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Addiction: Disease or Choice?

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addiction is a chornic diseaseMany people wonder, “Is addiction really a disease or is it just a matter of choice?

However, the American Medical Association (AMA) classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956 and eventually included drug addiction as a disease in 1987, and most medical professionals agree with this.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) agreed with the AMA in 2011 and defined addiction as not a behavior problem, but a chronic brain disorder. And not just the consequence of making bad choices. Further research from top authorities on addiction, addiction medicine physicians, neuroscientists, and other experts from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) agree with classifying addiction as a disease. But, similar to other chronic diseases like diabetes

and heart disease, the experts are still learning about how the disease develops.

Why is Detox so Important?

If you want to break out of your dependence and override the influence of your addicted brain, detox is the only way. The pain and discomfort of withdrawal from substances make detox a necessity. Withdrawal occurs when a person stops using a chemical substance they’ve become dependent on. Withdrawal is not simply a matter of cravings. Withdrawal symptoms include physical and mental changes that can be severely uncomfortable and even life-threatening.

Typical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shakiness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Runny nose
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Of course, the symptoms of withdrawal can be different for different people. They can also be mild or severe depending on:

  • the type of substance,
  • how long you used it,
  • your age,
  • your general physical health,
  • your mental and emotional condition, and
  • the method of withdrawal used.

Detoxes are designed to help people through the symptoms of withdrawal to become stable off substances and prepared to begin treatment.

How is Addiction Withdrawal Treated?

is addiction a disease or choice

There are private and public services that provide programs for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. The goal of withdrawal management is to:

  • Treat the symptoms of withdrawal
  • Stop and/or handle any complications
  • Plan further treatment after the symptoms of withdrawal have subsided

Medications can be given to help with:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Tremors and shaking

Detox can take place in a hospital, a residential detox center, or at home

Two Types of Detox

The two main types of detox are: social and medical. Usually, social detox is referred to simply as “detox.” Medical detox is often shortened to “med detox.”

A social detox facility is not authorized to administer most narcotic medications and is considered to have a lower level of care than medical detoxes. Although they can offer some medical care, it is commonly limited to monitoring and treating minor withdrawal symptoms as they appear. In addition, staff members in social detox may not be licensed counselors but they are qualified to observe and report symptoms back to medical professionals. This is why patients who have the potential to face life-threatening withdrawal symptoms are better off in a medical detox.

Medical detoxes include fully staffed facilities with trained professionals who can provide any needed medications to prevent or treat withdrawal symptoms. This might include tapering a person off a drug to the point where they can safely stop consuming them. Med detoxes can handle individuals who are at a higher risk than social detoxes. On the other hand, the process of medical detoxification is generally more expensive and may take longer.

After Detox

After you complete a detox program, it is necessary to find additional help. Many people are fooled into thinking they have “cured” their addiction after detox. Actually, detox is only the first step in the recovery process.

You can’t be cured but you can achieve long-term sobriety by transferring from detox to some form of residential treatment. If that is not feasible, you should check into outpatient services at the very least. There are several levels of outpatient care that will make it easier to find the appropriate program for you.

What is Addiction?

Drug or alcohol addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic disease of the brain that could happen to anyone. Severe SUD occurs when your substance use turns into an uncontrollable habit that negatively affects your day-to-day life. Signs may be:

  • problems at work or school,
  • conflicts in relationships,
  • legal issues, or
  • money problems.

Addiction rewires the structure of your brain, changing the way it works. Drugs and alcohol tap into your brain’s communication system and tamper with how nerve cells send, receive, and process information.

Your brain’s reward system turns on when you do something you like. This may be eating your favorite food, being with friends, or having sex. The reward comes in the chemical dopamine. Alcohol and drugs also trigger the release of dopamine. Addiction motivates the brain to ask for more.

Dopamine makes you feel good and want to keep doing whatever you’re doing. Additionally, it teaches the brain to repeat the behavior. Outside cues:

  • trigger the reward system,
  • fuel your cravings, and
  • create a habit loop.

For example, the smell of cookies baking may make you salivate in anticipation of the taste. Addiction also fuels habits such as craving a cigarette every morning with coffee or wanting a hit whenever you drive past the house where you used to do drugs.

When you use a substance, your brain releases a surge of dopamine, more than it would when you’re eating those cookies. This causes your brain to overreact and cut back on dopamine production to lower it to a normal level. As you keep using the substance, your body begins to produce less dopamine on its own. Things that used to bring you pleasure such as those cookies, your friends, and even substances, don’t do it anymore. When you become addicted, it takes more and more drugs just to feel normal.

According to research, addiction changes the areas in your brain that are in charge of:

  • judgment,
  • decision-making,
  • learning,
  • memory, and
  • behavior control.

These changes can result in a good student flunking out, a husband lying about draining the family bank account, or an overdose in a parking lot.

When SUD changes the brain, your willpower also changes. Your brain tries to protect you from the pain and intensity of withdrawal when you try to quit using drugs. Addiction fires your brain’s response to doing whatever is necessary to stop the cravings and discomfort. Often, this means overruling your will to “just say no” by having a drink or using a drug.

Clearly, addiction doesn’t discriminate whether it’s age, race, sex, fancy neighborhood, or low-rent area. Addiction intertwines through all walks of life. There is not one single thing that can predict who will develop SUD. Still, researchers agree that there is a combination of factors that can increase your risk. They are:

Genetics

If addiction runs in your family, NIDA says you have up to a 60% higher risk of also becoming addicted.

Environment

Growing up in a home with adults who abuse substances will increase your risk of addiction, just like growing up in a home where fried foods, sugary sodas, and sweets are commonly consumed will increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Development

If you use drugs as a teenager up to age 25, when your brain is still developing, it increases your risk of addiction and can cause lasting serious damage.

A disease is a condition that changes the way an organ functions. It can be treated and managed, but not cured. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain the same way diabetes is a chronic disease of the pancreas.

Earlier we asked if addiction is a disease or a choice. Well, everyone makes their own choice about drinking alcohol or using drugs for the first time. However, you don’t have a choice in how your brain reacts to it.

Shaming and willpower won’t go far in undoing the changes in your brain and curing addiction. There isn’t any cure. But treatment will help you manage and live with the disease successfully.

Getting treatment is another choice you can make. Sometimes a court order or an ultimatum from the family helps you make that choice. But many people make that choice on their own because they don’t want a life of addiction and all that it entails.

Choosing Treatment at Casco Bay Recovery

therapy is available to you hereIt is still not known why some people can quit drugs or alcohol on their own successfully, and other people can’t. If you are reading this, you have probably tried it on your own, or you have a loved one who has. For most people, recovery takes professional help with medical assistance, therapy options, and behavioral counseling. Casco Bay Recovery in Maine can provide you with the highest level of outpatient care, known as a partial hospitalization program (PHP).  PHP is similar in intensity to a residential program but you still have the convenience of going home each day. Additionally, our medical professionals can help make you more comfortable with medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Staying Clean

Getting clean is hard. And so is staying on track with your sobriety. That’s how it is when you live with a chronic disease. Success means managing the changes in your brain and learning how to change deep-rooted habits. For many people, the hardest part is managing new behaviors for the rest of their lives. This is where further outpatient treatment and aftercare programs help. Casco Bay has programs to help you learn relapse-prevention skills and how to deal with a relapse in case it occurs. That is true success. Make the choice to contact us today.