What Is Addiction And How Can Therapy Help?
The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a brain disease caused by continued or compulsive use of substances such as alcohol or drugs. Also called severe substance use disorder, addiction can end up causing a great deal of pain in an addict and those that love the addict.
How Does Addiction Affect Brain?
Those that continue to use substances like alcohol or drugs can ultimately end up causing changes in their brain, which in turn can cause changes in the way the brain functions. Two main areas are affected by substances: the limbic system and the cortex.
The limbic system is responsible for our basic survival instincts. It’s the part of the brain that reinforces behaviors and is important to us as a species. It’s essentially the brain’s hardwiring for survival, so when you have the urge to eat or drink water (so you can survive), that’s the limbic system functioning at an optimal state.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that separates us from other animals. It’s largely responsible for impulse control and decision making. So, when you use a substance like alcohol, that alcohol activates the survival part of the brain, which actually kind of tricks your brain into thinking it needs more of that alcohol in order to survive.
Repeated use of that alcohol in turn, hijacks the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This is why you see addicts or alcoholics choosing to skip meals, abandon responsivities, drive while intoxicated, or make poor or risky choices; their logical, decision making, impulse control part of their brain has been hijacked. Their primary motivations for survival, like food, water, shelter, sex, etc. are weakened.
So Why Doesn’t Everyone Become Addicted?
If this is the case, why doesn’t everyone get addicted? Why do some people opt to only have one or two drinks per outing or smoke marijuana occasionally?
Well, there are factors to consider, including age at first exposure, genes, the availability of substances, parental involvement, and other risk factors. There’s been a lot of research done regarding risk factors and preventative factors.
Is Addiction Treatable?
Absolutely. There are a variety of treatment paths available and oftentimes combining several modes of treatment are very beneficial to those who want to get free from addiction.
How Is Addiction Treated?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving long-term recovery from addiction. Successful treatment incorporatesseveral components that target various aspects of the disease, as well as consequences that have occurred.
The first step is to recognize that there is an addiction going on. It’s tough to treat addiction when the addict denies a problem. An assessment by an addiction specialist can be helpful to determine if you have a substance use disorder. Such an assessment can help pave the way for a unique treatment path to ensue.
Addiction can affect various facets of one’s life, so oftentimes combining different types of treatment is necessary. It’s fairly common that an addict may be struggling with a co-existing mental problem as well. For example, someone may have an addiction to alcohol and be struggling with chronic depression.For this person, attending a treatment center for alcoholism and taking medication to treat the depression may be a viable method of treatment.
Briefly, here are some of the more common treatment methods:
Treatment center – Inpatient or outpatient programs are designed to help addicts get free from addiction and go on to live a life of sobriety. Inpatient centers usually have a patient stay for about a month, where they reside with peers who are also undergoing addiction treatment. Outpatient programs allow patients to reside at their homes and attend multiple sessions at the treatment center throughout the week. Both options are beneficial and can help struggling addicts stop using drugs and teach them skills for living a better life.
Hospitalization – Sometimes being admitted to a hospital for addiction treatment is the best option, where detox can be monitored and medications can be administered or adjusted. Further treatment is recommended after hospital release.
Sober houses – A sober house is a controlled housing atmosphere where alcohol and drugs are prohibited. Living in such a home for a while can help recovering addicts learn and practice recovery techniques before setting out on their own.
Medication – Medication to assist in addiction recovery can help diminish cravings. Common medication assisted treatments (MAT) for opioid addiction include prescription drugs like Methadone, Suboxone, or Vivitrol to suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings. For alcohol addiction, medications such as Naltrexone, Campral, or Antabuse may be used to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Support Groups – 12 Step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and its offshoots are wonderful peer support options for recovering addicts. For those that want alternative support groups, there’s SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, and other organizations that have evolved to help with sobriety. Also, there’s plenty of online support options, such as 24/7 chats and meetings, as well as online support group video meetings.
Addiction counseling – Mental health therapy is encouraged for the recovering addict to work on issues that may be underlining the surface of addiction. Taking a season to “do the work” in therapy can be extremely helpful for continued abstinence, as well as emotional sobriety. Popular therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where you’ll work on modifying thoughts and behaviors, motivational interviewing, couples and family counseling, and recovery coaches.
Addiction does not have to keep controlling lives, as there are a variety of treatment options that can help people get free. If you’re struggling, or if a loved one is struggling with addiction, know that you’re not alone and help is available. Professional help may be necessary, so please reach out for help today.
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