.
- Both can lead to a decrease in the quality of life for a person and increase the chances of an early fatality.
- Heart disease and addiction can both be prevented if a person engages in a healthy lifestyle and avoids making poor choices.
- They are both treatable diseases that will require professional help to overcome.
However, there are non-life-threatening addictive things in the world like sex and gambling and becoming addicted to these things won’t necessarily see your health deteriorate over time and likely won’t require medical assistance. But these things are equally as damaging to a person’s mental health and perspective in the world and they carry their own set of negative consequences.
How substance abuse changes the brain’s chemistry
People like pleasure. It’s a basic human instinct to seek a release of positive endorphins in the body, and to replicate these short-term ‘highs’ for as long as possible. And this is understandable because, after all, those highs oftentimes do feel good. Winning a bet while gambling, for example, feels great, and the same set of endorphins are released during sex and when we take drugs.
More addictive things like substances, however, can cause the brain to release unusually high levels of these same chemicals associated with the pleasure center in the brain, and over time, the continual release of these chemicals into our brains at high volumes will change the makeup of the brain and will likely affect other areas like motivation, memory and aggression. Because substances cause such a release of pleasure chemicals to the brain, an addicted person’s brain might stop naturally producing these reward feelings, meaning when a person comes off drugs and stops using, the body no longer produces natural levels of endorphins.
This can lead to mental health issues including depression, anxiety and a heightened sense of stress, which can be equally as damaging to the body as drug use itself.
These changes in the brain can exist for a long time, even if a person stops using substances, and about 25 to 50 percent of people with a drug addiction will show signs of a severe and chronic addiction disease.
What are the signs of addiction?
For someone addicted to substances, the signs of addiction are more present that, say, someone experiencing sex addiction. Some changes might include:
- Drastic weight gain or loss.
- Changes in personal hygiene.
- Dilated pupils or red eyes.
- Slurred speech and erratic behavior.
- An increase in anger, irritability and aggression.
- Rapid mood swings.
- Loss of motivation, low self-esteem or memory loss.
- Social isolation.
- Sudden involvement in criminal activity.
- Financial stress.
There are, of course, many other signs of addiction to watch for, and for someone who feels addicted, there are many symptoms, too.
How to overcome an addiction disease
There is no ‘magic cure’ for addiction. Regardless of your approach to overcoming it, it’ll likely be something that you have to manage and maintain throughout the rest of your life. One proven method for conquering addiction is to find a ‘reward replacement’ that can replace the craving for drugs, alcohol or other dangerous and addictive substances. Many recovering addicts turn to exercise and other exertion activities that offer a healthy, enjoyable reward alternative to harmful substances.
Some people are only mildly addicted to certain things, too, and many people in this category do have the ability to cut back or stop altogether. Often, it is when the rewards of not using outweigh those of using that they decide to stop. But more severe cases of addiction require more extreme intervention, including therapy treatments, rehabilitation and in some instances, prescribed medication.
Treating addiction disease and seeking help
Treatment for addiction exists across the world and in many forms. From seeking therapy to detoxing to group programs, there’s something for every who is trying to overcome an addiction.
The key priority when overcoming an addiction is managing withdrawal symptoms, as well as mitigating any negative psychological effects felt like low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
Co-occurring disorders are all too common with addiction diseases and when a person tries to overcome their addiction to a substance of activity, they must face their psychological trauma that exists as a result of the addiction first.
If you or a loved one feel addicted to something and are struggling to retain control over it, it is never too early or late to seek the help you need. At Tikvah Lake Recovery, we offer specialist, personalized rehabilitation treatments that help you overcome your addiction disease and help you become a happier, healthier version of you, a version who has control over their addictions.
While getting help might feel intimidating, we aim to make entering a treatment program as comfortable as possible, and whether you think addiction is a disease or not, it’s clear that severe cravings for something comes with negative consequences, and we’re here to help everyone work through these troubles and avoid relapse.
To find out more about Tikvah Lake, contact us today.