Truth About Addiction

Truth About Addiction

Understanding Addiction: It's Not Just About Illegal Drugs

For thousands of years, people have used substances like drugs and alcohol for all kinds of reasons—sometimes in religious ceremonies, sometimes for medical treatment, and sometimes just to socialize. But along with this history, there’s always been the issue of substance abuse and addiction. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that scientists have really started to study addiction. What they’ve found is that addiction isn’t about being a “bad” person; it’s actually a medical issue that needs proper treatment, just like any other health problem.

Now, you might think that addiction only happens with illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin. That’s a common misunderstanding. The reality is that even prescription drugs, the kind you might get from a doctor, can be misused and lead to addiction. Just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe to use in any way you like. So, whether it’s a prescription painkiller or a drug bought on the street, both can be equally dangerous if they’re not used correctly.

Diagnosing Addiction

Addiction, also known medically as “substance use disorder,” is a complicated issue that doctors, especially psychiatrists, see as a range of problems rather than just one level of severity. The main sign of this disorder is when someone can’t control how much they use drugs or alcohol. This lack of control often leads to negative consequences in different parts of life.

For instance, relationships with family and friends can suffer. At work, people with addiction might find it hard to get promotions, or they might even lose their jobs. Financial troubles are also common, partly because buying drugs can get expensive and partly because people might make bad money choices while under the influence. Legal troubles, like getting arrested, can happen too. On the health side, using substances can lead to serious medical issues, including life-threatening conditions like overdose.
Psychiatrists use a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to help them diagnose mental health problems, including substance use disorders. According to this book, there are eleven specific symptoms that doctors look for. If someone has 2-3 of these symptoms, it’s considered a mild case. Having 4-5 symptoms means it’s a moderate case, and 6 or more symptoms mean it’s severe and the person needs immediate medical care.
It’s important to know that addiction doesn’t just look one way. TV shows and movies sometimes make us think that addiction only happens to people who have lost everything. That’s not true. Many people who struggle with addiction have jobs, take care of their families, and appear to be doing okay. These are sometimes called “functional addicts,” and they’re at risk too, even if they don’t always realize it.

So, when doctors diagnose someone with substance use disorder, they don’t focus on how the person looks or how much money they have. They look at how the person’s drug or alcohol use is affecting their life and causing them problems. That’s why it’s essential to understand that addiction is a complex issue that can affect anyone.

Effects of Addiction

Substance use disorder inflicts various types of harm on those grappling with the condition, and also has a ripple effect on their surrounding community. This damage is multi-faceted, affecting physical well-being, social relationships, and mental health. Over time, these negative consequences can escalate and become increasingly complex. It’s useful, therefore, to consider the short-term and long-term ramifications of addiction separately.

Short-Term Effects of Addiction

The most immediate short-term effect of substance abuse is obviously the “high” that drug seekers aim to achieve, but many drugs also cause a range of symptoms that are quite unpleasant. Mood problems, difficulty concentrating, and unpredictable behavior can make it difficult to function. Periods of withdrawal can cause life to feel like a rollercoaster for many regular substance abusers. In the early days of an addiction, immediate consequences are likely to be felt in one’s relationships and ability to meet goals at work or school.

Addiction actually causes permanent changes in brain chemistry. The vast majority of substances of abuse release dopamine and endorphins that gradually affect pathways in the brain. The result is that the areas of the brain that control motivation and decision-making become altered such that drug-seeking behavior takes precedence over all else. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to substances, and individuals require greater quantities of drugs and alcohol to achieve desired effects.

Long-Term Effects of Addiction

As individuals experience more and more consequences from their substance use disorders, the chances of developing other mental health disorders increases. The use of intoxicants such as alcohol increases individuals’ predispositions toward depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. The use of cocaine and marijuana often triggers paranoia and panic attacks in users. One unfortunate consequence is that many people with symptoms of mental illness become more dependent on substances, which offer short term relief even as they exacerbate underlying conditions over the long term.

