Addiction is a complicated and often misunderstood disease. This disease affects every facet of a person’s life, can have life-threatening effects, and even lead to permanent damage. In order to recover from addiction, treatment is necessary. Understanding what makes addiction a disease helps to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and can lead to more people getting the help they deserve.
Addiction is a Disease
Addiction is considered to be a chronic and relapsing brain disease. It affects millions of people every year and can lead to devastating effects. It is characterized by changes in the functioning of the brain and body, disrupting areas of the brain responsible for reward, learning, memory, and judgement. There is use of one or more substance and use is compulsive, despite the negative consequences that may have ensued. These changes that occur in the brain and body can persist long after substance use and can even lead to permanent damage.
Once you become addicted, recovery is a lifelong process of dedication and proper mindset. This is similar in regards to other lifelong diseases that require maintenance, such as Type 2 diabetes. If someone with Type 2 does not continue on their regular treatment plan, they will begin to feel adverse effects. Addiction requires continual maintenance in order to stay on the path of sobriety since this disease has the potential to affect every aspect of a person’s life.
How Addiction Affects The Mind
Addiction directly affects a person’s brain. The area of the brain is known as the reward pathway. This pathway helps our brain to register what is beneficial and positive in our lives. It does this by releasing dopamine when we have experienced something “good”. For instance, you may get a happy feeling after you have eaten a delicious meal or while you are watching a movie that you enjoy. When drugs or alcohol enter your system, your body recognizes it as a toxin and works to remove it. However, your reward system is unnaturally affected and releases abnormal amounts of dopamine. This can cause a temporary euphoric feeling.
This euphoric feeling is actually very powerful and is due to chemicals being affected in your brain. Since the brain has registered this action of using drugs or alcohol alongside the feeling of euphoria, a direct correlation has been made. The brain will cause a person to feel compulsive and impulsive, driving them to seek more of the substance. These changes in the brain’s chemical chemistry often causes a person to put themselves or others in harm’s way, among other negative consequences.
How Does Addiction Develop?
Nobody plans to become addicted. Someone may use substances for various reasons and their risk level of developing an addiction varies. For instance, someone may begin using a substance in order to attempt self-medicating or they may feel peer pressured. The way a substance affects a person’s mind and body also varies person to person. As each body is different, no two reactions will be the same. A person’s reaction and risk level of developing an addiction can depend on the environment, genetics, underlying health issues, or medications they are on.
Should Those With Addiction Be Responsible for Their Actions?
If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, it is important to know that addiction does not mean that someone is a bad person. It just means that the affected person needs treatment in order to get better. While a person suffering should not be judged or shamed for their illness, this does not mean that they should not be responsible for their actions. Those who are suffering should take accountability, although it is unlikely that they will. To help ease this process, it is important to cease all enabling behavior. This means that you should stop providing your loved one with money and not lie for them to friends and family members.
What is Denial?
Denial is a roadblock on the path to recovery. However, it is very common. This when the person suffering from addiction denies that they have a problem or denies that they are experiencing negative consequences. This can be a confusing and overwhelming time for both the person suffering and loved ones. Denial happens to people who are not suffering from addiction as well and is considered a defense mechanism used by the brain. When the truth is too painful, we will push it aside in the false hopes that it will eventually go away on its own. However, addiction requires treatment.
In order to help your loved one take accountability and recognize they have a problem, it is important that loved ones stick to facts. Do not speak judgmentally or condescendingly. Your loved one will pick up on that and the conversation is unlikely to be productive. Instead of saying things like, “I wish you were a better father to your kids” say things like, “You missed the recital”. Sticking to the facts will make it more difficult for your loved one to argue with you.
The Stigma Surrounding Treatment
There is a stigma that surrounds addiction and addiction treatment. This stigma harms those who are suffering and may even prevent them from seeking out treatment. People who are not well educated on addiction may think that all those who are suffering from addiction should be ashamed, are criminals, or have caused harm on purpose. That stigma is not true and should not be encouraged.
In order to help fight the stigma and help more of those suffering from addiction, seek out educational outlets and be thoughtful when speaking. You may find that your primary doctor has much information to share with you on addiction and may even refer you to a support group for loved ones. Libraries and internet resources can also be valuable, but some of this information may be outdated. When speaking to someone in recovery or someone suffering, always be thoughtful of the disease they are going through and try to not pass judgement.
When to Seek Help
The time to seek help for an addiction is now. It is never too late or too early to begin the road to recovery. Reaching out for help is a monumental milestone and deserves to be celebrated. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center celebrates everyone’s unique journey to sobriety and curates individualized plans for success. Call today to learn more about their treatment programs.
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Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888.512.1705.