Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and relapsing brain disease characterized by continued use of a chemical substance despite personal consequences. Those who struggle with addiction will compulsively use their substance of choice even though repetitive use is harmful to their overall well-being. Many individuals who suffer from a diagnosable substance use disorder are aware that their drinking or drug use has become a problem. However, despite repeated attempts to quit on their own, they will be unable to successfully cut back without some degree of professional intervention.
If you or someone close to you has been struggling with substance misuse or dependence, there is help available. Generally speaking, addiction presents itself in three distinct levels of severity — mild, moderate, and severe. If you or your loved one is struggling with a mild or moderate substance use disorder, associated consequences can often be reversed when a prolonged period of sobriety is achieved. More severe substance use disorders often require more intensive intervention. To learn more about what treatment options are available to you, contact us today.
What is Addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” (1) Addiction affects the part of the brain that controls reward, memory, and motivation. As the reward center of the brain is repeatedly stimulated by the presence of a chemical substance (as “feel-good” neurochemicals like dopamine are released), it will begin to rely on that substance for feelings of pleasure. Over time, your brain will be unable to produce these chemicals without the help of the substance. You will eventually develop a physical tolerance, meaning more of the substance will be required in order for the desired effects to be produced. Eventually, you will make the transition from repetitive use into physical and psychological dependence.
Addictive disorders will begin to seriously interfere with your overall quality of life. Interpersonal relationships will become strained, your performance at work or at school will suffer, and in some cases, you will experience significant legal and financial issues. Addiction also affects mental and emotional well-being. Many individuals who struggle with addiction suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and shame, and mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. The good news is that once a person commits to living a life of sobriety, the vast majority of related consequences can be successfully reversed. Contact us today to learn about what steps to take to begin your personal journey of addiction recovery. (1) https://www.asam.org/quality-care/definition-of-addiction
Risk Factors for Addiction
When it comes to the development of addiction, certain risk factors will contribute to increased odds of substance progressing into dependence over time.
Risk factors for addiction include:
- Genetic Predisposition — Why is it that some people can drink in moderation for years and quit as soon as a good enough reason presents itself, while others are unable to quit or cut back despite an accumulation of personal consequences? Heredity is a major risk factor in the development of addiction. In fact, The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports “as much as half of a person’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs depends on his or her genetic makeup.” (1) This means if your parents or anyone else in your immediate family has struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction, your chances of developing an addiction yourself will be significantly higher. (1) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction
- Underlying Mental Health Concerns — Some individuals who suffer from an undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder will turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication. They might attempt to reduce symptoms of mental illness with the aid of chemical substances; however, using substances will only exacerbate symptoms over time.
- Environmental Factors — Your environment can also increase the risk of developing an addictive disorder, especially if you have additional risk factors like genetic predisposition or a past history of traumatic experience. For example, a lack of parental guidance or influence in early adolescence can increase the risk of experimenting with chemical substances. If a person grows up in an environment in which drug use is prevalent, they are likely going to be more inclined to give into social pressures. If a person grows up in a strict, conservative household in which substance use is disallowed, they might be more likely to rebel. Your propensity towards substance use depends heavily on your environment, especially early on in life.
- Age of Initial Use — Individuals who start using substances early on in life — especially during adolescence, when their brains are still developing — are more likely to develop an addictive disorder later on in life. Numerous studies point to the fact that individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 who use drugs or alcohol are significantly more likely to suffer from addiction later on in life. Because addiction is a progressive condition, the sooner it is caught and treated, the more likely a person is to make a full recovery.
- Drug of Choice — The substance you use will determine how quickly you develop a physical and psychological dependence. For example, those who use illegal substances like methamphetamine (a stimulant drug) or heroin (an opioid narcotic) will inevitably develop an addiction more rapidly than someone who drinks alcohol occasionally.
- Access to Prevention — Studies show that those who have access to early prevention are less likely to engage in excessive drug and alcohol use.
