Addiction, in effect, is a brain disorder that drives users to behave compulsively in pursuit of their desired substance. Unless they seek treatment for their addiction, securing the substance will become the sole motivation of their existence. They will very likely sacrifice relationships with family and friends and forgo work or school responsibilities for it. They may persist in abusing a substance even though its use triggers or exacerbates a health condition. The pursuit of that pleasure continues in a cycle that is endless and unyielding.
Users will either fall to their addictions or treat them as some sort of test, a battle to overcome. For those in the latter category, professional addiction treatment can reverse the cycle. Though there is no one tried-and-true method of addiction recovery, sobriety is possible. People struggling with addictions have an array of therapies and treatment methods at their disposal that will allow them to understand the root causes of their dependency. They will also receive the direct detoxification needed to medically rid themselves of those substances. Through treatment, they will gain strategies to combat relapse.
Causes of Addiction
The sweet reward of pleasure is what leads people to abuse substances. Whether that pleasure is derived by taking drugs or alcohol, there is one feature that underlies addiction: the activation of the brain’s pathways of reward and reinforcement that involves the neurotransmitter known as dopamine.
When people experience pleasure, it is due to a release of dopamine into the brain. This leads people to pursue other dopamine-releasing activities like gambling, working out, or eating cupcakes. When the brain begins to link certain activities or substances with pleasure, habits eventually form.
Normally, dopamine that is released is eventually reabsorbed, and levels return to normal. When you abuse drugs, it releases an abnormally high level of dopamine that the brain cannot fully absorb. As extra amounts of it linger, the brain will produce less and less of it on its own. The natural effect is that activities that were once fun and engaging become dull and uninteresting when compared to using drugs and/or alcohol. When you stop using the drug, you become uncomfortable. So the inclination to continue is reinforced, and a habit is established.
People succumb to drugs and alcohol for many reasons. There is no personality type more prone to it than another. There is evidence that genetics and biology can make someone predisposed to addiction. However, environmental, social or psychological factors can also cause users to develop addictions.
Environmental factors such as family, neighborhood, work or school can be consequential in determining whether someone acquires an addiction. When a child is exposed to drugs or alcohol from a parent or close relative, they are more likely to develop addiction in the future. Kids are impressionable. When they witness substance abuse at home, they will view it as normal. When someone grows up in a home with no family structure or parental attachment, they will also be prone to future substance abuse.
Another determining factor in addiction is peer pressure. For adolescents, this is a particularly prevalent driver. Many teens have started using drugs or alcohol because they were introduced to it at school or work.
By age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least one drink. While illicit drug use, other than marijuana, continues to trend downward among young people, 5.8 percent of 8th-graders and 13.3 percent of 12th-graders reported using.
Images and videos on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are serving to influence substance abuse among teens as well. This digital peer pressure occurs when kids, compelled by images of their friends partying and using drugs, feel the need to use substances as well.
People also become addicted to substances if they come from a history of trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse. They turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the reality of their abuse. Non-experimental drug use for survivors of child sexual abuse begins around age 14. What’s more, teens who have experienced physical or sexual assault were three times more likely to report substance abuse than those without a history of trauma.
Although there are no definable biological characteristics that directly correlate to substance abuse, there are factors that predispose someone to addiction. Scientists believe that gene expression can make up between 40 percent to 60 percent of a person’s risk of addiction.
Think of a risk factor as a characteristic, attribute, or exposure that makes someone more prone to a disease, condition, or consequence. For example, someone who struggles with insomnia will be more prone to suffer poor work performance or get into a car accident. Similarly, the presence of the following risk factors can make someone more prone to substance addiction:
Mental Health Disorders
Many mental health disorders directly correlate with the likelihood of developing an addiction. Depression, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), ADD (attention-deficit disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and personality disorders are common among addicts.
Addictiveness of a Drug
Stimulants, opioids, and benzodiazepines are generally more addictive than other substances. Even though addiction is not guaranteed, the type of drug heavily influences whether a person becomes addicted or not.
How a Substance is Taken
Drugs that are smoked or injected into a vein bring a higher risk of addiction. Why? Because substances taken in this way impact the brain almost instantaneously, often producing an overwhelming rush of pleasure. The flurry of intense feelings induced by these substances can compel people to repeatedly use them to chase that sensation.
