Addiction is a crippling chronic disease that causes physical, emotional or mental dependence upon substances or behaviors. There is always a root cause for addiction, such as abuse or trauma, though not all patients are able to identify their dependency triggers.
Addiction comes with numerous consequences in both personal and professional lives. Once an addiction is formed, refraining from the substance or behavior is a lifelong battle. Getting help with addiction is imperative to a successful recovery.
What is Addiction?
Universities, healthcare facilities, government agencies and physicians agree that addiction is a chronic disease affecting the brain and body. It involves a cycle of memory, motivation and reward or escape. Addiction affects the circuitry of the brain and can lead to biological and psychological injuries in addition to social and spiritual consequences. An addict struggles to abstain from their drug or behavior of choice and has impaired impulse control. Strong cravings and an inability to spot personal or professional problems before they compound are telltale signs of addiction. Overblown emotional responses to confrontations are also a sign of addiction, though those in this state of mind are usually not ready for treatment.
Without treatment, very few addicts are able to stay away from their drug or behavior of choice. A qualified treatment facility or health care plan overseen by a physician has proven to be only partially effective, however. Equalizing hormone levels and detoxifying the body are imperative to effective treatment.
Costa Rican programs using a natural, beautiful tropical environment and natural methods of regulating hormones has proven to be far more effective at treating addicted individuals than court ordered rehabilitation programs. Without effective treatment, those addicted to drugs and behaviors can lead to very serious long-term consequences and secondary diseases or infections.
Abuse vs. Addiction
There is a difference between using a drug or engaging in a behavior and needing to use the drug or engage in the behavior at a cost to all other things. Buying a lottery ticket on payday is vastly different than spending rent money playing poker in search of the high a win can afford the addicted person. Indulging in these behaviors to the exclusion of anything else is addiction. Taking drugs for recreational purposes is considered abuse. Drugs should only be taken when under a doctor’s supervision.
Myths about Addiction
One of the most prevalent myths about addiction is that it is easy to spot an addict by the way they look. This is completely untrue. Addicts that are addicted to illegal substances understand that their problem involves illegal aspects that could land them in jail. They have learned to disguise the signs of addiction and dependency because they do not want to face serious legal consequences and social stigma associated with addiction. Discovery of their problem humiliating and potentially life-destroying. They want to keep their problem a secret.
Another myth is that addicts cannot function in normal societal situations. Addicts use drugs or behaviors in order to get themselves to the point where they can function normally within society. Of course addicts can be high functioning individuals whose problems are kept secret. There are thousands of high functioning individuals that can lead outwardly normal lives. They have great careers, families and friends that interact with them normally on a daily basis. Addicts do not fit into any one certain mold and can be from all walks of life and all societal circles.
Signs of Addiction
The first sign of a serious addiction is vehement denial on the part of the addict. When confronted, this person will usually have an overblown emotional response to the suggestion that they need help. The first step to recovery is admitting that there is a problem, but addicts will not do so until they are ready to face their problem. No amount of force will make them ready to heal. Those who merely abuse drugs or behaviors will admit to participating in harmful activities, but will deny that there is a problem. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between abuse and addiction.
The difference between abuse and addiction is the presence of serious cravings for drugs or behaviors. With fulfillment comes consequences and problems. An addict will deny problems exist or fail to recognize them. A person simply abusing drugs or behaviors will recognize the formation of a problem, predict negative outcomes and will walk away from getting their fix.
Addicts have little or no control over their cravings and will go to extremes to fulfill their needs. A clear indication of addiction is choosing an action, such as doing drugs or shoplifting, over making the right choice. The consequences of their actions are apparent, but their need for fulfillment is stronger.
Addictive behaviors include a fixation with their drug or action of choice. They will invite peers to partake in their activities with them. Addicts will seek out other addicts so that they can enable and support each other. Some addictions, such as exercising, can be viewed as very healthy by peers. Only when the addict causes harm to themselves and forsakes others will a problem be recognized.
Uncontrollable emotions, using too much of a drug or taking part in an addictive behavior more than the addict wants to, hiding problems and being ashamed of their addiction, relapses, self-harm, deep depression are also signs of a serious addiction.
Addicts often feel a deep sense of shame for their behaviors and they think about it almost constantly. This mindset can be especially harmful and trigger the addiction and reward cycle.