- Method of Use — The method of use also has a major impact on how quickly an addictive disorder develops.
Signs & Symptoms of Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) outlines several diagnostic criteria used to diagnose those struggling with substance use disorders of all severities. If you have two or more of the following diagnostic criteria, there is a good chance that some degree of treatment is necessary.
- Do you often use more of your substance of choice than intended for a longer period of time than intended?
- Have you attempted to cut back or quit on your own with limited success?
- Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of your substance of choice?
- Do you experience intense cravings to use drugs or alcohol throughout the day?
- Is it difficult for you to keep up with personal responsibilities and obligations at work or school because of your substance use?
- Have your interpersonal relationships become strained as a direct result of your substance use?
- Have you been avoiding activities and hobbies you used to enjoy?
- Do you continue using drugs or alcohol despite being advised to cut back on use or quit entirely for medical or mental health-related reasons?
- Do you engage in more risk-taking activities when using your substance of choice, like driving while intoxicated or mixing one substance with another?
- Have you developed a tolerance over time, meaning more of the substance is required in order for the desired effects to be produced?
- Do you experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when you stop using your substance of choice abruptly?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of the above-listed questions, there is a good chance that you will benefit from some degree of professional treatment. To learn more about which treatment options are right for you, contact us today.
Physical Warning Signs of Addiction
There are physical, psychological, and behavioral warning signs of addiction. If you or someone you love has been exhibiting any of the warning signs listed below, considering a treatment program is likely a good idea. The more common physical warning signs associated with addiction include:
- A disheveled appearance.
- A lack of attention paid to personal hygiene.
- Unexplained cuts and bruises that may have occurred during a blackout.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Larger or smaller pupils than normal.
- Often looking tired and unrested.
- Changes in appetite, which might lead to weight loss or weight gain.
- Impaired coordination.
- Changes to teeth — tooth decay is a good indication of methamphetamine use, for example.
- Scarring or bruising on the inner arms when drugs are being used intravenously.
Psychological Warning Signs of Addiction
Common psychological warning signs associated with addiction include:
- Mood swings.
- Unexplainable changes to overall demeanor or personality.
- Increased irritability and agitation.
- Symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, like frequent panic attacks and depressed mood.
- An inability to focus or pay attention.
- Paranoia or mistrust for seemingly no reason.
Behavioral Warning Signs of Addiction
Common behavioral warning signs associated with addiction include:
- Decreased performance at work or at school.
- Increased need for privacy and secretiveness.
- Avoiding and neglecting hobbies and activities that were previously enjoyed.
- A sudden change in friends or environment.
- Frequent engagement in sneaky or suspicious behaviors.
- Becoming defensive when substance use is mentioned in conversation.
Diagnosing an Addictive Disorder
If you believe you might be struggling with an addictive disorder but you aren’t quite sure, you might be wondering how addiction is diagnosed. In many cases, addiction can be self-diagnosed, meaning you will not need to set up an appointment with a doctor who will tell you, “Yes, you’re addicted,” before you take the next step. If drug or alcohol use has become an insurmountable problem in your life, you have the ability to reach out for professional help and check yourself into a treatment program as soon as you feel the need. If you are still on the fence about whether or not professional treatment is right for you, you are encouraged to reach out to us directly or to contact your primary care physician, a treatment center in your area, or a therapist with a professional background in substance use and dependence.
Many people fail to seek the professional help they need because they misunderstand the ins and outs of addiction, or because they mistakenly believe they can quit on their own without some degree of professional help. The Disease Model of Addiction states addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease. It can be successfully treated, but never entirely cured. It is important to understand that the physical chemistry of the brain changes when it is repeatedly exposed to chemical substances. Over time, the brain has a difficult time producing dopamine on its own. This means that a person can no longer experience feelings of happiness, joy, or fulfillment without the aid of drugs and alcohol. However, these feelings are fleeting and inauthentic, and when the substance wears off a person experiences physical, mental, and emotional lows that can be harshly uncomfortable. In order to avoid feeling these lows, the person uses more of the substance, and the vicious cycle of addiction continues until it is professionally addressed by a team of licensed and experienced professionals.
