ADDICTION ARTICLE 1: WHAT IS ADDICTION
Addiction is a disease.
It is persistent and the symptoms really damage relationships. We struggle to treat this disease. Many people get better and then get worse again. We have seen it in this community: hurting friends, family and community. There is an idea that this disease is something that can be cured with will-power—that is simply not true. Addiction is disease and like many others it can be managed and treated. People who have addiction find recovery by coping with life’s stressors in new ways and transforming their lives. Recovery is possible!
It is a disease of the brain- much like type two diabetes damages the pancreas or heart disease effects the heart. People ask me all the time, “Why can’t he just quit using (drugs), he is losing everything.” My answer is: Many people can’t just quit without support because the brain is damaged.
When our brain is exposed to substances or medication it can be very helpful. If I fall and break my ankle pain medication, for example, can be a great help to hobble around, get to work and get to school. What happens with addiction is that when the brain is given too much medication it starts to change and find ways to accept more of the substance or medication. As more and more of the drug is added the brain changes more and more.
Think about this as it relates to your morning coffee. At first 8oz. was enough to get to work, focus and feel good. Overtime, to continue to be so productive, you might have found yourself getting the 12oz instead or hitting up the coffee maker for another cup at 10am. Before you know it you’re at the 20oz. size. This is called tolerance; your body and your brain have changed to accept more and more caffeine to get the same desired effect.
Then you might say, “I am drinking way too much coffee, I’m going to quit.”
What happens next? Headaches, mood swings, stomach ache, why? Withdrawal has set in! Your brain and your body are expecting that drug and when you do not supply it the body is in distress.
Now imagine this is not caffeine but a much stronger drug or medication with withdrawal symptoms like flu and food poisoning… Many of us, even healthy, happy people would do almost anything to avoid feeling that sick. People who have opiate addiction do experience those symptoms. Opiates are used for pain medications such as oxycodone, Percocet, but heroin too is an opiate. Some people became addicted to a medication prescribed by a doctor and did not ever use street drugs. The brain does not know or care what the substance is. It just demands more and more of it to feel ok and avoid those horrible withdrawal symptoms. The disease takes over.
There is hope for this disease- there is no cure but it can be prevented and treated. Keep reading this column in the weeks to come to learn more about warning signs of addiction, how addiction can happen and how to protect yourself and your family from this horrible disease.
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Jessi de Boer- LADC, LCMHC, Coordinator of Adult Recovery Services at Counseling Service of Addison County
The Addison County Committee on Substance Use and Prevention