Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Addiction: A Real Disease with Effective Treatments

By Amanda von Horn, Medical Student

For September's National Recovery Month, let's discuss recovery from alcohol / drug addiction. Odds are that you or someone you know has struggled with addiction, whether it be alcohol, street drugs, or prescription medications. Unfortunately, many believe that those who struggle with addiction are simply weak, lacking morals, or don’t have the desire or will-power to stop using. The fact is that addiction is a chronic brain disease with real physical and psychological symptoms. People may voluntarily use drugs or alcohol initially, but the drugs themselves can change the brain and make it extremely difficult to stop using, even if they have a strong desire to quit. 

This post answers some commonly asked questions about the disease of addiction. Hopefully you will share the information so others understand that with treatment and support, people do recover.

What actually is addiction?
Addiction is a long-term, often relapsing brain disease that results in repetitive and compulsive substance use despite harmful effects or consequences. 
Why is it so hard to stop using drugs/alcohol?
With long-term drug/alcohol use, there are significant changes in the “reward” pathways of the brain. These changes can result in needing more and more drugs just to feel normal. Stopping the drug often causes withdrawal, with symptoms such as intense nausea/vomiting, fevers and chills, horrible depression and/or anxiety, and in some cases even life-threatening seizures. 

Why does addiction affect some people more than others?
Addiction can be caused by many factors, and it is hard to predict individuals who are more vulnerable to the disease. A person’s biology and genetics can play a big role; for example, if a parent abuses drugs/alcohol, the child has a higher chance of having the same problem than does a child of parents who don’t use. 

I am struggling with addiction. What kind of treatment is available?
No one treatment is appropriate for everyone. Effective treatment often involves a combination of medication, counseling, behavioral therapy, and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In many cases, a person may need hospitalization to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal in the early stages of recovery. 

The recovery plan must address not only the patient’s addiction but all aspects of his or her life in order for treatment to be effective long-term. Since relapse is often a part of the recovery process, it is important to identify “triggers” (people, places, or things that set off an alcohol or drug craving for someone in recovery) and how to cope with these triggers without the use of alcohol or drugs. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please consult a physician for evaluation. Recovery is possible, and there is no better time to ask for help than now.

For more information on addiction, visit http://psychiatry.org/addiction


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I had no idea that September was awareness month. Addiction is a serious topic that needs to be addressed and you did a great job.

    Take comfort in knowing there is help for those struggling with addiction in Salem, MA.


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