The disease of addiction is now recognised by an increasing number of medical associations, including the American Society for Addiction Medicine. According to the charity ‘Action on Addiction‘, one in three people are addicted to something. However, there are varying degrees of addiction and so not all are necessarily suffering from an ‘addiction disease’ as such.
Here we’ll outline the characteristics of an addiction disease, how it impacts the lives of sufferers, and how treatment is best approached.
How the disease of addiction works
Addiction is caused by a variety of factors, which can include:
- Environmental factors: including life circumstances, such as childhood experiences, work situation and family life.
- Behavioural factors: the consequences of decisions made (often influenced by environmental factors).
- Genetic factors: it’s believed that some people are genetically predisposed to a higher likelihood of developing an addiction.
These same factors are also present in other diseases, such as heart disease, where lifestyle choices, environmental surroundings and genetics all contribute to the likelihood of developing symptoms. By understanding all the different factors involved in an individual’s addiction, it helps us provide the best possible course of treatment which tackles all the causal factors.
One of the consequences of addiction is that it can change the way in which the brain and body functions. When we experience pleasure, it’s the result of chemicals (including dopamine) being released in the brain. It’s these chemicals which are released when we satisfy our hunger, thirst or sexual desire.
From an evolutionary point of view it makes sense: it’s part of our survival instinct.
However, for many people, substances such as drugs and alcohol release large amounts of dopamine. The result? A strong desire to experience that feeling again. And for addiction sufferers, the chemical hit can be so great that they are willing to compromise their own health and wellbeing just to re-experience the feeling it gives them.
By repeating the cycle, these chemicals can change the part of our brains responsible for reward, motivation and memory. Meaning, that all those things which should be our priority, suddenly seem less important than getting that dopamine hit.
Understanding addiction risk factors
There are a variety of factors that increase the risk of becoming addicted. Take environmental risk factors, for example. If an individual has experienced childhood trauma, they may become more susceptible to using drugs and alcohol as a crutch. In other words, a means to numb the pain of past experiences. But, so too can the availability of drugs and alcohol at a young age. This early exposure can normalise their use and make it far more likely for an individual to become addicted.
But other risk factors might also include physical and psychological, or we may inherit genes which increase susceptibility to the disease of addiction. Often it’s a combination of various factors, which are interlinked.
At Asana Lodge, we understand that addiction is complicated. Hence the reason why we focus on understanding all the factors behind an individual’s addiction. Equipped with this understanding we can provide a full ‘holistic’ treatment approach which means we can address all the issues behind an addiction – not just the addiction itself. The addiction is usually the symptom of a much deeper issue.
The impact of addiction
Addiction can impact an individual’s mental and physical state. The symptoms vary depending on the nature of the addiction and the person’s life experience and current circumstances.
It can impact on a person’s social relations, financial situation, and even lead to criminality. Ultimately, the disease of addiction has major ramifications for quality of life.
Family, friends and other relationships may suffer as a result of an individual’s addiction. Maintaining these relationships can become harder, as the addiction takes centre stage. A sense of shame may lead to enforced self-isolation.
An addiction can lead an individual to become obsessive. The dependency is such that it dominates their thoughts and decision-making. It can also lead to depression, with the individual feeling helpless to control their feelings and break the cycle of self-destruction which negatively impacts on every part of their life.
There are a wide range of physical symptoms that may come about due to addiction. For example, sufferers may experience:
> A change in eating habits – an individual may lose or gain appetite.
> Lung disease – particularly as a result of smoking
> Heart disease – which can result from either alcohol or drug abuse
> Liver problems – from heavy alcohol consumption
> Vein and artery damage – from injecting
> Sleeplessness – which can occur as a result of any addiction
> A change in appearance – due to a dereliction of self care
This is just a brief overview of the kind of symptoms an addiction sufferer can experience. It can vary hugely depending on the type of addiction and the personal circumstances of the person who has the addiction.
Finally, a strong dependency can mean someone is willing to sacrifice everything else in order to access and consume drugs and alcohol. They may even be driven to commit a crime in order to get what they want; perhaps even harming others in the process.
How to get treatment for the disease of addiction
At Asana Lodge, we believe addiction treatment requires a holistic approach. In other words, there is no silver bullet to cure an addiction; instead a variety of methodologies are required. What will work for one person, may not work for another.
Nonetheless, here’s a list of some of the treatments used to help someone break free of the disease of addiction:
- A detox programme: which involves gradual withdrawal from the addictive substance.
- Counselling and behavioural therapies: to help understand the root cause of an individual’s problem, provide guidance and motivation, and ultimately give them the tools which they can use to overcome their addiction.
- Self-help support groups: where individuals with similar problems can discuss their situations and help one another in a less formal environment.
- Medication: in extreme cases, medication may be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, or otherwise manage the process of detoxification
By approaching the disease of addiction by treating each case as unique, it offers people the best possible chance of recovery. There’s rarely one simple solution. Instead, treatment requires a variety of approaches which, when combined and customised to an individual’s needs, provides the best chance of success long term.