Signs of Addiction
Compulsive behavior is the overriding aspect that signifies all addictions. Still, each kind of substance has its own set signs that indicate dependency. Some overlap, many don’t. For example, someone who abuses alcohol will exhibit different signs than a user of OxyContin. It’s worth noting that for some drugs, different signs can show up differently in each user.
The most commonly abused substances are alcohol, stimulants, depressants, and opioids. They all present dangerous and life-threatening symptoms. If you suspect that you or a loved one has developed a dependence on any of these substances, it is critical that you can identify the signs.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
The initial symptoms of an alcohol use disorder are physical and mental, making early detection of an addiction much easier than for other substances. Over time, however, those signs can worsen, leading to grave health complications. That’s why early detection of a creeping alcohol addiction is critical. The physical symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) can include:
- Slurred speech
- Problems with coordination
The psychological signs of alcohol addiction can include:
- Loss of interest in previous hobbies
- Loss of interest in previous activities
Signs of Stimulant Addiction
People struggling with stimulant addiction exhibit signs that are physical or behavioral. Examples of stimulants include illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy and prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall. Compared to other types of substances, the physical side effects of stimulant abuse disorder are severe. The withdrawal symptoms of a stimulant user can be severe. Unlike other substances, even short-term use can bring about grave consequences and alter the chemical functionality of the brain. The physical symptoms of stimulant addiction may include:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Severe weight loss
- Short, shallow breathing
- Short, shallow breathing
- Loss of muscle control
The psychological symptoms of a stimulant addiction include:
- Lack of coordination
- Shallow breathing
The psychological signs of a depressant addiction include:
- Low attention span
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor decision making
- Memory loss
When someone suffers memory loss from the abuse of a depressant, it means that they performed actions that they did not remember at a later time. Actions that fall into this category include sleepwalking, cooking food, or having sex without having any memory of those activities.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
As the opioid epidemic rages on in the U.S., the devastating impact this class of drug has entered the national conversation. Examples of opioids include illicit drugs like heroin and prescription medication such as morphine, codeine, Vicodin, and OxyContin. Opioid addiction is exemplified by a range of physical and behavioral symptoms and signs, which include:
- Weakened immune system
- Gastric problems
- Shallow breathing
- Liver damage
The psychological signs of opioid addiction are:
- Mood swings
- Social isolation
The most expedient way to address an addiction is to seek treatment. Addiction specialists will not only help you treat the problem at hand, but they will arm you with the strategies and mechanisms to combat against relapse. In fact, treatment is essential since addictions are defined as chronic disorders characterized by occasional bouts of relapse. For this reason, addiction treatment is a long-term process that involves constant care and attention.
While everyone’s recovery journey is different, drug and alcohol addiction treatment follow similar paths. They include the following steps: medical detoxification, a treatment program (outpatient, inpatient, residential), and aftercare.
Recovery begins with medical detoxification, the process by which toxins or leftover residue from the addictive substance is removed from the body. For treatment seekers, it is often the most difficult phase of recovery. If a person undergoes a successful detox, it can heighten their chances of attaining a positive outcome. That’s why medical supervision is essential during the detox process. At our treatment center, patients receive 24/7 support. Medical staff is on hand to help users carefully manage their withdrawal symptoms.
Detox is the most fundamental and effective first step for someone battling a substance addiction. Yet so many forgo the process in favor of going “cold turkey,” a hazardous decision that can carry grave long-term consequences.
Going “cold turkey” as a cigarette smoker is one thing. Attempting to do so with brain-altering substances is quite another.
When a person ceases use of a drug on their own by “going cold turkey,” they endanger their health and greatly heighten the probability of relapse. Yet many attempt it to avoid the minor inconvenience of seeking professional help.
While going “cold turkey” appears to be the easiest, most accessible option, the success rates of this approach are alarmingly low. Without the benefit of access to a licensed, medical staff, “cold turkey” users expose themselves to severe withdrawal symptoms. In the end, the expense they initially avoided will not equate to the consequences they will likely suffer later.
The sudden elimination of alcohol from your body, for example, means confronting withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, nightmares, rapid heart rate, and seizures. Going “cold turkey” means having to wage that battle on your own.
What’s more, the sudden ridding of your body of substances could mean death. That’s why a professionally supervised detox is necessary.
