Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both conditions disrupt the normal, healthy functions of the body, have serious harmful consequences, and are preventable and treatable – but if left untreated, can last for a lifetime. People with an addiction have very little control over what they are doing, taking or using – even if their addiction reaches a point where it becomes life-threatening. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self control and hinder his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.
For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. But thanks to recent research and improved technology, the science and medical community has also shown that certain “pleasurable” and normally harmless activities – such as gambling, shopping and sex – can also hijack the brain in the same way. Fortunately, treatments are available to help people counter addiction’s powerful disruptive effects. Treatment approaches that are tailored to each patient’s drug abuse patterns and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems can lead to sustained recovery and a life without drug abuse.