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The Science of Addiction: Dispelling the Myth

What Exactly is Addiction?

We often hear people discussing their addictions to food, exercise, and the internet. Addiction affects millions of people in the United States. Addiction can be defined as a chronic brain disorder marked by obsessive alcohol/drug seeking behaviors and prolonged use in the face of adverse effects.It is not a decision, and it has nothing to do with a person’s character flaws or the amount of love a person has for someone.  It is a complex disease influenced by genetics, brain chemistry, family history of alcoholism, substance misuse, trauma, and a person’s surroundings. Addiction is comparable to other chronic illnesses in that it impairs healthy functioning, has major effects, is avoidable or treatable, and, if left untreated, progresses to death.

Different Types of Addiction

  • Chemical Dependence—alcohol and other drugs
  • Gambling, video games, electronics, eating disorders, and sex/love addiction are all examples of process/behavior addiction.

Addiction and the Reward System of the Brain

Certain activities are associated with the release of neurotransmitters called dopamine. When dopamine is released in our brain, we experience a sense of euphoria which causes us to engage in the behavior that produced the feeling. These emotions are the result of our brain’s reward system being activated. Similarly, when individuals abuse drugs or alcohol, their reward system is stimulated as their brain releases significant levels of dopamine.

Addiction Statistics

At least 90% of adults began using drugs or alcohol before turning 18. With increased access to legal chemicals that can lead to addiction, one in every five high school students uses “vapes” or “vape pens,” a nicotine product that has been dubbed the new “gateway drug.” According to the CDC, over 70,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2019. Not only are these numbers frightening, but they are also increasing. Below is a breakdown of substances and their rate of addiction.

  • Nicotine addiction affects almost 40 million Americans.
  • Nearly 18 million adults struggle with alcoholism.
  • Marijuana consumption has surged by more than 50% in the last decade.
  • Nearly two million people are dependent on opioid painkillers.

Warning Signs

Although the terms abuse and addiction are not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), they are frequently used interchangeably when diagnosing an individual; they are combined into a single term alcohol use disorder or substance abuse disorder. The severity of a disorder is evaluated by the number of symptoms exhibited by an individual. Substance abuse practitioners use the following criteria to evaluate an individual’s symptoms and severity:

Mild- (two to three symptoms)

Moderate- (four to five symptoms)

Severe- (6 or more signs)

Several characteristics of an alcohol or substance use disorder include the following: drinking or consuming substances in excess of or for an extended period, being unable to stop drinking or using drugs, spending a significant amount of time drinking or using drugs, being sick, or recovering from other side effects.

Extreme urges/cravings: to drink or use, getting unwell as a result of drinking or using, and it frequently interferes with taking care of your house or family; and it frequently results in employment, school, or legal school difficulties.

While having more symptoms indicates a greater likelihood of severe disease, exhibiting any of these signs should raise red flags. The above list is not intended to be a substitute for a professional diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Addiction

Treatment may begin with detoxification, an inpatient or residential environment, or outpatient therapy, depending on the degree of the individual’s addiction and their “drug of choice,” Due to the complexity of addiction and the fact that there is no “one size fits all,” the individual would first need to be evaluated by a treatment provider such as The Institute of Chemical Dependency Studies who specializes in addiction treatment.

Several strategies can assist in lowering the chance of developing a severe alcohol or substance use disorder:

  • Educate yourself on the subject of addiction.
  • Acquire effective coping techniques.
  • Locate a helpful sober peer group.
  • Consult a professional or your primary care physician if you have any concerns.
  • 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Codependency Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics.

When recovering from addiction, it is vital to have a strong support system. Regrettably, not everyone benefits from a typical support system. However, that is not to say that a person cannot recover. When combined with treatment/therapy and/or medication, peer-to-peer support and self-help groups have been demonstrated to be extremely beneficial in treating addiction.

The Family

Addiction is a family disease, and it is critical to treat the addict’s loved ones. If you have a family member who has issues with alcohol or substance misuse, seeking assistance and even counseling for yourself will enable you and your family member to heal together. Several possibilities are available to family members such as Al-Anon, CODA, and ACA.

Whatever road your family chooses for rehabilitation, know that you are not alone. The Institute of Chemical Dependency Studies (ICDS) offers a variety of outpatient substance abuse treatment options. They realize that addiction is a disease that can lead to self-destruction. If you’re considering enrolling in a recovery program, you’ve already taken big steps in the right direction. Their qualified staff is ready to assist you and your loved ones throughout the process. To learn more about their admissions process and to answer any concerns you may have about their programs, visit them online or give them a call.

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