What is Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite adverse consequences.  It is considered a brain disorder because it causes fundamental changes to the brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. 

But while there are millions of people in the United States who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, many people still don’t know a lot about addiction in general.  Below, we tackle the most common questions people have pertaining to addiction.

Is Addiction a Disease?

While some people view addiction as a choice that an individual makes or as a behavior that can be stopped willingly at any time, addiction is considered a disease – a chronic, progressive one that rewires the brain’s response to drugs and alcohol.  It is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, in that it disrupts the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body and has serious harmful effects.  And just like other diseases, addiction is treatable, yet requires ongoing care in order to prevent relapse from occurring.  If left untreated over time, addiction becomes more severe, disabling and life threatening.

Is Addiction Genetic?

Studies have shown that a person’s family history can predict a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction.  In fact, the NIDA estimates that 40 to 60 percent of an individual’s susceptibility to addiction can be linked back to his or her genetic makeup.  Compared with those who have no family history of addiction, a person whose relatives struggled with addiction is generally more likely to develop an addiction, as well. 

But genes aren’t the only factor that play a role in developing an addiction.  An individual’s environment can be responsible, as well.  External factors, such as support from family, where an individual was raised and the group of friends that person chooses to hang around with, can all affect his or her likelihood of developing an addiction. 

Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

Yes, according to the NIDA.  Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing a person’s normal desires and priorities.  Seeking out and using drugs becomes that person’s number one priority, much to the detriment of that person and his or her family and friends.  This results in compulsive behaviors that weaken the ability to control impulses, which is similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses. 

What Causes Addiction?

Contrary to what some may believe, addiction does not occur because of moral weakness, a lack of willpower or an unwillingness to stop using.  It occurs because the regular use of drugs and/or alcohol causes physical changes in the way the brain understands pleasure and rewards. 

Most addictive substances cause the brain to release high levels of certain chemicals (i.e. dopamine) that are associated with pleasure or reward.  This causes extreme feelings of euphoria that highly motivates individuals to want to take the drug again.  Over time, continued release of these chemicals causes fundamental changes in the brain systems involved in reward, motivation and memory, which drives a person’s uncontrollable and compulsive drug use.   

Once this happens, individuals will experience intense desires or cravings for the addictive substance and will continue to use, despite the harmful or dangerous consequences. 

How Do You Break an Addiction?

Although there is no “cure” for addiction, there are various medications, support groups and therapies that can help people recover.  In recent years, medical assistance – in terms of helping people deal with withdrawal symptoms and the psychological effects of addiction – has become more accessible to millions of Americans. 

However, a good number of addicted individuals are dealing with co-occurring disorders, meaning that that person is battling another mental illness in addition to a substance use disorder.  When this is the case, drug counseling and therapy are essential.  In order to combat addiction, the root causes must be addressed; treating only its symptoms won’t be enough.    

In addition, actions on the part of the user also play a big role in breaking the addiction.  Those in recovery are urged to cut off contact with all people, places and things related to past drug use.  These can keep a person trapped in addiction, forcing him or her to relive the old days when they were actively using.  Other tactics, such as identifying addictive thinking patterns before acting upon them, as well as implementing self-care, also help in battling this insidious disease.

Though breaking the routine of drinking and drug abuse can be a challenge, it IS possible.  Long-term recovery requires hard work and commitment to change for one’s journey into a clean and sober life to be a successful one. 

If you are ready to take the next step and learn how to recover alongside others click here to connect with one of our team members. Arise Recovery Centers is an Intensive Outpatient Program that is conveniently located in Dallas, Fort Worth, McKinney, Southlake & Sugar Land. We offer individual, family, and group therapy to help those suffering from addiction recover and grow.