What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic disease based on the compulsive need for a substance. Its consistent use eventually leads to chemical dependency. Whether it is prescription medication or an illegal substance, breaking a drug addiction requires treatment and detoxification (detox) to eradicate the substance from the body. The length of treatment varies based on chemical components, how long the person has been using, the type of drug, and the method of ingestion. Genetic components, psychological links, and social factors may also contribute to the drug addiction.
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol is the most frequently “used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage” in potentially long-term alcohol abuse. This addiction is more common than drug abuse, because it is a legal substance that is readily available to purchase and consume.
Alcohol addiction, like drug addiction, has strong links to family history, genetic links, and social factors. However, excessive and repeated use strengthens any genetic predispositions to alcohol addiction. According to NCADD’s research, “Although everyone has the potential for addiction, some people are more predisposed to addiction than others. Some people drink alcoholically from the beginning. Other people start out as a moderate drinker and then become alcoholics later on… Repeatedly abusing drugs or alcohol permanently rewires the brain.”
Alcoholism is characterized by an uncontrollable urge for consumption, which has little to do with the type of alcohol or length of time, but more with chemical, genetic, and social factors. It can affect any person and start at any stage.
Alcoholism is a brain disease. It affects dopamine levels, and tolerance and withdrawal is concrete proof that alcohol is affecting brain functioning. Addiction forms and starts to solidify when alcohol consumption needs to be increased in order for the person to feel an effect.
Primary treatment centers may offer medication to help specific facets of alcohol addiction and to target neurotransmitters. Once patients have successfully completed detox, they begin the process of continuous recovery. Through a sober living community, mental health counseling, 12-Steps, and sponsors, recovering addicts learn to find routines and structure. This supports them as they maintain their sobriety.
Addiction & Genetics
According to the University of Utah, “Multiple lines of research show that addiction is influenced by genes. Because addiction has an inherited component, it often runs in families. That is, it can be passed down from parent to child by way of genes.” However, having family history and genetic links to drug abuse does not mean that a person will become a drug addict. However, if they do start using drugs, either minimally or recreationally, they will have a stronger chance of developing an addiction.
Recovering abusers cannot use substances again without opening themselves up to dangerous repercussions, because chemical dependency cannot be fixed from treatment and detox alone. When patients leave treatment, they are in recovery, which is an indefinite and ongoing process. Even after years of substance free living, former users may still be susceptible to drugs.
Drug addiction, at any stage, is a life-threatening disease.
How Addiction Affects Loved Ones
Drug addiction and alcoholism can diminish brain size and affect memory, decision-making, communication ability, attention span, behavior, and overall control. While these symptoms affect the addict, they also affect family, friends, and loved ones.
Addicts put stress on anyone in their intimate circle. They may be unemployed, unreliable, or may even break the law, in order to serve their addiction. Relationships often experience negative social effects and endure a lot of strife, shame, and conflict.
Addicts may display erratic or violent behavior, which affects others in a dangerous way. Drug and alcohol addiction is especially dangerous in the presence of minor children, mostly because of their physical safety, but also because of the behaviors they may see. Witnessing emotional or physical abuse has deep-seated effects on children’s lives.
While there may be deep divisive lines, it is never too late to start healing. Once the addicted individual makes the decision to get help, families may begin to find peace.
How to Be a Support System
Once an individual has made the decision to start a treatment program, there are a many ways to be a support system for them and for others. Families should find out as much information on their own, in order to understand addiction.
Family therapy and support groups can be helpful for all parties, at any stage. Counseling sessions can occur prior to the person’s decision to enter treatment. Therapists or drug and alcohol abuse counselors can further inform families about the various aspects of addiction, like origins, symptoms, and future obstacles. Therapy may also help initiate an intervention or set boundaries and rules. Either method may force the addicted person to finally stop and get help.
Therapy is also important for a family’s own health. Self-care for individual members of addicts is extremely important. Only after families learn how to manage the effects that addiction has had on their lives, can they begin to provide support.
Another way to be a support system is to take part in visiting opportunities. By seeing them, they will know that you are rooting for them to succeed. Encouraging them to stay focused on treatment, therapy, sober mentorship, and their twelve-step program will reinforce the importance of sobriety.
Understanding that distance may be required is also a way to provide support. Recovering drug and substance abusers may be triggered by family and past experiences. Respecting the distance and space that a person needs may not feel like a supportive act, but it is.
Understand that they now have a different life, complete with new friends and professional support. Letting them know you will be there, when they are ready, can be one of the most reassuring ways to truly support a loved one.