Many people use alcohol and drugs and never develop an addiction. They’re able to use substances casually. They know when to stop and the drinking or drug use doesn’t affect their lives in any way. In fact, it might provide temporary feelings of stress relief, enjoyment, and pleasure.
However, for others who seek stress relief, enjoyment, and pleasure, getting it through drugs or alcohol is simply not a good idea. They might have a genetic disposition towards developing an addiction. They might have a history of addiction in their family. Or they might be using alcohol or drugs as their only coping tool to manage a stressful life. If these factors are present, along with others that can contribute to an addiction, then the illness of addiction might develop.
Yet, there is a point in which casual drug use and recreational drinking turn into an addiction. There are some certain characteristics of addiction that are common to everyone who experiences it. First, an addiction can change the brain in fundamental ways. It affects one’s idea of what their needs and desires are, changing priorities of survival for the use of the drug. Slowly, a compulsion develops which undermines one’s ability to control their impulses despite knowing that it’s not good for them.
This sort of compulsion and ignoring what the body needs to stay healthy is the hallmark of addiction. For instance, someone will continue to drink even though their marriage, career, and relationships are falling apart. Someone will continue to drink despite knowing that they might lose their home or financial resources. Those who are addicted develop such a need for the drug that they continue to use to the detriment of their own lives.
Because of this an addiction could be defined by a loss of control. If an individual has lost power over their drinking or drug use, then it’s beginning to fit the definition of addiction. When the use of drugs or alcohol becomes the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion of other life-activities, that’s when it might be an addiction. And it should be noted here too that the pattern of compulsive behavior can manifest in other areas of life, not just an addiction to drugs or drinking. Because addiction is an illness in the brain, compulsory behavior can be seen in other ways too – not just with drinking or drug use. For instance, addiction can be seen with gambling, pornography, other sexual activities, and shopping. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) recognizes addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, sexual activities, and shopping as a mental illness. Whenever the cycle of addiction is at work – meaning that the brain is triggered with the compulsory behavior and a person experiences a high – the mental illness of addiction is present.
Just like an illness in which the condition of the body is deteriorating, an addiction is also an illness – an illness of the brain. Because of this, it needs to be treated with professional care. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, contact a mental health professional today.
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