Misconceptions About Addiction
Unfortunately, there is a pervasive belief that addiction is a moral failure. Many people wrongly believe that if the addict in their life would just “wake up” and decide to stop using, all of their problems would be solved. This creates stigma, which is when someone is viewed in a negative way because they have a distinguishing characteristic that is seen as a disadvantage. Stigma can result in a reluctance to seek treatment, a lack of understanding from friends and family, fewer opportunities for work, bullying or harassment, and feelings of helplessness that keep you where you are. In reality, addiction isn’t a moral failure at all – it is a disease of the brain.
Addiction as a Chronic Brain Disease
Scientists and representatives of the American Medical Association have acknowledged the disease model of addiction since the 1950s. This conclusion was drawn through a combination of animal studies and imaging studies of human subjects. The part of the brain that malfunctions is the mesolimbic dopamine system: the seat of the reward system, which reacts to both pleasure and pain. The system by which neurotransmitters operate is effectively hijacked by drugs or alcohol. Because the brain is alternately flooded by and starved of these neurochemicals, substance use becomes a biological need. At this point, an addict has lost all control of voluntary consumption – they must use simply to feel normal again.
Signs and Symptoms
Addiction is a disease that affects one’s physical and mental health. Specific patterns of behavior may indicate that someone you love has developed a chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol. These include…
- Attempting unsuccessfully to quit using or drinking
- Forgetting about personal or professional obligations
- Failing to perform at work or school
- Continuing to use in spite of physical health consequences
- Falling asleep mid-conversation (going “on the nod”)
- Lying or keeping secrets about one’s whereabouts or actions
- Stealing money or having money troubles
- Isolating oneself from friends or family
- Sleeping very little or too much
- Acting erratically or in a way that is uncharacteristic of the person
- Becoming irritable, argumentative, or defensive
- Having problems with the law
- Taking risks or using in dangerous circumstances
- Appearing haggard (rapid weight loss, poor hygiene)
- Experiencing withdrawal when they go too long without the substance of choice
- Needing more and more of a substance to achieve the same effects (tolerance)
About the Disease Model of Addiction
Addiction is a disease with a few specific traits. It is progressive, meaning that like many other conditions, it worsens over time if one goes without treatment. It is also chronic, which means that while symptoms may be managed with ongoing care, the underlying addiction itself cannot be cured. Finally, addiction has physical, mental, and spiritual components. Unless all the factors contributing to substance use are treated simultaneously, addicts run the risk of relapse.
Above all else, it is vital that those suffering from the disease of addiction receive the help they need as quickly as possible. At Lakeside-Milam, we believe that treatment should be accessible, affordable, and of the highest quality in order for affected individuals to achieve lasting recovery. Professional help is important – while willpower is a significant factor in sobriety, it is not sufficient by itself. In fact, abrupt cessation of substance use can create life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, which is why detoxification should be supervised by licensed medical professionals.
If you or someone you love needs help to break free from the cycle of addiction, we encourage you to contact Lakeside-Milam today. Call 800-231-4303 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a free addiction evaluation.