The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs (or to cues associated with the drugs). An alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of these cues.
However, most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People commonly use drugs, gamble, or shop compulsively in reaction to being stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. The focus of the addiction isn't what matters; it's the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. Treating this kind of addiction requires an understanding of how it works psychologically.
When referring to any kind of
addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is
not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has
nothing to do with one's morality or strength of character.
Experts debate whether addiction is a "disease" or a true
mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean
the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction. Such
debates are not likely to be resolved soon. But the lack of
resolution does not preclude effective treatment.
Substance Use Disorders
People can develop an addiction to:
People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brains wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.
These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.
Over time people with addiction build up a tolerance, meaning they need larger amounts to feel the effects.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons, including:
People with addictive disorders may be aware of their problem, but be unable to stop it even if they want to. The addiction may cause health problems as well as problems at work and with family members and friends. The misuse of drugs and alcohol is the leading cause of preventable illnesses and premature death.
Symptoms of substance use disorder are grouped into four categories:
Many people experience both mental
illness and addiction. The mental illness may be present
before the addiction. Or the addiction may trigger or make a
mental disorder worse.
Effective treatments for addiction are available.
The first step on the road to recovery is recognition of the problem. The recovery process can be hindered when a person denies having a problem and lacks understanding about substance misuse and addiction. The intervention of concerned friends and family often prompts treatment.
A health professional can conduct a formal assessment of symptoms to see if a substance use disorder exists. Even if the problem seems severe, most people with a substance use disorder can benefit from treatment. Unfortunately, many people who could benefit from treatment dont receive help.
Because addiction affects many aspects of a persons life, multiple types of treatment are often required. For most, a combination of medication and individual or group therapy is most effective. Treatment approaches that address an individuals situation and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric and social problems can lead to sustained recovery.
Medications are used to control drug cravings and relieve severe symptoms of withdrawal. Therapy can help addicted individuals understand their behavior and motivations, develop higher self-esteem, cope with stress and address other mental health problems. Treatment may also include:
Many people find self-help groups for
individuals (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) as
well as their family members (Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family
Aggressive behavior in
childhood/Good self-control Lack of parental
supervision/Parental monitoring and
support Poor social skills/Positive
relationships Drug experimentation/Academic
competence Availability of drugs at
school/School anti-drug policies Community
Aggressive behavior in childhood/Good self-control
Lack of parental supervision/Parental monitoring and support
Poor social skills/Positive relationships
Drug experimentation/Academic competence
Availability of drugs at school/School anti-drug policies
Community poverty/Neighborhood pride
These 13 principles of effective drug addiction treatment were developed based on three decades of scientific research. Research shows that treatment can help drug-addicted individuals stop drug use, avoid relapse and successfully recover their lives.
1. Addiction is a complex, but treatable, disease that affects brain function and behavior.
2. No single treatment is appropriate for everyone.
3. Treatment needs to be readily available.
4. Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse.
5. Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical.
6. Counseling individual and/or group and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment.
7. Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.
8. An individuals treatment and services plan must be assessed continually and modified as necessary to ensure it meets his or her changing needs.
9. Many drug-addicted individuals also have other mental disorders.
10. Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse.
11.Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.
12. Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously, as lapses during treatment do occur.
13. Treatment programs should assess
patients for the presence of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C,
tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, as well as
provide targeted risk-reduction counseling to help patients
modify or change behaviors that place them at risk of
contracting or spreading infectious diseases.
Learn all you can about alcohol and drug misuse and addiction.
Some things you dont want to do:
Adapted from: National Council on
Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
9 Facts About
Addiction People Usually Get Wrong
#1 Fact: Substance use changes the brain, which can make drug use compulsive
An adolescent may start out doing drugs occasionally or may be prescribed medicine by a doctor. Over time, continued use rewires the brain to compulsively seek substances, despite negative consequences. With opioids, a person may initially like the euphoria, but soon, the drug is needed just to feel normal and not get sick from withdrawal. LEARN MORE: Addiction is a chronic medical disease of the brain.
#2 Fact: Expect your child to "just quit" cold turkey is unrealistic
Changing substance use behavior is a process. In the beginning your child may not think there is a problem. Next, she may realize it is a problem, but feel conflicted about addressing it. Then she needs to figure out how to deal with it and take steps in a healthier direction, including getting professional help, changing friends, learning drug refusal skills and more. LEARN MORE: Find out how you can best suggest treatment to your child.
#3 Fact: Intervening early is more effective than waiting for "rock bottom".
Because behavior change is a process, instead of letting your son or daughter hit their lowest point, it's important to help right away. And it is much easier to help when they are still engaged in school or work, have social supports and interested in sports or hobbies. In other words, they have structure, purpose and social connectionsscaffolding needed for a good outcome. LEARN MORE: Get one-on-one help and support from our trained and caring masters-level counselors.
#4 Fact: Your child can be ambivalent about treatment and it can still be effective.
While some welcome the opportunity for treatment, most will be conflicted about stopping their substance use. Studies show those who enter drug treatment programs as a result of loving pressure do comparatively better in treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place. LEARN MORE: Learn how you can address your childs drug use.
#5 Fact: Relapse is common and represents a learning opportunity.
Relapse doesn't mean that treatment hasn't worked. As with all chronic diseases, many people have one or more relapses before achieving long-lasting recovery. Relapses happen both when the person is doing well or when struggling, and can serve as a learning opportunity to identify what triggered the relapse -- and to find ways to address it for the future. LEARN MORE: Read 5 Things You Need to Know About Relapse.
#6 Fact: Positive behavior and communication skills are more effective than punishment.
Addiction is a brain disease and needs family support as with any other chronic illness. Shaming, detaching or punishing often backfires, with kids spiraling further into risky substance use or isolation. What does work is reinforcing positive behaviors, finding healthy activities that compete with your child's use and letting him or her experience natural consequences. Coupled with empathy and compassion, this approach (known as CRAFT) is a scientifically-proven way to help parents change their child's substance use. LEARN MORE: Use CRAFT skills to help your family heal.
#7 Fact: Finding an effective approach for treatment can mean investigating different doctors or programs before finding a good "match."
The best programs give a screening and in-depth assessment of your child by a qualified professional versed in addiction and mental health. They will develop an individual treatment plan and combine methods tailored to address your child's specific needs. But don't be discouraged if the first program you investigate is not a good fit -- keep exploring other options. LEARN MORE: Find out more in our Treatment eBook.
#8 Fact: Medication-assisted treatment, coupled with counseling, is the preferred treatment for heroin and other opioids
Taking medication for an opioid addiction is like taking medication for any other chronic disease, like diabetes or asthma. Numerous studies have shown that medications can reduce cravings, relapses and overdoses when taken as prescribed. LEARN MORE: Medication-Assisted Treatment can help aid recovery.
#9 Fact: Many people struggling with substance use require longer-term and/or repeated treatment.
Because a drug problem can include
relapses, going through treatment once may not be sufficient
to keep your child drug free. Each treatment episode allows
them to be abstinent for a period of time while learning new
coping skills -- but it may take time. Know the treatment
options available so that you can make the best choice for
your child's path to recovery. LEARN MORE: Get
help navigating the treatment system.
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration