The first thing people need to know about addiction when they enter recovery is that it is a complex and complicated disease that requires a multi-pronged approach to treatment. It has nothing to do with the strength of character or any fault in personality. Addiction affects people’s brains, their bodies as well as their social and emotional lives. There is no aspect of living that addiction doesn’t touch.
Part of the stigma of addiction stems from the mistaken belief that people voluntarily participate in their disease. To many, this implies that the addict is at fault for their illness. The truth is, like diabetes, cancer or heart disease, there are many contributing factors to addiction. Some of the factors can be reduced through lifestyle changes. Eating well, exercising and avoiding situations in which certain toxins exist might help reduce the chances of getting these diseases, but it is often impossible to completely delete these circumstances from our lives. For example, automobile exhaust has been linked to certain illnesses. Even people who do not drive are affected.
Physical Aspects of Addiction
Genetics play a significant role in the chances of someone becoming addicted (https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/genes/). Growing up with close family members living with addiction increases people’s chances of addiction by about 40% to 60%. This, taken with how addiction changes the brain, helps to explain part of the crisis happening in our country right now.
The human brain is wired to experience pleasure when we do things like eat or drink or have sex. In the addicted brain, the “pleasure” centers are hijacked. Over time, addiction causes the brain to change so that, in order to feel normal, it needs the drug. Over time, the person living with addiction might experience a decrease in how much they “want” the drug that matches an increase in how much their brains “need” it. This is how addiction works. The body pushes the person living with an addiction to continue to use long after the enjoyment factor has faded.
When the brain doesn’t get the substance, it creates intense cravings. This is more than a simple yearning. It is a bio-chemical desire that causes the person experiencing it to seek out the drug in spite of illness, legal consequences, or even death. As we can see on the streets of any city, people living with active addiction will often seek their drug before or in place of basic needs. Their brain has changed to the point that the addiction is stronger than the drive to eat or sleep in safety.
Scans have shown that drug use and addiction change how the brain works (https://www.recoveryanswers.org/recovery-101/brain-in-recovery/). Addiction goes beyond a psychological belief that the addicted person has that they cannot live without their drugs. It is biological and physical. These changes, combined with the psychological and social aspects of addiction make it extremely difficult to treat.
Recovering from Addiction
In order for people to recover from addiction, it requires more than simple willpower. Granted, someone living with addiction has to want to recover and they have to commit to the process which can involve willpower. This being said, willpower alone is the least likely method for long term recovery. Effective treatment requires a combination of medical, psychiatric and social factors.
Again, brain scans show that the brain can recover (https://www.recoveryanswers.org/recovery-101/brain-in-recovery/). After only a month of sobriety, the brain can show signs of improved function. Over time, dopamine levels can return to non-addictive levels (Volkow et al., 2001).
Some people claim that by describing addiction as a disease people living with addiction are not being held responsible for their actions. While some people might use the medical model as an excuse to continue many others experience a hopefulness, knowing there are treatments that can increase their chances of recovery. The medical model does not alleviate addicted people from accountability. In fact, a very important component of recovery is taking ownership of behavior, addressing it and finding more functional ways to live. What looking at addiction as a disease does is offer medical treatments for the physical aspects of addiction while thorough therapy for emotional and behavior change offers people in addiction the opportunity to change how they live in the world. It also reduces the stigma of seeking help.
Treatment for addiction is an evolving science. Some people may find recovery with little or no actual treatment. Others may find it through self-help and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. For many, however, regaining sobriety means support in many areas including the medical, psychiatric and social. A combined approach is far more likely to offer long term health.
At Fort Worth Recovery, we understand the intricacies of addiction, are trained in a variety of modalities and have worked with many people over the years to fight their addictions and save their own lives. Call us today at 817 382 2894 or visit us online.