Addiction 101 | What Is Addiction?

Many people don’t know that addiction is accepted by the medical community as a mental health problem, our crash course in addiction 101 is here to resolve that. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is defined as “a primary, chronic disease … characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

This means that becoming addicted and curing addiction are not just a matter of willpower and self-control. When a person is struggling with addiction, they are actually competing against strong mental signals sent straight from the brain.

Addiction 101 | How Does Addiction Effect the Brain?

Substance abuse greatly influences the parts of the brain that control pleasure, motivation and reward. The more often a person abuses drugs or alcohol, the more the brain rewires itself to focus on using substances all the time.

Eventually, the brain becomes so dependent on drugs and alcohol that it cannot function properly without them. This deep, psychological need to use eventually leads a person to the self-destructive, antisocial and even violent behaviors we normally associate with drug addiction.

Undoing the psychological and neurological damage done my drug addiction takes time as well as intensive, medically based treatment.

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Can a person be addicted to more than one substance or behavior at a time?

Yes. This phenomenon of co-occurring disorders is known as a “dual diagnosis.” Dual diagnosis may refer to a person being addicted to multiple substances at once. It is a key part of our addiction 101 crash course to understand mental illness. The term may also refer to individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorder and another mental illness, such as bipolar disorder.

Treating one of these problems by itself isn’t enough. That’s because the symptoms of one illness make it nearly impossible to treat the other by itself. People struggling with multiple disorders should look for specialized care that treats the entire problem at once.

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Is addiction genetically inherited?

It is true that you are much more likely to be prone to addictive behavior if other members of your family show similar tendencies. However, this alone does not account for why some people who abuse drugs and alcohol become addicted while others do not. The reality is that a mix of risk factors influence a person’s chances of developing an addiction.

These risk factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Early exposure to substance use
  • Traumatic or high-anxiety childhood
  • Presence of another mental health problem
  • Peer pressure

What are the health consequences of addiction?

The health consequences of addiction are wide ranging and severe. Substance abuse greatly increases a person’s chances of developing a separate mental health disorder. That’s because changes to the brain make the addict chemically dependent on their substance of choice, creating a high risk for new mental health problems.

Substance abuse also has drastic and negative impacts on the body. Critical organs like the liver, heart, lungs and kidneys can be severely damaged by drug abuse. Addiction also makes a person less likely to take care of themselves, further increasing their risk for injury or disease.

How does a person stop their cravings?

The best way to stop addiction cravings is to stop using completely, avoid all triggers of past drug use and practice relapse prevention strategies daily.

Learning and using this set of skills while getting off of drugs is extremely difficult without help. That’s why it’s so important for those struggling with addiction to enter professional rehabilitation. There, they can get support from medical experts while recovering in a drug-free environment.

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