Addiction & Mental Health
Addiction and mental health are closely intertwined. If you suffer from a substance use disorder and an underlying mental illness, you are said to have a co-occurring or dual diagnosis disorder. There are three ways that co-occurring disorders come to be.
- A person struggling with an untreated mental illness begins to use drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication, and eventually becomes dependent on the substance. Some people will use drugs or alcohol to help combat uncomfortable emotions or in an attempt to stabilize their mood. While substances might provide temporary relief, they will cause underlying mental health symptoms to worsen over time.
- Substance use exacerbates the symptoms of a pre-existing, underlying mental illness. Not only do drugs and alcohol interfere with medications like antidepressants and mood stabilizers, but substance use can lead to the development of new and worsening symptoms.
- A person with a severe substance use disorder develops a mental health condition over time, with repeated substance use. Substance use increases the risk of developing mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
If you have been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder or if you have previously been diagnosed with a mental illness and you have been misusing drugs or alcohol, entering into a dual diagnosis treatment program comes highly recommended.
Treatment Options for Addiction
In the vast majority of cases a multi-staged program of clinical care comes recommended. However, because addiction is far from a one-size-fits-all issue, the right treatment options vary on a person-to-person basis. For example, an individual with a mild substance use disorder and no underlying mental health concerns might benefit more from a short engagement in outpatient treatment than from the more traditional, long-term model of detox, inpatient rehab, and aftercare. If you are in a position to commit to a longer term treatment program, however, it is recommended you do so. Not only will this allow you the opportunity to heal on a comprehensive basis, but it will help you develop the coping strategies you need to maintain sobriety for years to come.
Medical detox often comes as a recommended first step on the road to recovery. In medical detox an individual undergoes a safe, pain-free drug or alcohol withdrawal in a medically monitored setting. Clients have access to around-the-clock care, and withdrawal symptoms are treated as soon as they develop. While in detox a person begins to develop a personalized plan for continuing care.
Traditional inpatient treatment programs last for between 30 and 90 days, but the duration of your stay can be altered based on your unique clinical needs. While in inpatient treatment a person lives in a safe, substance-free setting, and undergoes several hours of intensive individual and group therapy on a daily basis. Most inpatient treatment programs combine evidence-based therapies with proven holistic treatment options and 12 Step program education. Some inpatient treatment programs cater to specific demographics, like those with dual diagnosis disorders or to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Outpatient treatment often acts as a step down level of care for those who have already completed medical detox and inpatient treatment. Partial Hospitalization (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP), and Outpatient Treatment (OP) are all considered continuing care options. Clients attend individual and group therapy sessions and workshops for several hours a day, several days out of the week, returning home (or to a sober living house) in the evenings.
Because addiction is a chronic health condition, it requires ongoing treatment. Most aftercare plans look like a continuation of individual therapy and ongoing involvement in a 12 Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous once treatment concludes.
Help is Out There
If you or someone you love has been struggling with an addictive disorder of any type or severity, there is help available to you. If you have never previously considered entering into an addiction treatment program, you might be unsure of where to begin. First of all, we recommend considering which level of care will best meet your unique clinical needs. If you have been using one or several chemical substances regularly for longer than several weeks, we encourage you to begin your personal recovery journey with a short stay in an inpatient medical detox center. Once you have undergone withdrawal in a safe, structured environment, you will be cleared to transition into the next appropriate level of care.
If you need help finding the right medical detox or treatment center for you, feel free to contact us at any point in time. You will immediately be connected to an experienced and compassionate Admissions Counselor who will help point you in the right direction while answering any additional questions you might have. We look forward to speaking with you soon and getting you started on your own personal journey of addiction recovery as soon as possible.