What is Addiction?
Addiction can come in a variety of forms. The treatment options which are available to patients who suffer from some form of addiction range from medical to psychological. Addiction means that someone is using a particular substance or engaging in certain activities and they are unable to control their behavior regarding that product or action. It can become harmful to not only physical health but also the patient’s relationships, work, finances, and psychological health. Addicts may also break the law in order to continue fueling their addiction.
In general, cases of addiction fall into two categories: substance dependence and behavior addictions. There are many varieties of addictions which patients might fall victim to. These include alcohol, drugs, of both the legal and illegal nature, cigarettes, gambling, food, sex, smoking, internet, such as social networking, shopping, video games, and even exercise. Anything might become dangerous when someone becomes addicted to it.
Habits are actions which are done by the patient’s choice and under control. People can choose to stop participating in a habit if they want to. When the habit starts to take on a psychological or physical aspect, and the person cannot control their behavior any longer, then it has become an addiction. Sometimes addiction is called dependency. When the person needs more and more of the substance or activity, then they have developed tolerance, which then continues the cycle of increasing dependency.1
More Ways That Addiction Negatively Affects a Patient’s Life
Withdrawal of the activity or substance can feel so unpleasant that the addicted person then has difficulty quitting. Use which is compulsive and repetitive feeds the addiction cycle.2 Denial is another aspect of this uncontrollable habit. Sometimes, without an outside influence to reveal the issue, a patient who is suffering from addiction could find ways to continue to justify their actions for a very long time.
Long-Term Costs After Short-Term Rewards
Unfortunately, there are long-term costs that follow the short-term rewards. And those who are suffering from addiction are less likely to see the bigger picture and consequences of their actions. Some of the consequences are physical and psychological, such as in the case of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include cravings, nausea, irritability, hallucination, tremors, cold sweats, and headaches. Symptoms could be more severe and dangerous, and they vary based on what the patient is addicted to.
There are environmental and biological mechanisms involved in addictions. Professionals often differ on the division of “nature versus nurture” and how these forces relate to what patients are primarily influenced by in their lives and how an uncontrollable habit is formed. Some believe DNA, mental disorders, genetics, and family history can play a role in that these dormant addictive aspects can be triggered. Others feel the environment and relationships in the addict’s “world” change the person’s behavior.
Changes in the Brain
Over time, regardless of the cause, the brain mechanisms change. Dopamine can reinforce addictions, as its secretion naturally reinforces sex, water, and food. Drugs, for example, can, in a way, hijack the functioning of these mechanisms. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is in charge of impulse control, judgment, and risk-taking may have deficiencies or under-development, such as in adolescents. People with mood disorders who self-medicate with substances or activities are at risk of addictions. Impulsivity also plays a role in addiction, as individuals seek reward or ignore negative consequences. Many patients begin to primarily think about the next time that they can indulge in their addiction.3
Even though experts disagree over whether or not addiction is a disease or a mental illness, many effective treatment options are available to patients who are willing to put the effort into healing themselves.4 There are self-help programs for a variety of common addictions, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous that can help patients cope with this uncontrollable habit and avoid triggers which could send them back into their dangerous actions. Family members of addicts, who need support, could benefit from Al-Anon.5
Depending on the nature of the addiction, treatment can be inpatient or outpatient. The types of therapy available are those which are done in groups, counseling, sponsors, and medication. Addicts can receive help with managing and overcoming their cravings, triggers, and withdrawal symptoms. For some, withdrawal symptoms can actually be life-threatening if the withdrawal process is handled improperly. These patients will require inpatient medical attention. There are medications available, such as methadone, to help with physical withdrawal from certain drugs, including the likes of opioids.6 Some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment options can also assist with withdrawal and addictions, such as yoga, mindfulness exercises, and vitamin B1 (thiamine).
Patients need safe and healthy ways to redirect their dangerous compulsions without unintentionally becoming addicted to a new coping mechanism. Outside help from trained professionals and a positive influence from friends and family could contribute to a patient’s recovery.7
1, 2 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/addiction/