After detox, the next level on the continuum of care is treatment. For people battling substance addiction that step includes outpatient treatment, an option that allows patients to seek care without having to live at an on-site treatment facility. In outpatient treatment, patients have access to therapy and managed care. Common outpatient treatment programs include partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and a variety of others.
Generally the first level of treatment after detox, intensive outpatient offers a rigorous set of services that allow clients to continue on with their normal lives. At this level, addiction treatment occurs during the day, before, or after work or school, in the evening, and/or on weekends. Clients in IOP meet about three to five days a week, three hours a day.
Intensive outpatient is particularly effective for people who already live in stable home environments outside of treatment.
For people who require constant medical care and supervision, there is partial hospitalization, the next step up from IOP. At this level of care, meetings occur three to five days a week for four to six hours a day. Partial hospitalization is tailored for people with severe substance addictions who can handle the responsibility of living off-site.
Inpatient programs are considered the most effective treatment options for addiction. Medical detoxification is technically an inpatient program, but a true inpatient process begins at the post-detox stage, which requires an on-site stay at a recovery center. There are two primary options at this level: residential treatment and intensive inpatient treatment. The former is meant for less severe addictions while the latter is for urgent cases.
Residential treatment, designed as a low-intensity program for adults and adolescents, provides people with 24-hour support and supervision. Residential treatment programs help recovering substance users explore the psychological reasons behind their addictions. They can access services administered by a staff of doctors, addiction specialists, and mental health professionals. They also receive five hours of clinical service a week.
Intensive Inpatient Treatment
This high-intensity treatment option is for those battling severe addictions and in need of urgent care.
Like residential treatment, intensive inpatient treatment provides people 24-hour support and supervision. The objective is to provide clients with a comfortable stay and access to care that is safe, effective, and precise.
Since addiction requires long-term care and attention, aftercare is essential. Aftercare works best when sought immediately after intensive treatment programs like partial hospitalization and intensive inpatient treatment. The aim is to stay sober. Appropriate aftercare minimizes the risk of future relapse and addiction.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
Numerous withdrawal symptoms result from the cessation of alcohol, opioid, stimulant, and depressant use. Whether these substances work to depress or stimulate the body, they share a few common withdrawal symptoms. They can include, but are not limited to:
- Change in appetite
A unique set of withdrawal symptoms that result from alcohol abuse is called delirium tremens, or DTs for short. DTs is comprised of exponentially amplified withdrawal symptoms that result in loss of muscle control, spasms, shivering, sweating, vivid hallucinations, extreme body temperatures, and sometimes-fatal seizures.
Underestimating these withdrawal symptoms can mean succumbing to relapse, a substantial obstacle that often presents itself on the road to recovery.
When someone relapses, they resume use of a substance after a long period of abstinence. Relapse could be a slip-up, when a substance is used in a short interval. It also can resemble a binge or “bender,” when there is heavy use of a substance over a short period. Still, relapse does not always lead to a resumed addiction.
Relapse, however, is an unfortunate aspect of recovery, particularly in the beginning. The initial stages of treatment are often the most difficult because 66 percent to 80 percent of relapses occur in that timeframe.
Relapse is mistakenly viewed as a sign of failure. Medical professionals, however, see it a different way. They view it as a teachable moment for a patient, an opportunity for them to learn how to avoid future relapse. Nevertheless, it is critical that a patient devise a relapse prevention plan to prevent the possibility.
Causes of Relapse
The best way to combat relapse is to remain aware of the conditions that can trigger one. We have provided a list of helpful tips for you or anyone suffering from an addiction. While relapse occurs, it does not have to be a permanent roadblock. Here are a few simple but extremely effective tips to help you while you are in treatment:
Health Problems and Emotional Issues
Mental or emotional health problems such as anxiety, depression, and any negative emotions can be high-risk triggers for relapse. Even boredom can push someone to relapse.
Simply seeing and being around the substance that you sought treatment for can trigger intense cravings and eventual relapse. For example, if you underwent treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), seeing alcohol at a bar or party can evoke cravings that lead to relapse.
Relapse can occur in pleasant, celebratory settings like parties and concerts, where addictive substances are made available in abundance. Being in these adrenaline-filled environments, amid those substances, can compel you to make unwise decisions. The best way to maintain your sobriety is to avoid these events altogether. Another option is to bring a trusted friend who is tasked with holding you accountable for your sobriety.
When you notice the early signs that trigger relapse, it is crucial that you seek professional help.