What is Addiction?
In today’s society, it is generally accepted that there are both substance addictions, such as alcohol and drugs, as well as behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, and eating disorders. Although there continues to be a lot of discussion about addiction, medical research clearly defines it as a disease. It is a medical condition with specific signs and symptoms, affecting individuals both physically and emotionally. Reasearchers have also discovered that there appears to be a genetic component to addiction, meaning that individuals who are struggling with addiction may carry certain genes in their body that make them more at risk for the challenges of addiction.
Research has documented that addiction interferes with the functioning of several areas of the brain including the reward pathways and the areas critical to learning, memory, decision-making, and behavior control. Individuals who are struggling with addiction experience a compulsion, an urge to use or in the case of behavioral addictions, repetition of the behavior. Individuals will continue to use, or repeat the behavior, in spite of problems that it may create in their lives. This causes the addiction to grow more serious over time.
What are the signs of addiction?
Denial has long been identified as a key sign of addiction. When someone refuses to admit, acknowledge or accept what is true, it can get in the way of healthy living. Individuals experiencing denial often experience negative self talk, rationalizations, blaming, minimizing and other ways of covering up their real thoughts and feelings. Supressing these thoughts and feelings allows the individual to continue making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Other signs of addiction may include:
- relationship, financial, employment, or legal problems
- excessive substance use
- taking risks
- giving up social, recreational, hobbies
- health problems
- withdrawl symptoms
How do you treat addiction?
Addiction treatment involves change. For the best chance of success, the individual system and the family system must change. Change may come through:
- group therapy
- individual therapy
- support groups
- self help books
Addiction therapy may occur on an inpatient or an outpatient basis, and sometimes both. The type of therapy should be supported by the latest research and be able to address the whole person including the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have allowed the addiction to continue to operate. Formal addiction treatment is merely the beginning of the process. Relapse, where the individual slips back into old behavior patterns, is common. It takes a significant committment to maintain changes in beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that were made during the addiction treatment process. Relapse prevention, aftercare, and ongoing support are all key components in maintaining changes.