Addiction is something that we hear about at a young age, but how much do you really know about addiction?
When we think of addiction, many people think it’s just a lack of self-control or because someone doesn’t have enough discipline. If that were true addiction treatment centers wouldn’t be as necessary or work as effectively. It would mean that addiction is strictly a choice that a person has control over. That it’s solely up to the individual to overcome an addiction.
At our Dallas addiction centers we know that is far from the truth. “White knuckling” it can work for some people, but success is often short-lived and it doesn’t address the underlying problems that led to addiction in the first place.
For an addiction treatment center to be successful, everyone involved needs to understand what addiction is so that recovery isn’t just possible, it’s sustainable.
The Definition of Addiction
The American Society of Addictive Medicine defines addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
This definition covers a few key points about what addiction is and isn’t:
- It’s a chronic medical condition.
- It involves the brain.
- It’s treatable.
- It’s a product of numerous factors.
- It involves the use of a substance or behavior.
- It leads to harmful or negative consequences.
- It’s compulsive.
In other words, addiction isn’t something that a person can simply control or choose to do. The first use of a substance or the first time a person engages in a behavior may have been voluntary, but after that it may not be. And over time it becomes involuntary because addiction changes the way the brain works.
What Happens to the Brain to Form an Addiction
Addiction involves the brain. In fact, it’s considered a disease of the brain because an addiction alters the way the brain is structured and functions. When that happens the person loses the ability to stop or control their use of a substance on their own.
At first, an addiction is driven by the desire to produce a good feeling or mask a negative feeling. People do it to feel a “high.” However, the more a substance is used the harder it is for the person to experience the same mood enhancing effects because the brain doesn’t react in the same way as before. The person then begins using the substance more often or in larger quantities to get the same feeling, and it begins the addiction cycle.
Ultimately, continued drug use causes the person’s brain to function differently. The areas of the brain most affected by addiction are the brain stem, cerebral cortex and limbic system. The brain stem controls essential bodily functions like breathing. The cerebral cortex is responsible for decision making and our ability to think. The limbic system is the reward center of the brain, controlling our ability to feel pleasure and how we perceive different emotions.
Drug use alters, not only how each part functions, but also the way different parts of the brain coordinate. The use of drugs disrupts how neurons in the brain communicate with one another. The result is abnormal messages being sent in the brain. Most significantly is the excess production of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. The euphoric effects of the unnatural dopamine supply reinforces further drug use and essentially teaches the person to keep using drugs to experience the reward.
After enough drug use the brain stops producing dopamine on its own at the same rate or limits the brain receptors that are affected by dopamine. This limits the person’s ability to feel pleasure at all, whether they are using drugs or not. The inability to feel joy or pleasure causes the person to use drugs in order to just get dopamine up to a normal level. The person is now dependent on the drugs for dopamine, and unfortunately further use only makes the problem worse.
Many other things are going on in the brain after drug use, and researchers are just now beginning to understand the dramatic impact it has on brain functioning.
Types of Addiction
Addiction can come in many forms. That’s why often an addiction recovery center specializes in certain type of addiction treatment. Substance use disorder (SUD) is the perfect example. An SUD involves the use of alcohol or drugs. This is entirely different from someone who has a sex addiction, which is engaging in a behavior. But there are also different sub-categories of addiction based on the behavior a person is engaging in or the substance that’s being used.
Some of the most common types of substance use addiction include:
- Alcohol Addiction
- Tobacco Addiction
- Coffee Addiction
- Marijuana Addiction
- Cocaine Addiction
- Opioid Addiction
- Methamphetamin Addiction
- Benzodiazepine Addiction
Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list. A person can become addicted to sodas, which has a negative consequence on their health. There have even been accounts of people who drink water excessively and cause “water intoxication” because of a psychiatric disorder called psychogenic polydipsia. There’s a wide variety of addictions because almost anything can become excessively used to the point that it becomes habitual.
Symptoms of Addiction
Although some people go to great lengths of conceal what is happening, there are a few clear signs of addiction. When they present themselves it’s time to take action to break the addiction cycle before matters get worse. Common signs of addiction include:
- Inability to stop using a substance.
- Excessive use of a substance and/or binging.
- Preoccupation thinking about using a substance, taking part in an activity, etc.
- Withdrawal symptoms after a short period of abstinence from the substance.
- Unexplained change in behavior, interests or mood.
- Lack of self-care.
If you’re concerned a loved one may be struggling with an addiction and notice any of these signs opening up the lines of communication is extremely important. Recognizing acknowledging that a problem exists and asking for help is the first, and often hardest, step in the recovery process.
Before someone can be enrolled in an addiction treatment center they must be diagnosed just as with any other medical condition. It may be obvious that the person is dealing with an addiction, but an assessment should go further to identify the type of addiction the person has. Diagnosing an addiction should only be done by a medical professional that specializes in addiction treatment.
The Lighthouse Recovery addiction treatment centers take a holistic approach, because we understand addiction is a complex medical condition caused by a combination of factors. Our Dallas addiction center can help with diagnosing an addiction and identifying the best course of treatment. It all starts with a free assessment by a professional that’s trained in recognizing the symptoms of addiction.