One of the best ways to facilitate the journey towards recovery is to learn more and more about addiction and its causes. Not to bury your head in the very thing you’re trying to change, but rather to become educated on the inner experiences that led to addiction in the first place. In the mental health field, this sort of learning is called psycho-education.
Learning about addiction and the patterns that contribute to it – such as powerlessness, co-dependency, enabling, a tendency to behave compulsively, blaming others, and feeling shame – facilitate making different choices in life. For instance, if you recognize that you tend to feel powerless in certain situations, you can then make the conscious choice to stay empowered in that situation in the future. (To learn more about these patterns, read other articles on this site.)
Another way to learn more about addiction is to understand how a clinician or drug counselor might view it. For instance, he or she is going to rely on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is the standardized text and clinical reference used by psychologists and therapists across North America to diagnose their clients. The DSM explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to drug abuse problems. Once the cycle of addiction activates the internal reward system, a rush in the brain, that behavior can become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.
Of course, this cycle of addiction and compulsive behavior can take place with anything, such as gambling, sex, Internet use, or even work. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling, producing the same high or rush in the brain that is similar to the use of drugs. In that way, behavior addictions, as they are called, can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create.
A clinician or drug counselor is also going to assess the severity of the addiction by using the criteria listed in the DSM. The number of criteria present for a patient indicates the severity of the addictive disorder. For example, 2-3 criteria indicate a mild disorder; 4-5 criteria might indicate a moderate disorder; and 6 or more of the 11 criteria indicate a severe disorder. The following are the criteria listed in the newest version of the DSM:
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to
- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
- Cravings and urges to use the substance
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of substance use
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
- Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger
- Continuing to use, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance)
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
The benefit of learning about addictions and the way that they are diagnosed is that it might provide information that indicates whether a problem exists. Although it is not advised for a layperson to diagnose him or herself, the above information can indicate whether assistance from a mental health professional is necessary. Of course, if there is any suspicion that you or someone you know has an addiction, don’t hesitate, seek assistance today.
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