Depression and withdrawing from loved ones is a sign that the addiction is out of control. Escalating drug abuse or addictive behavior compound the problems. At this point, the addicts’ self-esteem is very low while feelings of guilt and helplessness are high. Hormones are unbalanced, only exacerbating the problem. Many addicted individuals will resort to compulsive actions and erratic behaviors in an attempt to fulfill their needs and continue living a somewhat normal life.
Personality of Addiction
Though no genetic link, mental health disorder or underlying medical problem has been confirmed to lead to addiction, though most physicians agree that some people are more susceptible to addiction than others. Those who are succeptible to addiction are deemed to have an addictive personality.
An addictive personality may be characterized by a few distinct traits that can be brought out under certain environmental circumstances, such as high stress situations. Vehement non-conformity and a strong desire to go against the grain, whether that decision is for the best or not, is an indicator of an addictive personality. A lack of a sense of accomplishment and social withdrawal paired with impulsive behavior is another indicator of a potentially addictive personality.
Addictions cycles are formed easily and are usually very similar in nature despite the many substances and behaviors that humans form addictions with. Initially, a pleasurable behavior or substances gives the user a quick euphoric high from dopamine or other chemicals in the brain. After the euphoria wears off, there are withdrawals paired with cravings for another dopamine high.
When the brain experiences pleasure, it creates a memory of the experience that is highly favorable. The user is motivated to repeat that behavior again, especially when their environment is too stressful or traumatic for them.
The parts of the brain involved in the reward cycle are the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA), Nucleus Accumbens, Amygdala, Locus Ceruleus, Dopaminergic Mesolimbic System (DMS), Frontal Cortex and the Gabaergic Inhibitory Fiber System (GABA). Because so much of the brain is involved in addiction, treatment is complex and difficult.
Treatment for Addiction
Addiction treatment varies based upon the type of addiction and number of substances involved in the addiction cycle. Treatment usually involves a combination of different approaches, including drug therapy to help regulate hormones and brain chemicals, one on one or group therapy, inpatient and outpatient medical treatment, detoxification, sponsorship, changing locations, changing careers and absolute disassociation with drug addicted friends or peers.
Family therapy can be of great help to addicts, especially when they are young. This type of therapy helps families come together in understanding and support. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a mental reprogramming of the addicts beliefs about addiction. With an altered mindset, successful rehabilitation is more likely.
Once addicts have completed the detoxification process and have come to terms with their addiction, motivation interviewing may be used. This sort of therapy helps boost the self-esteem of the recovering addict and is very motivational and inspiring.
Types of Addiction
Nearly any substance or behavior can be addictive. Below are some of the most common addictions in which addicts seek treatment as well as other less common addictions:
• Crack Cocaine
• Anxiety Medications
• PCP or Angel Dust
• Cold and cough medications containing dextromethorphan hydro bromide
• Anabolic steroids
• Aerosol inhalants
Behaviors associated with addiction may include:
• Cosmetic surgery
• Sexual intercourse
• Lewd acts
• Sex crime perpetration
• Food and eating
• Facebook or other social media
• Video Games
• Counting Money
• Washing hands
• Pulling hair
• Plucking body hair
• Picking at skin lesions
• Grunting or clearing the throat
• Twirling hair
• Oral fixations or chewing
• Getting tattoos
• Eating dirt
Some substances and behaviors are more addictive than others. Treatment options are also limited for certain addictions, such as sexual compulsions or food. One cannot live without eating and most adults have sex regularly. Treatment for drugs includes abstinence, whereas treatment for an addiction to love or food includes gaining self-control because abstinence is not an option. Many food addicts find relief in 30 day body purity programs in addition to psychotherapy.
Treatment for addiction to drugs or substance abuse is difficult for physicians as well as patients. The success rate for treatment is very low, and relapse is not only common, it is expected. Treatment for addiction to behaviors is even more complex, especially because repeat exposure to their addictive behavior or substance is part of everyday life.
For those in treatment for behavioral and substance addictions, psychotherapy and identifying triggers is imperative. Treatment is only effective when the mind and body are brought into balance with the patient’s environment. Programs should include detoxification, one on one therapy, exercise and healthy eating, real world scenario training as well as continued group therapy and sponsorship after graduating from the program.