People with substance use disorder prioritize drug-seeking behavior above all else, with the result being that other goals and relationships fall by the wayside. Many people with addictions struggle to stay employed, have financial difficulties, fall into debt, and suffer criminal consequences. Social relationships can suffer, further driving people into isolation. Family problems can be some of the most painful consequences of addiction, with many individuals finding themselves dealing with divorce or loss of custody of a child. Unfortunately, resources decrease and an individual’s social support system diminishes, it becomes increasingly difficult to quit using drugs and alcohol. In fact, for many people drugs and alcohol become the only “stable” aspects of their lives.

Ultimately, the greatest long-term dangers of substance abuse are health problems. Drug overdose can be fatal even for individuals who are relatively new to substance abuse, but years of substance abuse increase the likelihood of a fatal accident. Even individuals who manage to avoid life-threatening overdoses will likely find themselves in poor physical health. Regular alcohol strains the liver over time, and many substances over-tax the kidneys, including opioids, MDMA, and ketamine. Smoking substances can cause irreparable lung damage, and depressants can actually slow the respiratory system to a dangerous extent. Injecting substances can increase the likelihood of infection with blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis. A wide variety of substances also cause cardiovascular issues, raising blood pressure and increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Over time, these issues can compound and a drug user can begin to suffer disastrous and life-threatening physical conditions.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between recreational drinking or drug use and substance abuse, in part because binge drinking and drug use are relatively accepted on a cultural level. Many people also find that they adapt to their addictions. By structuring their lives around their addictions, individuals can appear to be functioning normally.

However, the fact that they have allowed drugs and alcohol to determine the day-to-day structure of their lives indicates a level of powerlessness. Even the most apparently functional addicts usually exhibit symptoms of their substance use disorder through the cracks of their facade. Common symptoms of substance abuse and substance use disorder include:

Ultimately, close friends and family members can usually get a strong intuitive sense that something is wrong. If a loved one appears to be behaving differently or seems to be compulsively abusing substances, chances are they are suffering from substance use disorder to some extent.

It is a good idea to reach out. Many people with addictions live in a state of denial, and talking with concerned and supportive loved ones can help them begin to recognize their problem.

How a Substance Use Disorder Develops

The path to substance use disorder usually starts in a way that doesn’t seem harmful at first. People might start using drugs or alcohol for all kinds of reasons: to chill out, to feel more at ease in social settings, to help them focus better, or to celebrate special moments. At the heart of it, using these substances often makes people feel good, and that’s something many want to experience over and over.

It’s important to note that just wanting to use drugs or alcohol doesn’t mean someone is addicted. However, some people have a harder time resisting the urge to use these substances. They might use them to cope with tough emotional issues, to make daily life struggles a bit easier, or they might be naturally more likely to engage in behaviors they can’t easily stop. Certain groups are more at risk for developing these issues, including:

Research has shown that there is a genetic component to substance use disorder.

Many individuals suffering from mental illness, especially untreated mental illness, turn to substance abuse as a form of self-medication.

When the brain is still undeveloped, people make decisions far more impulsively, which can lead to substance abuse. Drug and alcohol use has also been found to harm the development of immature brains.

People who suffer from trauma have higher rates of addiction than the rest of the population. Substance abuse can be a way of gaining control, distracting oneself from painful memories, and coping with pain.

When the brain is Individuals and families who are worse off financially have a higher likelihood of being exposed to drugs, have access to fewer resources to cope with addiction, and often have limited prospects and opportunities. Research shows that people who do not have a strong sense of a future to look forward to are more likely to make decisions based on present-moment cravings.

Neuroscience of Addiction:
Unraveling Brain Changes

Using drugs and alcohol releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain that reinforce those behaviors. Over time, substance use alters chemical pathways in the brain and causes permanent changes in areas of the brain associated with motivation and decision making. This can make drug use more automatic and difficult to control.

Over time, the brain adapts to the effects of the substances and requires greater quantities for users to achieve the desired effects. As dosages increase, so too does the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence begins when individuals find themselves uncontrollably seeking substances to avoid the effects of withdrawal.

