Addiction: An Equal Opportunity Disease
Uncomfortable feelings sometimes cause individuals to look for people, places, and substances to feel better. Wanting to feel better when things are not going well is a natural desire. Self-medicating with substances is a common negative choice to escape unwanted feelings. The excessive constant use of substances can lead to the disease of addiction. The disease of addiction has both nature (biological) and nurture (environment) components. As a result, addiction treatment should include both detox for the biological factors and a substance abuse program in the same facility to address environmental issues.
Disease Concept of Addiction
Addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance or a behavior. Substances, after ingested, cross the blood-brain barrier causing an alteration in chemicals in the brain, which produces euphoric feelings. The continued use of substances builds tolerance and substance dependence in the body. The addict is unable to manage both biological and environmental cravings and/or the behavioral impulse to use substances. Addiction is progressive and debilitating and shares the same characteristics as a medical disease. The medical model for addiction treatment has been established that alcohol and drug addiction are treatable diseases.
The disease of addiction does not discriminate between the characteristics of individuals who develop substance abuse problems. Addicts come in all shapes, sizes and from all walks of life: rich or poor, healthy or sick, spiritual or not, young or old, educated or illiterate. Although there is a pattern to the addiction process, there is no mold for the type of individual that is susceptible to developing an addiction other than certain genetic factors that have shown to be attributed to addiction.
Alcohol and drug addiction is a treatable disease
An individual’s biological makeup creates vulnerability for the development of addiction. The environment nurtures an individual’s response and influences the decision making processes.
Nature (Biological) and Nurture (Environmental) in Addiction
The great debate between nature versus nurture is ongoing. However, it is the combination of both that contributes to the disease of addiction. professionals who successfully treat addicts emphasize that you must simultaneously address the physical dependency and underlying psychological issues simultaneously.
Examples of nature –
- Having an addicted family member, especially a parent, increases the chances for developing an addiction because of similar genetic background. Addiction is not inevitable for those born with a genetic predisposition. For example, addiction may develop in one sibling but not in the other from the same genetic pool.
- Substances distort the thinking process. Drug and alcohol use negatively disrupts the normal chemical processes in the brain which cause addicts problems in thinking clearly, paying attention and remembering.
- Changes in brain chemistry from substance use influence the reward center in the brain that causes the sensation of pleasure. The brain and body will then crave substances in order to push the addict to use substances in order to create the euphoric effect.
Examples of nurture –
- Experiences are characterized as good, bad, abusive, neglectful, indulgent or passive, etc. Individuals develop thoughts and feelings based on experiences. Self-medicating behavior is often times in response to those feelings.
- Introduction to substance use can be through parents, friends, doctors, and media and can occur at any age. However the younger the person is the more susceptible they are to these messages.
- Abusing substances creates environmental issues for addicts such as misunderstandings in communication, unstable relationships, and legal and financial problems.
The consequences of addiction such as issues with family, friends, employers and the law often result in the addict seeking treatment.
An Overview of Addiction Treatment
Treatment for addiction is important for addicts because stopping substance abuse is difficult after biological changes to the brain have occurred and unhealthy thought, emotional and behavioral patterns have occurred. Detox addresses physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. A medically monitored drug and alcohol detox facility will safely detox the addict and should include:
- 24-hour medical supervision
- Appropriate withdrawal processes that aim to prevent suffering and medical complications
- Medical staff experienced in drug and alcohol detox
- The transition from detox to substance abuse rehab
Two components of substance abuse treatment that need to be done consecutively are detox and rehab. After detox, it is highly recommended that an addict goes to a residential treatment center. Research shows that the addict is at greater risk for relapse during the time period between detox and rehab.
A comprehensive addiction treatment center will include both detox and rehab at the same facility. A multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and therapists will continue to support and encourage the addict through the recovery process. In rehab, the alcoholic or drug addict will be in a healthy nurturing environment and will learn how to live a clean and sober life, manage unwanted feelings and gain relapse prevention skills. A quality residential treatment center will invite family to attend therapy sessions with the addict to learn about the family’s recovery process.