Addiction is often framed as a mental health condition. However, many fail to understand why addiction occurs, and the role brain chemistry and anatomy play in how the disease manifests. There are still stereotypes and stigmas of both drug users and those that experience addiction, which taints many people’s understanding of the condition itself.
Addiction is a chronic mental and medical illness that involves complex interactions between brain regions, genetics, one’s environment, and one’s personal life experiences. Most people associate general addiction with drug addiction, but many behavioral addictions are also life-threatening.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use and drug-seeking behavior. Addiction is a result of a loss of control over drug use, even when faced with harmful consequences. Although the initial decision to use drugs may be a choice, repeated drug use causes long-lasting changes to the brain.
Addiction affects several brain areas, with the most significant one being the brain’s reward circuitry. The brain’s reward pathways are responsible for recognizing, motivating, and urging the brain and body to engage in behaviors that fill a person’s needs and bring about feelings of pleasure.
Without drug use, a healthy brain is motivated to engage in and repeat behaviors such as eating or spending time with loved ones. When drug use begins to play a role in a person’s life, the brain’s reward system changes and begins to motivate a person to repeatedly use drugs over and over again to experience feelings of euphoria and pleasure.
Explaining Tolerance In Addiction
After repeated substance use, a person develops drug tolerance that increases the longer they consume substances. Tolerance is a condition that occurs when the brain and body start to adapt to a specific drug. The effect of increased tolerance to a drug means that to achieve the desired effect from a drug, a person must take more of the drug or take the drug more often.
As one might guess, drug tolerance decreases when a person chooses to abstain from using drugs. Although drug tolerance in and of itself does not constitute an addiction, it does indicate that a person’s brain and body are becoming desensitized to the effects of a specific drug through repeated use. Many people that have a drug addiction do have higher drug tolerances, which may lead them to seek out more potent or more intense substances to achieve a desired high.
Why Does Addiction Affect Everyone Differently?
There is no one specific cause of drug addiction. Addiction typically occurs from a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person is exposed to, the greater chance that a person will become addicted to a behavior or a drug.
The three main categories of risk factors include:
Biological risk factors account for genetic variations and vulnerabilities that contribute to substance use and addiction. If addiction “runs in the family,” an individual is at higher risk of experiencing addiction. The presence of co-occurring disorders may also affect a person’s susceptibility to experiencing addiction.
Environmental risk factors recognize peer relationships, family relationships, economic status, and history of trauma as mechanisms of influence for developing an addiction. For example, peer pressure, stress, and early exposure to drug use are known to affect an individual’s likelihood of experiencing addiction.
Developmental factors recognize the timeline along which environmental risk factors occur. For example, the earlier that drug use begins, the greater chance that it will develop into addiction. This is crucial for adolescents and teens to understand as they are more likely to consider engaging in risky behaviors. Developing brains are at even higher risk.
Addiction recovery is possible. It is more accurate to explain that addiction treatment teaches individuals how to manage their triggers and cravings instead of curing the condition entirely. Because addiction is a chronic and persistent condition, relapse is not uncommon. Addiction treatment must address skills needed to secure life-long recovery.
Certain addiction treatments require medical detox because of intense withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone quits using a specific substance. Treating severe symptoms may also require the use of medications to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Several behavioral therapies are proven to be efficient in treating behaviors and attitudes that pertain to drug use. Each treatment center has different therapy options to offer, such as:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- 12-Step programs
- Family therapy
Substance use and addiction programs must create individualized treatment plans for clients. This emphasizes personal needs and goals for treatment and tailors treatment and evaluations likewise. Addiction is persistent and complex; you must be patient with yourself as you go through your healing and recovery process.
The nature of addiction is complex, affecting both the body and the brain. Substance use and addiction occur for many different reasons, but those that are already struggling with mental illness are more susceptible to developing them. Addiction alters several areas in the brain, especially the area involved in motivating and rewarding behavior. SoCal Mental Health treats substance-related disorders, especially when they co-occur with other existing mental health conditions. Our staff understands that substance use and addiction affect the entire human. Everyone is affected differently because the risk factors involved in substance use vary biologically, environmentally, and developmentally. At SoCal Mental Health, we serve families in crisis and individuals that are experiencing issues related to severe mental health symptoms and substance use disorders. We support clients in need of any assistance or support in healing and offer a compassionate, intimate treatment experience. For more information, call us at 949-502-2041.