Last updated: 05/6/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Addiction is a serious disorder that requires professional treatment. Many people do not understand why and how this disorder occurs, but it is important to remember that, once it does, a person’s ability to make a change to their behavior will often be compromised.
Addiction: A Definition
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and changes in the brain, which can be long lasting.” A person can also be addicted to a behavior, but drug and alcohol addiction are some of the most rampant issues associated with this disease and requiring professional care.
Addiction can be defined by its ability to cause compulsive, dangerous behavior in the individual it affects and by its classification as a serious and chronic mental illness. People who become addicted will often relapse even after treatment because of the nature of the disease. Therefore, it is extremely important that an individual in this situation receives as much help as possible in order to fight this reoccurring issue.
How Does Someone Become an Addict?
Addiction to drugs and alcohol occurs because the individual consistently abuses the substance, causing it to change the way the brain works. As stated to the NIDA, “Most drugs affect the brain’s ‘reward circuit’ by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine.” Over time, the brain begins to adjust to the excess of dopamine, which raises its tolerance to this experience and causes the individual to crave more of the drug in order to experience the same effects. This is how compulsive substance abuse is born.
In addition, some individuals are more prone to suffering from this disease than others. There are specific risk factors associated with the disease that, if a person has them, will make the individual more likely to become addicted. They include:
- Biological factors, such as gender, ethnicity, the presence of mental disorders, and family history of substance abuse
- Environmental factors, such as peer pressure, early exposure to drugs, sexual abuse, and stress
- Developmental factors, including substance abuse that occurs early in life
The more of these factors you recognize in your own life, the more dangerous it will be for you to abuse drugs or alcohol. Some individuals need to completely steer clear of the use of any potentially habit-forming substances, even certain prescription medications, if they suffer from too many of these factors.
Can Addiction Be Cured?
Addiction, like many other long-term disorders, can be treated, but this treatment isn’t considered a cure. According to the NIDA, “Relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.” However, treatment can be very effective in helping to minimize one’s likelihood of relapse and allowing an individual to reestablish a safe and productive life in society.
Usually, medications and behavioral therapies are used together to treat addiction. Pharmaceutical options can often minimize withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings so that patients can focus on their recoveries while behavioral therapies help teach patients how to cope with stress and cravings and how to view their substance abuse in a healthier way.
Due to its nature as a chronic disease, addiction may not be able to be cured in most individuals, but a person who seeks treatment can often stop abusing drugs and alcohol––or put an end to any other type of addictive and dangerous behavior––with the proper treatment and support. Often, this takes considerable work and motivation, so having one’s friends and family provide love and support in addition to treatment is extremely beneficial.
Many people think that those who become addicts are lacking in willpower or moral fiber, but in truth, addiction is a disease that changes the way the brain and body work and requires long-term treatment to overcome. This is why it is so important to seek help if you or someone you love is in this situation.