Substance use disorder usually followers physical dependence. While individuals with a physical dependence on substances are free to stop using at any time, people with substance use disorder find that they are unable to quit despite a desire to do so. Many find that addictions fill a deep emotional hole in their lives.

Substance use disorder can also be diagnosed when an individual begins to experience severe negative consequences as a result of their substance abuse. While the nature of these consequences differs dramatically from person to person, people suffering from addiction all share a similar helplessness to stop using despite clear evidence that they are harming themselves.

The Link Between
Addiction & Mental Health

The link between mental health issues and addiction is complex and intertwined. Those struggling with substance abuse often face heightened risks of developing mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. Conversely, individuals with preexisting mental health conditions may also be more susceptible to substance dependency. The use of drugs or alcohol can offer fleeting solace from emotional and psychological struggles, but this “self-medication” typically worsens the underlying issues over time. This creates a perpetuating cycle where efforts to alleviate suffering only deepen the roots of addiction and mental health problems.

Those grappling with both substance use and mental health disorders are categorized as having a “dual diagnosis.” A tailored treatment approach is crucial for these individuals, given the interconnected nature of their conditions. Merely focusing on addiction in an otherwise excellent rehab facility won’t suffice, as untreated mental health triggers can later lead to relapse. Likewise, addressing only the mental health aspects without confronting substance abuse tends to be ineffective, given the additional psychological strain that substance abuse can cause. Programs that offer comprehensive psychiatric resources, like Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs), are better suited for treating individuals with dual diagnosis, aiming for long-term recovery and well-being.

Approaches to Treatment at GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment

Addressing addiction requires a multi-faceted approach, often involving external assistance, due to its complex impact on decision-making abilities. There’s an array of specialized treatment options designed to cater to various levels of addiction severity. For those grappling with intense physical dependencies, medical detox often serves as the initial step.

Post-detox, targeted treatment can be pursued either through inpatient services, offering round-the-clock care within the facility, or outpatient programs that accommodate a more flexible schedule.

Various therapeutic interventions are employed in these settings, from psychiatric consultations and medication management to cognitive-behavioral strategies. Peer support and 12-step programs often complement these treatments, serving as an ongoing foundation for maintaining sobriety.

It’s important to note that while there’s no absolute “cure” for substance use disorders, sustained treatment can significantly alleviate the compulsive need to engage in substance abuse. This treatment journey is often dynamic, evolving as the individual gains more control over their addiction.

Sobriety is not merely about physical abstinence; it’s a long-term commitment that involves building a supportive social network, acquiring coping mechanisms, and honing life skills that empower individuals to start anew. Even the most persistent forms of addiction can be managed effectively with the right help, making enduring sobriety attainable for anyone willing to seek assistance.

After Care

GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment, we extend our commitment to our graduates and alumni by offering 42 additional weeks of aftercare.
This program permits weekly drop-in sessions, fostering long-term recovery and stability for our graduates.

Simultaneously, these sessions provide essential guidance and encouragement to new participants embarking on their journey to recovery.

Family Therapy

Family therapy provides education and support so family members of loved ones can better understand the role and impact of substance abuse.

Learning how to support a loved one in treatment and after treatment. Addressing issues such as communication, co-dependency, and recognizing how to set boundaries.

Individual Therapy

Individual Therapy provides an opportunity to develop and modify relapse prevention plans, identify triggers and develop coping skills.

Sessions are designed to support clients as they work on the identification and resolution of alcohol and or substance-related problems.

Exploring personal barriers, behaviors, and or challenges in the way of recovery. Uncovering the underlying roots of substance abuse addiction.

Group Therapy

At GPS Counseling Center for Addiction Treatment Intensive Outpatient Program group therapy is the primary mode of treatment. Group therapy allows participants to step out of the shadows of shame, secrecy, and isolation and develop a level of community among fellow participants.

Participants who take part in group therapy sessions can improve their communication skills and build connections with other people who are also working to recover from addictions.

Group therapy reinforces mindfulness and healthy ways of interacting and relapse prevention. Allowing participants to learn from the experiences and perspectives of other people. Those that are newer to recovery noticeably benefit from those who have been sober longer.