Drug & Alcohol Addiction: Dangers & Treatment Options
Substance addiction is a disease that devastates lives. Like many other diseases, it does not discriminate — addiction can impact anyone from middle school students to Fortune 500 executives.
Fortunately, substance use disorder is also akin to other diseases in that it is treatable. Since everyone experiences addiction differently, there is no single best treatment for drug and alcohol addiction — rather, effective treatment varies based on each person’s unique situation.
No matter how deeply addiction has taken root, there is always hope for recovery.
What Is Addiction?
Substance addiction is a chronic brain disease marked by intense cravings and uncontrollable substance use, in the face of negative consequences. A person who suffers from addiction may lose their entire life savings, watch the destruction of their marriage, and become isolated from friends and family — none of which can get them to quit using drugs or drinking.
Just like diabetes or hypertension, addiction is a medical disease that requires professional treatment. Though there is no permanent cure for substance use disorder, the disease can go into remission — life can be enjoyable and fulfilling again.
Drug Dependence vs. Addiction
There is a difference between being dependent upon a substance and being addicted to a substance. Unlike addiction, drug dependency is not a disease but a normal physical condition that often occurs when the body has been amply, regularly exposed to a habit-forming substance.
Drug dependency is when a person has built up a physical tolerance to a drug and would experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stopped taking the drug. For example, say that a 40-year-old man has spent several weeks in the hospital after a car accident. His doctors have been giving him daily doses of the habit-forming painkiller morphine.
The man’s body will become desensitized to morphine and will require increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. If doctors suddenly stopped administering morphine, the man would experience physical opiate withdrawal symptoms like excessive sweating, yawning, and sleeplessness. Despite his discomfort, he does not feel a mental urge to have more morphine.
This situation indicates drug dependence, versus drug addiction which would involve the man having intense, uncontrollable cravings for morphine. Dependency is treated by slowly tapering off of a substance, but addiction treatment involves extensive psychotherapy beyond simple drug detox.
How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?
Drugs and alcohol act on the brain’s reward circuits, causing a person to crave them again and again. In particular, addictive substances impact the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for the ability to feel emotions, including happiness. The limbic system is activated when people engage in pleasurable activities such as socializing and eating — and also getting high or drunk.
When someone suffers from addiction disease, their brain undergoes physical changes that impact its communication system. Neurons in an addicted brain are disrupted and send messages that will harm the person in whose body they reside.
For example, neurons that have grown accustomed to sending and receiving pleasurable messages during heroin use will continue to send messages inside the brain to essentially demand more of it. The brain’s pathways will physically change to accommodate its desire to use heroin.
Brain chemistry is so powerful that sheer willpower can not control it. That is why it is not possible for an addicted person to simply decide to stop using a substance. Thus, effective treatment involves both detox and psychotherapy. Even after a person has detoxed from a substance, their brain remains in an altered state, which causes them to crave that substance to feel normal.
The Dangers of Addiction
Not only does addiction cause brain damage, but it can also permanently harm the rest of your body and disrupt your life. Many people who have substance use disorder lose jobs, watch their marriages crumble, strain family ties, and experience financial difficulties due to spending so much on substances.
The long-term risks of addiction vary from substance to substance. For example, alcoholism increases the risk of certain mouth and throat cancers; heroin use increases the risk of HIV; marijuana addiction can cause a loss of IQ points.
What Are Signs of Addiction?
For a litany of reasons, you may not always be aware that you are suffering from addiction. In fact, we have seen many addicted patients who believed they simply drank or enjoyed using drugs more than the average person.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from addiction:
- You do not feel normal unless you use the substance.
- When you are not using the substance, you spend time thinking about the next time you will use it.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when you go without the substance.
- You need more of the substance than you previously needed to get the same effect.
- Your friends, family or workplace have expressed concern about your substance use.
- You have worried about your substance use.
- Your substance use has brought negative consequences such as strained relationships, but you continue to use though you’ve told yourself you’ll stop.
- You hide your substance use or lie about how much you have used.
- You go out of your way or take risks to use the substance.
How Addiction Treatment Can Help
Getting professional help for drug addiction is crucial. Recovery works best when you have a personal treatment team working to provide you with the unique level of support that you need.
Because every person experiences substance use disorder differently, there is no single best treatment for addiction. That is why we offer various types and levels of addiction treatment programs — all of which allow you to become part of a community of others who are also on the recovery journey.
Inpatient drug rehab allows for you to live on our campus for a period (usually at least four weeks) and receive round-the-clock care from our expert staff. You benefit from a high level of accountability and structure.
Outpatient drug rehab requires some travel several times per week to engage in therapy on our campus. We will work with you, your doctor and your rehab insurance company (if applicable) to determine the number of therapy hours you should undergo each week.
Do You Need Addiction Treatment?
If you have been struggling with substance use, you need to get help with drug addiction. We know you are suffering and want you to know that you are not alone — we are here for you.
Call The Recovery Village Ridgefield to speak with one of our compassionate addiction advisors, who can provide guidance during your journey to treatment. We are here for you, whether you need help checking your insurance benefits and out-of-pocket costs or you want to discuss whether our program would suit your unique recovery needs.
Your life is too important to spend suffering any longer. Take the first step — get in touch with us.
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- “Facts About Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning).” CollegeDrinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/parentsandstudents/students/factsheets/factsaboutalcoholpoisoning.aspx. Accessed 23 Nov. 2016.
- Thompson, Dennis. “Depression and Substance Abuse.” EverydayHealth.com, 3 June 2015, www.everydayhealth.com/depression/depression-and-substance-abuse.aspx.
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