Most people know that addictions cause harm to the body, mind, and spirit, as well as to the families and loved ones of the person suffering an addiction. They also know that there can be problems in social settings, work life and finances as the addiction makes it harder to function regularly without using the substance. And while most people know the basics, there are some key facts that everyone should know about addiction. Whether you’re suffering an addiction, or have a friend or family member who is suffering, here are ten things you should know:
1. Addiction is a Disease
Addiction is a very real disease that requires addiction treatment and frequently needs medical attention in order to be overcome. While it has both biological and environmental components, in most cases some type of medical intervention is required for a full recovery.
2. Addiction Can Strike Anyone
Addiction is equally possible in affluent persons as well as those below the poverty line. Race, ethnicity and gender make little difference when it comes to addiction. Although some addictions can be slightly more prevalent in specific groups, addiction can potentially strike anyone in any life circumstance. No single factor can predict exactly when or who addiction will strike.
3. Addiction Changes the Brain in Specific Ways
Drugs and alcohol disrupt the way the brain functions by either overstimulating its reward center or mimicking natural chemical messengers. In effect they “fool” the brain, activating false messages and brain chemistry, or overloading it with abnormally large amounts of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This rewarding feeling fuels the person’s desire to feel it again, and drives them to keep using the drug. Long-term drug use also alters other neurotransmitters connected with decision making, learning, memory and good judgment.
4. Many Addicted Persons Face Mental Health Issues as Well
Many people who suffer from addiction have what is called a “co-occurring disorder”; this means that alongside their addiction, they have at least one mental health issue. This can be an anxiety disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, bipolar disorder, a personality disorder, or schizophrenia. A recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over 40 percent of those with a substance use disorder had a mental health issue as well. Also, people with a mental illness are twice as likely to use drugs.
5. Multiple Factors Can Contribute to Addiction and No Two Cases Are Identical
While family history can predispose someone to addiction, it is not a guarantee. The truth is that no one factor is predictive of drug addiction. Risk is influenced by many factors including biology, environment, and life stresses and circumstances. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their risk of becoming addicted to a substance. Family history, genetics, environment, peer pressure, abuse, and the age at which drugs are first tried all factor into a person’s risk for addiction. Just as each person is unique, the nature of their addiction will be unique.
6. Addiction Can Take Hold with Just a Single Use of Many Substances
Many drugs can cause addiction after just one use; heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are just a few examples. Alcohol and marijuana can cause addiction after just a few tries, depending on the contributing factors.
7. Addiction is Not an Indicator of Poor Character
Many people mistakenly think drug users lack morals and principles. But this is simply untrue; addiction is a very real medical condition, and should be treated as such. Morality has nothing to do with addiction, and only serves to shift attention away from a focus on recovery.
8. Willpower Alone Isn’t Enough for Recovery
While will power is a component of overcoming any habit we wish to change, it isn’t enough to overcome most drug addictions. Treatment of the roots of the issue as well as ongoing aftercare is usually required for lasting relief from the disease of addiction.
9. Addiction is Treatable
Addiction is not a hopeless condition; it is a treatable disease that responds to professional help. The key is receiving customized care from a professional facility that knows how to treat the client’s specific addiction. A combination of addiction treatment medicines, behavioral therapy and ongoing aftercare is highly effective in many cases. Treatment should be tailored to each individual’s specific addiction and situation address any co-occurring issues.
10. Relapse Can Happen, But Recovery is Attainable
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says relapse is as common in addiction recovery as it is in other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension. It doesn’t mean the person has failed, just that their treatment plan should be reinstated as soon as possible or adjusted. In most cases, addiction will have to be managed for the rest of the person’s life. However, recovery is possible, and addicted persons as well as their families and loved ones should draw hope and inspiration from this fact.