Understanding The Addiction Process

Learning to understand the addiction process

There are a lot of misconceptions about addiction, with many people unable to understand how or why their loved ones become addicted to drugs. Historically it was believed that those who use drugs do so because of a lack of willpower or moral principle.

Family members who believed this way often lost patience or felt forever frustrated about their loved one’s condition. Research shows that quitting alcohol or drug addiction takes more than a strong will or good intentions. Experts view disordered substance use as a complex and complicated disease.

Drugs and alcohol alter the brain to the point that even those who want to quit, have difficulty doing so. 

The good news is that research has revealed the ways in which substances affect the brain leading to interventions and treatments that can help people recover from substance addiction and go on to lead full and happy lives.

What exactly is meant by the term, drug and/or alcohol addiction? Professionals view addiction as a long-term disease that is characterized by several key factors.

First, addiction is characterized by a hard to control, ongoing pursuit of substances despite negative consequences. For most addicts the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary. But studies have shown that prolonged use can lead to changes in the brain that challenge one’s level of self-control and hinder one’s ability to resist intense urges to continue using alcohol or drugs.

Such brain changes can be long-lasting which is why experts view addiction as a relapsing disease. For example, the risk of returning to drug use, even after years of non-use, is high for people in recovery.

However, just because an individual may relapse, it’s important to know that this does not mean that treatment did not work. In some cases, treatment may be ongoing and adjusted according to the patient’s response, which is a common treatment protocol for chronic medical issues.

In this case, treatment plans are regularly reviewed and adjusted as the client’s needs change.

What exactly happens to the brain as a result of chronic substance abuse? The brain is affected by substances in such a way that the area referred to as the reward center responds with a sense of euphoria and the chemical dopamine is released, reinforcing the feeling of ecstasy.

When dopamine is released in correct amounts, the reward center functions appropriately. When this is the case, we are motivated to repeat functional behaviors such as eating, socializing, etc. When dopamine levels are exaggerated, we are motivated to repeat enjoyable experiences, such as substance use, to an extreme.

Over time our body acclimates to drugs to the point that we need more and more of a substance in order to attain the same pleasurable effect. In other words, the body becomes drug-tolerant leading to increased usage as a way of achieving a high.

On the flip side, the same alterations in the brain responsible for this behavior also lead to further restrictions in being able to experience pleasure from other things such as food and socializing. This leads to a vicious cycle in which the addict must take more and more of a substance in order to achieve a satisfying high.

Long-Term Damage 

Chronic drug and alcohol use also affects other brain chemicals associated with high-level cognitive and behavioral functions resulting in further impairment of daily life. Stress, memory, judgment and learning are all adversely affected by chronic drug use.

It is the very nature of addiction that despite being aware of the negative and dangerous consequences of substance abuse, individuals continue to seek out and use alcohol or drugs.

In spite of the strong influence that substance abuse has on the brain, not everyone who uses will become addicted. Why is this?

In actuality, there is a combination of factors that influence an individual’s addiction risk. Experts understand that the more risk factors a person carries, the greater his or her chance of developing an addiction. It’s important to realize that there is no one factor that can predict whether or not an individual will become addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Biology and the environment each have a role to play in the course of addiction. Professionals think that DNA represents roughly 50% of a person’s risk of addiction.

In addition to biology, the factors in a person’s environment can influence their risk of addiction. The range of factors is wide and includes stress, parental guidance, peer pressure, physical or sexual abuse and exposure to drugs.

Can drug addiction be treated successfully? 

The answer is yes, as is the case with most other chronic diseases. It is important to remember that individuals who are in recovery can still be at risk for relapse. Research has shown that the combination of behavioral therapy and addiction treatment medications demonstrate the highest rates of treatment success overall. But it is important to keep in mind that every person is unique and what may work well for one person may not be the best intervention to meet someone else’s needs.

The best treatment approach is one that is tailored to each individual’s substance abuse patterns as well as addressing any co-occurring psychological or medical issue which may affect recovery.

Studies have shown that while personal history and cultural factors can and do influence alcohol and drug use trends, prevention efforts can have a major impact on the views of young people. For example, when young people perceive substance use as harmful, there is an overall trend toward a decrease in drug use.

The good news is that substance abuse prevention programs that involve families, communities, and schools, are effective for raising substance abuse awareness.

As such, parents, teachers and health care providers have a critical role to play in educating young people about preventing drug use and addiction.

Recovery is possible—recover your unique, purposeful, sober life by reaching out to the dedicated experts at Cumberland Heights.

Addiction is a chronic, progressive and potentially fatal disease. For over 50 years we have carefully provided the highest quality of care for adults, adolescents and families who suffer from, or are affected by this devastating disease.

Our nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center is located on a peaceful, pastoral 177-acre campus on the banks of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. We provide a continuum of services through two 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes.

At Cumberland Heights, we always put the patient first, and value the importance of family participation in the recovery process. Take the first step toward healing by calling us at (866) 899-5231 today.

Why is it so meaningful to give to Cumberland Heights?

Your gift to Cumberland Heights through our annual and capital initiates gives immediate support to patients and their families. To make a longer term impact a gift to the endowment fund will provide patient assistance funding for years to come.