What is Addiction?

Understanding Addiction

Addiction, also known as a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), is defined as a complex, treatable, chronic medical disease that involves complex interactions in genetics, the environment, brain circuits and an individuals life experiences. It involves continued use of alcohol or other drugs, despite negative consequences. The use of substances to feel good has been recorded since the beginning of civilization. Humans will always want to experience things that bring pleasure, it is hard-wired in our brains. Alcohol and drugs of abuse co-opt the very brain functions that allowed our distant ancestors to survive. Chronic use of alcohol or other drugs, can actually change the structure of one’s brain, as well as natural functions in the brain. Without treatment, these changes can be long-lasting. When exposed to drugs, our reward circuits,  memory systems, decision-making skills and conditioning kick into overdrive to create an all-consuming pattern of uncontrollable cravings and use. Individuals struggling with alcohol or other drug often feel as if they cannot stop on their own, or function normally without their drug of choice. 

Which Drugs are Commonly Abused? 

Drugs are classified in many different ways. Many of them can be very addictive and even harmful. Some common illegal drugs of abuse include: 

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine or Crack Cocaine
  • Marijuana 
  • Ecstasy, Molly or MDMA 
  • Bath Salts
  • LSD
  • Mushrooms
  • PCP
  • Methamphetamines 

There are also many prescription drugs, which can be obtained legally or illegally, that are used by people of all ages that have the potential to lead to abuse or addiction. Oftentimes, they are combined with alcohol, placing the user at high-risk of accidental overdose or even death. Commonly used and misused prescription drugs include: 

  • Benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan) 
  • Opioid painkillers (such as Oxycodone, Percocet, and Codeine) 
  • Amphetamines (such as Adderall, Concerta and Dexedrine) 
  • Barbiturates (such as Phenobarbital, Nembutal and Amytal) 
  • Sleep Medications (such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata) 

Alcohol is a Drug 

There is a common misconception that Alcohol is not a drug. Alcohol is a drug. Although legal, alcohol is a mind-and mood-altering drug. It is classified as a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant, which means that when drinking alcohol, it slows down brain functioning, neural activity and results in delayed reaction time, cognitive impairments, slurred speech, distorted perceptions, lessened inhibitions, sedation and distorted judgement, among many other side-effects. Alcohol can further reduces the functioning of various vital functions in the body. This is due to the increased production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. When taken in excess or in combination with other drugs, the effects can be deadly. According to Harvard Health, alcohol exerts a powerful and sustained influence on the brain which can manifest in three distinct and specific ways. These three distinct ways include loss of control over alcohol use, cravings for alcohol, and continuing involvement with alcohol despite adverse or negative consequences.  

Signs of Addiction 

Sometimes, the warning signs of the development of a substance use disorder are very noticeable, and other times they develop gradually over time. Some of the most common signs of having a substance use disorder include:

  • Continued problems despite negative consequences 
  • Loss of control over use
  • Taking serious risks in order to obtain one’s drug of choice 
  • Acting out in personal relationships, particularly if someone is confronting their substance use 
  • Going out of one’s way to hide the use of, or amount of, substances used 
  • Needing to use more and more of the drug in order to achieve the same desired effects (tolerance) 
  • Spending less and less time engaging in activities that one used to enjoy, such as spending time with family or friends, enjoying or pursuing hobbies and interest, and exercise 
  • Declining performance or attendance at work or school 
  • Not keeping up with responsibilities in the home, work or school 
  • Serious changes in personal hygiene or self-care 
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon the sudden cessation or rapid reduction of use 

Help is Available 

Although there is no cure for addiction, people can and do recovery. When someone enters treatment in the early stages of addiction, their chances for success are incredibly higher. We believe that integrated treatment is key to recovering from a substance use disorder. At Transformations Recovery, we provide a comprehensive program that offers all the resources necessary to help our clients heal physically, mentally and spiritually. Many of the clients we serve go on  to lead happy, successful lives, filled with hope and courage, in recovery. With long-term therapeutic support, evidenced-based interventions, family programming, the option for sober living, and an active alumni program, our clients do recover. Contact us today to learn more about the road to recovery at Transformations Recovery.