Addiction, or substance use disorders, affect millions of Americans and even more family members and friends. Currently, statistics show nearly 15 million American adults have an alcohol use disorder, and 8 million have a drug use disorder.
Alarming statistics like this raise many questions. People want to know more about the substances hurting so many families. We answer the most common questions we receive below.
Is Addiction a Disease?
Addiction is a disease of the brain. When you ingest alcohol or drugs of any kind, they travel through your body and eventually to your brain. When they reach your brain, the substance begins altering the brain’s structure.
Neurotransmitters send signals to different parts of the brain, giving it instructions on making us move, talk, walk and feel. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure and reward when released. Things like winning a game, romantic kisses, and winning a prize are examples of naturally occurring events that trigger dopamine release in the brain.
When you consume alcohol or drugs, and they enter the brain, they trick the brain into releasing huge amounts of dopamine into the brain’s reward center. Only, they release much more than the brain could ever produce naturally, leaving you feeling more relaxed and euphoric than you ever have before.
This becomes a problem when you try to avoid using drugs or alcohol.
Why Are People Addicted?
People who develop a substance use disorder have more significant risk factors than those who avoid addiction. Risk factors are anything that makes you more susceptible to a substance use disorder. They can be physical, psychological, or social. Below is a list of risk factors commonly found among those with an addiction:
- Past trauma includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, war combat, surviving a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, and any other life-changing event. At the time of the trauma, it’s sometimes easier to block it out or suppress the memory than to deal with it. Over time, the trauma starts interfering with daily functioning. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the emotions associated with the trauma. While this is a temporary fix, eventually, the problems become worse.
- Genetics plays a big role in addiction. If your parents, grandparents, or other family members struggle with substance misuse, you may inherit the genetics associated with addiction. Having the genes does not guarantee you will have a substance use disorder. But when genetics are combined with other factors, it puts you at higher risk.
- The living environment is a risk factor, also. If you live in a chaotic, abusive environment, you are more likely to try alcohol or drugs to escape and feel less overwhelmed. If you live with one or more family members with a substance use disorder, this too raises your risk.
- Parental involvement is a risk factor because it’s based on what your parents teach you about addiction. If your parents encourage you to start smoking and drinking alcohol as a teenager, you are more likely to try it. If your parents teach you the hazards and consequences of substance misuse and addiction, you will less likely be willing to try it.
- Peer pressure is one of the main reasons some adolescents try alcohol or drugs for the first time. Everyone wants to fit in and feel like they belong to a group. It’s natural to want to be liked by peers. Fitting in with the wrong peers can lead to bigger problems later.
- Age of first use, according to research, is a risk factor for addiction. Studies show that the younger a person is when they first start experimenting with substances, the more likely they will develop a substance use disorder.
- Mental health disorders are common among people with substance use disorder. It may be why some people start misusing alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Because it may temporarily work, a person may continue to use the substance and eventually develop an addiction.
The good news about risk factors is that they can be replaced with protective factors that can help prevent or overcome an addiction.
How to Overcome Addiction
A big misconception about addiction is that you must hit rock bottom before you stop using drugs or alcohol. Too many negative consequences can happen while waiting, and some people never hit rock bottom. The best way to start overcoming any addiction is to recognize you need help. Then, ask for help. Support is an essential part of recovery.
The second step is to determine the level of treatment you need to help you stop using drugs or alcohol. If you experience withdrawal symptoms, you likely need an inpatient or outpatient program that offers medication to ease your symptoms.
If you’ve been misusing substances for a long time, your mind and body are used to doing everything while intoxicated. You must now relearn how to live sober using new life skills. Think of treatment as a classroom with professional teachers, showing you how to maintain recovery. They will also offer techniques to stop addiction.
Techniques to Stop addiction
Seeking social support is one of the first things you should do when trying to stop addiction. Telling your friends and family helps to make your wish a reality. Your loved ones can help you implement the techniques that will stop addiction, including the ones listed below:
- Think about joining a virtual 12 Step group or an online intensive outpatient program
- Speak to your family doctor about treatment options
- Start weaning yourself off with the help of family or friends, or ask your local treatment center about harm reduction techniques
- Make plans to avoid your triggers
- Start a journal tracking your drug or alcohol use. This could be eye-opening and encourage you to seek help