Addiction is that topic everyone seems to know, but very few actually understand. It’s amazing really that a topic so critical to the overall well-being of a state is so misunderstood.
The rate of addiction in the country is increasing, but so is the stigma associated with addiction.
The end result? More and more people struggling with addiction are getting seriously ill and dying. It is an ongoing medical health catastrophe.
We aim to provide here an article detailing what addiction is, its symptoms, misconceptions, treatment, and prevention.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by the uncontrolled use of a substance and the inability to stop engaging in a particular practice despite harmful physical and mental consequences. Medically, it can be defined as a disease that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory functions.
Today, when we mention addiction, people think of heroin, cocaine, meth, or other such illicit substances. In reality, anyone can get addicted to any substance. While it almost always starts with voluntary use, it degenerates into uncontrolled use and the inability to stop using that particular substance.
Other implicated substances that people get addicted to are sleep medications, antidepressants, painkillers, alcohol, coffee, among others.
Aside from actual substances, people may also get addicted to certain practices, like gambling, sex and pornography, the internet, etc. These are known as process addictions.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
The term “addict” is reserved in society today for people on the street that can’t seem to stay off crack. This couldn’t be more false. There are many people addicted to certain substances without even realizing it. Below are some of the signs and symptoms associated with addiction.
- Poor and declining grades
- Inability to stay off a particular substance
- Poor social interactions and relationship difficulties
- Reduced productivity
- Depression and anxiety
- Insomnia and memory loss
- Moodiness and brooding
- Stealing, lying, and several other social vices
- Weight loss and drastic diet changes
- Defensive attitude when confronted about addiction
- Periodic outbursts at friends and family
Misconceptions About Addiction
If you’ve been reading keenly, you will have identified some misconceptions we have about addiction in society today. There are quite a few misconceptions people have about addiction, which is one of the leading causes of stigmatization.
Misconception 1: Addiction Is a Moral Failing Not a Disease
This is perhaps the most common and most significant misconception about addiction. The notion that addiction is a moral failing and not a disease is utterly false. Through tests and clinical trials, science has repeatedly proved that addiction is a disease, and a chronic one at that.
Addiction does not arise because of low willpower or no willingness to stop; in fact, many people in active addiction want nothing more than to stop. Because addiction develops as a result of certain changes in the brain, it is often just too difficult to stop without professional help.
How the brain changes with sustained drug use
Let’s break it down. One of the most typical forms of addiction is an addiction to psychoactive drugs, like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for reward function in the brain. This is the chemical released when the brain wants to “reward” the body. It’s the “feel-good” chemical.
When these psychoactive substances are used, they stimulate the dopaminergic pathways of the brain, leading to prolonged dopamine activity in the brain. In response to this, the brain tries to reduce the dopamine it produces over time and lower dopamine sensitivity. This is basically the brain getting used to getting dopamine from external sources. This is why many drug addicts cut a very depressed and moody figure when sober.
Drug addicts, therefore, have to keep using these drugs to satisfy the dopamine needs of their bodies. And it just gets worse with time. Before long, what started as a voluntary act of pleasure becomes necessary for sanity.
Then, there’s the question, “why can’t they just stop?” Because they can lose their mind if they do. And we mean that literally. Mental and physical breakdown is often the result of sudden withdrawal, and in extreme cases, death. So, they can’t just stop.
Misconception 2: All Addicts Are Drug Addicts
While drugs, especially psychoactive drugs, are the most common substances to get addicted to, they aren’t the only ones. Alcohol addiction is one of the leading causes of death today. Gambling is also one of the greatest social menaces plaguing several states in the world.
Anything, and we mean anything whatsoever, with uncontrollable use even when harming its user, falls into the category of addiction.
Misconception 3: Addiction Is the Same as Drug abuse
No, addiction is not the same as drug abuse. While addiction is the inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior, drug abuse is using a drug wrongly for more benefits from the drug. Drug abuse can exist without addiction, although it can also lead to addiction.
For example, if a doctor prescribes one tablet of sleep medication and the individual uses two tablets for even increased effects, the person has abused the drug. It only becomes an addiction when the person cannot sleep without the medication.
Misconception 4: Addiction Is the Same as Tolerance
Just like drug abuse, tolerance is not the same as addiction. Tolerance occurs when an increased dose of a medication is needed to elicit the same response. Again, this doesn’t fit the bill of what addiction is. Many people develop a tolerance to several drugs, particularly when the drug has to be used for extended periods, without getting addicted to it.
However, addiction to a drug may lead to tolerance.
Misconception 5: Addiction Is Untreatable
Addiction is a chronic disease and difficult to treat, but it is by no means untreatable. With the right medical and clinical care, along with proper intervention, addiction can be treated. The earlier the medical care starts, the easier and better addiction is to treat.
Misconception 6: Addiction Is for Illiterates
No, no, no.
Addiction is not a respecter of status, position, or educational accolades. It doesn’t give a damn about any of these things. We have also heard people refer to educated and wealthy addicted people as having a “condition,” while the poor and uneducated ones are said to be addicted. That’s silly, and more importantly, wrong. Addiction is addiction everywhere.
Addiction and Genetics
One of the most interesting aspects of addiction is the genetic aspect. According to research, as much as half a person’s risk of getting addicted is linked to their genetic makeup. This essentially means some people are at a greater risk of getting addicted solely off their genes, which they have no control over. You can’t tell us that’s not interesting!
While the exact theory and mechanism behind this is still relatively ununderstood, scientists have drawn up links between some genes and addiction. For example, marijuana addiction has been linked to the low expression of gene CHRNA2 in the cerebellum.
The environment an individual grows up in is another factor that may influence addiction. While both the environment and genetics are implicated in addiction, they are no guarantees that a person will get addicted. So, although having drunken parents doesn’t have to mean the child will grow up to be a drunkard, it means there is likely a higher chance of the child becoming a drunkard.
The good news about addictions is that they are treatable. All forms of addiction can be treated with the right care and attention. However, this care and attention have to be administered as soon as possible. Addiction is definitely easier to treat when diagnosed early.
Some treatment options for addiction include:
- Medication-based therapy, especially when addiction is accompanied by mental disorders and disturbances
- Medical services, like detoxification. This is one step of ridding the body of residual drug or alcohol content after withdrawal. Some medical devices and even surgery may have to be employed for severe addiction cases.
- Psychotherapy, which includes support groups, visits to therapists and psychologists, etc. There are several organizations also committed to helping addicts overcome their condition.
- Ongoing care. This is important to prevent the addicted person from relapsing.
Addiction treatment is typically very personalized, meaning what works for someone may not work for others. It is important to treat each case individually. If possible, the cause of addiction should be highlighted and tackled.
The most sure-fire way to beat addiction is not to start at all. There are some important steps to preventing addiction:
- Proper education of addiction and its misconceptions. This should start from an early age too.
- Responsible parenting. One of the most common causes of addiction is early exposure to drugs, alcohol, and several other substances and practices. Parents should burden themselves with controlling what their children are exposed to, particularly when young.
- Develop a hobby or something you care about. If you notice you are getting addicted to a particular substance or practice, find a hobby to take your mind off it. You can also prioritize human and family interactions over solitary confinement.
Addiction is definitely not something to joke with. It is responsible for the deaths of so many people in the world today. It’s a serious disease and should be treated as one. Proper education on addiction and its misconceptions are crucial, particularly for teenagers, to prevent addiction altogether.