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    Alcohol and Drug Addiction Is a Pervasive but Surprisingly Misunderstood Disease

    Addiction is a disease that is currently impacting 23 million Americans. Although drug abuse has been around for centuries, it wasn’t until 1987 that addiction was classified in the medical community as an actual disease. The general consensus now is that addiction is, in fact, a complex disease of the brain and body, which like other chronic diseases follows a predictable staged progression. Because of its complexities, substance abuse and the disease of addiction can feel monumental in overcoming. However, with evidence-based programs, co-occurring mental health treatment, and even various medications, an individual has a chance at living substance-free.

    For a behavioral health condition that affects millions of Americans, their families, and communities, alcohol and drug addiction are widely misunderstood and stigmatized.   Simply put, alcohol and drug addiction is a disease. The behavioral aspects of the disease are characterized by the continued use of alcohol or other drugs even when that use causes harm or interferes with achieving goals in life.

    You might also hear addiction described as "a disease of the mind, body, and spirit." That’s because the condition involves a physical and psychological craving or compulsion to use mood-altering substances, and because recovery from addiction involves physical, psychological, and emotional healing.

    What is Alcohol and Drug Addiction?

    For many years many people consider alcohol and drug addiction to be a problem of personal weakness, initiated for self-gratification and continued because of an unwillingness or lack of sufficient willpower to stop.   However, this belief is simply untrue.  Within the medical and scientific communities, the notion that pleasure-seeking exclusively drives addiction has fallen by the wayside.  Clinicians and scientists alike now think that many people engage in potentially addictive activities to escape either emotional or physical discomfort.  People typically engage in psychoactive experiences to feel good and to feel better. The roots of alcohol and drug addiction reside in activities associated with sensation-seeking and self-medication.  The term addiction does not only refer to dependence on substances such as heroin or cocaine.  Some addictions also involve an inability to stop partaking in activities such as gambling, eating, or working.

    The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as:

    "Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. "

    Alcohol and drug addiction, otherwise known as substance use disorder (SUD), is complex a condition in which there is the uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences.  Substance use becomes abuse and later addiction when the drugs or alcohol begin to take control over one’s life.  For many substance addicts, this is the tipping point: seeking and using increasing amounts of drugs, despite the tremendous problems it causes for themselves and their families.  People with alcohol and drug addiction have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as alcohol,  or illicit drugs, to the point where the person’s ability to function in day-to-day life becomes impaired.   These individuals keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems.

    Individuals with an alcohol and drug addiction, or substance use disorder, may have distorted thinking and behaviors.   Changes in the brain’s structure and function are what cause people to have intense cravings, changes in personality, abnormal movements, and other behaviors.  Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control.

    Here are four critical facts you need to know about alcohol and drug addiction if you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one:

    Progression

    Addiction is Progressive

    If untreated, addiction gets worse over time.  The damage caused to multiple domains of life gets progressively worse as well.

    Chronic

    Addiction is Chronic

    There is no magic cure for addiction.  However, it can be managed much like other chronic diseases. 

    Fatal

    Addiction can be Fatal!

    Addiction can be deadly.  Each year more than 80,000 die from untreated addiction. 

    Treatment

    Addiction is Treatable

    Addiction, like many other chronic diseases, can be effectively treated.  Many who have suffered from addiction do recover and live happy, productive, and meaningful lives.

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    2020 Fatal Drug Overdose Statistics

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    Franklin County Drug Rehab

    Fentanyl Impact on Ohio Overdoses

    Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says is 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin and packs 50 to 100 times more punch than morphine.  Fentanyl reached record levels in Ohio’s drug supply last year during the covid-19 pandemic.  Fentanyl is 9x more likely to cause an overdose death than heroin or cocaine, and fentanyl is often cut into other drugs, this study of Ohio found.  More Ohio residents died of opioid overdoses during a three-month period of 2020 than at any other point in the last decade, according to a new analysis released by the Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention and Education (SCOPE) initiated by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.  The graph below, from the Ohio Department of Health, illustrates the impact that fentanyl has had in Ohio.

    Fentanyl impact on Ohio Overdoses

    Addiction Is More Common Than Most People Think

    According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) :

     

    24 Million American have used illicit substances

    Out of those....

    19.6 Americans had a substance use disorder in the previous year

    1 in 10 American has a drug abuse problem

    Why Is Addiction Considered a Brain Disease?

    Repeated drug and alcohol use causes chemical dependency or lasting changes to the way the brain functions and operates.  In fact, all abused substances alter the areas of the brain responsible for self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, motivation, memory, and learning by hijacking the brain's normal reward pathways.  Scientific research has identified how long-term use of alcohol and other addictive substances affects brain circuitry and brain chemistry.  Simply put, sustained alcohol or drug use alters brain function.  Alcohol or drug use increases the release of a powerful chemical called dopamine.  Over time, if dopamine is routinely in abundance because of substance use, the brain attempts to balance things out by producing less dopamine.  At that point, the brain relies on illicit substances to trigger the release of dopamine instead of naturally producing it.   And that is when individuals start to use alcohol and other drugs just to feel "normal."

    Although abused substances—including alcohol, heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, nicotine, and prescription drugs—act on different pathways in the brain, they all necessitate increasingly higher doses to produce a high or simply allow the user to feel normal. Issues such as mental illness, multiple addictions, and ancillary health problems may complicate substance addiction.

    How Does Dependence on Alcohol or Other Drugs Develop?

    First, you should understand that addiction doesn't happen overnight. Dependence involves a progressive, complex process that takes place in an area of the brain known as the "reward center"—the same place that regulates and reinforces natural rewards vital to our existence, such as food and sex. That is why the addicted brain pursues alcohol and other drugs as if these substances are needed for our very survival. And it's why people with active addiction place the pursuit of alcohol or other drugs above almost any other priority.

    Scientists have also identified a variety of social, psychological, genetic, and other factors that make some people more vulnerable than others to developing a drug addiction. What's important to understand in all cases is that no one chooses to develop the disease. Two people may start out using alcohol or other drugs similarly, with one person's use progressing into a substance use disorder while the other person doesn't develop symptoms.

    Keep in mind, too, that individuals who become addicted are never able to use alcohol or other addictive drugs without potentially imperiling their health. Their brain chemistry has changed in a way that can be brought back into balance through rehab, but that balance will always remain vulnerable to resumed use.

    What Are the Main Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder?

    Specific medical, psychological, and behavioral screenings and assessments are designed to detect substance use disorder. In general, symptoms of addictive behaviors involve:

    • Loss of control
    • Cravings
    • Persistent use despite adverse consequences

    How Are Families Impacted by a Loved One's Substance Abuse?

    Families are profoundly affected by the harmful consequences of addiction. To cope with the chaos of a loved one's addictive behaviors, families tend to keep secrets, find scapegoats and adopt unhealthy behaviors such as denial, blame, or preoccupation. So families need help in their own right to recognize and address addictive behaviors and establish healthy boundaries and relationships.

    Can You Fully Recover from Addiction to Alcohol or Other Drugs?

    Like other chronic diseases, addiction to alcohol or other drugs can be managed successfully so that you can live a full and rewarding life. Most people who go to treatment programs not only stop using alcohol or other drugs but also improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.

    Millions of people around the world are proof that recovery is stronger than addiction. And they are proof that treatment works, families heal, and life gets better.

    Donate

    Donate to help the Life Recovery Society provide a safe, sober, supportive, and flexible way for individuals to earn an income while in treatment.  Life Recovery Society also plans to add a men's and women's sober living home in the Hilltop Community.

    COMING SOON!