Understanding Addiction

Addiction is often whispered about in families and among friends, but it’s rarely understood. Many people make assumptions without understanding the facts. They tell loved ones if they’d only tried harder or if they could just be a little stronger they wouldn’t be addicts, but the reality of the matter is that addiction is a disease, which needs treatment.

The answer to this serious disease is much like any other disease. It requires specialized treatment. Treatment is available in many forms, but specialized clinics are very common and effective.

Addiction – What Is It?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” In the beginning, the choice to take drugs might be deliberate and voluntary. However, repetitive use affects changes in the brain. Slowly, the brain is rewired, causing an addict to lose self-control and crave these substances (though gambling and other non-drug addictions work similarly).

If you were to go inside the brain of someone with an addiction, you would see the reward center or nucleus accumbens part of the brain being influenced. The drugs take over and cause it to be inundated with the chemical dopamine (a sort of chemical courier). Specifically, the reward area in the brain is altered by this high level of dopamine, causing it to drive a person to look for that stimulus in the form of drugs over and over again.

Before someone knows it, they are seeking out these drugs more than food. It steadily tears apart a person’s life. They stop showing up for work. Sometimes they’re driven to commit crimes. They don’t meet family commitments. It takes over their life, and with long-term use can even modify brain functions related to things like mood, judgment, memory, and decision-making.

Who Is at Risk?

While anyone can succumb to drug addiction, the risk is higher for some than others. Risk factors for drug addiction include:

  • Genetics
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Developmental stage (early drug use makes it more likely that addiction will develop)
  • Environment (from economic status to parental involvement can all contribute)
  • Gender (men are more likely to battle addiction)
  • Use of a highly addictive substance, like heroin

Symptoms of Addiction

While not all people will experience every single symptom, there are some common addiction symptoms to watch for. They are:

  • Loss of self-control
  • Cravings for the substance (or in non-drug addiction, the action)
  • Problems at work, home or school, like missing days and not taking part in things the individual used to enjoy
  • Tolerance to the drug
  • Risk-taking behavior (in order to obtain the drug or get high)

When addiction is identified, treatment is necessary. Addictions don’t just get better on their own. They need specialized care, treatment, and follow-up.

Common Treatment Types

There are several types of treatment, but they generally start with detox, or detoxification, which is a medically monitored withdrawal program. This is almost always done as an inpatient program. Treatment can be inpatient, outpatient, or some combination of the two.

Residential Treatment Programs

This category of treatment comes in two varieties, long and short term. Long-term treatment is around-the-clock care (usually in a non-hospital setting), which lasts from 6 to 12 months. Short-term programs are more intense and last days to weeks, rather than months.

Long-term programs utilize a full staff to help patients learn how to socialize in a safe and meaningful way. It involved individualized psychological therapy and interacting with the community. Treatment is very structured and has a focus on putting an end to self-destructive and damaging behaviors.

Short-term programs usually utilize a 12-step type of method like Alcoholics Anonymous. This too includes therapy and community interaction, though due to its shorter nature, is very demanding. These are usually a lead into an outpatient program for continued follow-up.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment has a handful of different options, with some being more common than others. The ones most often used are intensive outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization or day treatment, and sober living communities. Each of these serves a particular need, including being able to work and keep up with childcare responsibilities.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Features individualized care programs that take part for a portion of the day. Some programs are 6 to 8 hours a day, every day, but other programs can be as short as 4 hours several times a week. Identifying how addiction behaviors began and underlying feelings that have contributed to these actions is a key part of how the program works.

A patient learns behavioral skills, meditation, and other methods to modify destructive behaviors into productive behaviors. Often a 12-step method is incorporated into the program as well as individual and group counseling.

Partial Hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is for those who need ongoing medical monitoring and have stable living conditions. The programs meet a couple hours a day, a few days a week. They involve counseling, behavioral modification, and socialization.

Sober Living Communities

Sober living communities offer a sort of “step down” from a residential treatment program. They are a place to practice the new skills and habits learned in other treatment programs and a safe place to live away from negative influences. Living with residents who understand your triggers and downfalls, and who have pledged a sober lifestyle, aid you on the road to recovery.

If you or a loved one has the signs and symptoms of drug addiction, get help now. To learn more about drug rehabilitation programs or to get information about intervention services call us at 973-298-5776.

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