Addiction is a complex and relapsing condition that not only exerts a powerful influence over the brain, but changes it. 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.
Contrary to what many believe, it takes more than willpower and good intentions to overcome addiction.
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.
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.
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.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
When a person is addicted to drugs, alcohol or nicotine, they are not able to consume that substance in a recommended dosage. They continue taking it, even though it may cause harm and, most of the time, are not even aware of it.
Substance dependence can cause powerful side effects. The addict may find it extremely difficult to quit without extensive help. The signs and symptoms of substance dependence vary according to the individual.
Anatomy of the Addicted Brain
The word “addiction” is derived from the Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.”
Addiction manifests in the brain in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.
Experts believed for many years that addiction resulted from the use of alcohol and powerful drugs. As a result of ongoing research and neuroimaging, it has also shown that certain pleasurable activities can also include such activities as gambling, shopping, and sex and also take control of the brain.
The Cost of Addiction
Addiction is most known for the impact it has on an individual’s health and relationships. However, while these losses feature a more prominent role in addiction, they only tell part of the story.
Financial and personal problems are common in those with an addiction.
Typically, addicts and their families also pay a heavy financial cost, both in terms of the money spent on the substance or activity in question and in terms of lost wages and job opportunities.
One can even consider the cost that society also pays due to factors such as lost productivity, health care expenses for indigent addicts, drug treatment programs, drug-related law enforcement efforts, and the housing of drug offenders in jails and prisons.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on race, ethnicity, education, height, weight, or social status.
Some people are more prone to addiction than others. Trying to pinpoint the cause of addiction is not easy. There are many risk factors that may increase the risk of addiction, such as family history or personal trauma.
Risk factors for a drug addiction may differ from other addictions, but many factors can combine to increase overall chances of addiction. However, not two people show the same symptoms or signs. Treatment should be tailored to the client.