When someone engages in substance abuse to the point of forming a chemical dependency that leads to the compulsive, uncontrolled use of drugs or alcohol, this is what is known as addiction.
Addiction is defined as a chronic, progressive brain disease that is characterized by the aforementioned uncontrolled use and abuse of a substance as well as the underlying psychological issues that can drive people to engage in these addictive behaviors.
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According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), as of 2016, an estimated 21 million people in the United States aged 12 years and older met the criteria for requiring addiction treatment. However, only a little over 1 percent of them received it.
Because addiction is a progressive disease, it is not something that will get better on its own. In fact, it will only continue to get worse the longer someone goes without getting addiction treatment. While there is currently no cure for addiction, recovery treatment can help make it easier to manage successfully. It can give someone the chance to make a lasting positive change that can save their life.
What Causes Addiction?
Attempting to narrow down one specific cause of addiction is difficult, if not impossible. Many people will use drugs or alcohol recreationally and not become addicted to them despite their significant addictive potential. On the other hand, some people may become dependent on a substance only after a lengthy period of repeated use, while others may become addicted after just one use.
This is, in part, because there is rarely ever just one thing that contributes to someone developing an addiction. There are usually a variety of different risk factors at play when it comes to someone becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some of the most common factors include:
Currently, there are no genes that are directly responsible for making someone more susceptible to addiction, but someone’s genetics and biology can affect how their body processes a substance, which can make a person more vulnerable to falling into a pattern of substance abuse.
For example, scientific research has found that many people with an alcohol use disorder possess genetics that both heighten the pleasurable effects of drinking and lessen those associated with a hangover, like nausea. When someone is genetically predisposed to gaining more pleasure from alcohol without having to deal as much with the negative effects, it’s clear how their biology may make them more vulnerable to becoming addicted to alcohol if they regularly engage in drinking.
Someone’s environment, especially during their formative years, can have a significant effect on their risk of developing a substance use disorder. Being constantly exposed to drugs or alcohol at a young age can have a normalizing impact, and growing up in a home with a parent or guardian that regularly engages in substance abuse can greatly increase a person’s potential to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
In fact, someone’s risk of becoming dependent on alcohol is four times higher if they have a parent with an alcohol use disorder. This extends out from family and the home to school and peers. Many people are peer-pressured into drinking or using drugs, and early substance use creates a massive increase in the risk of developing an addiction later on in life.
Many different psychological factors can make someone more vulnerable to addiction. If someone is struggling with a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression, PTSD as a result of trauma, or other psychiatric disorders, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
However, “psychological factors” does not exclusively mean co-occurring disorders, but can also refer to personality traits such as risk-seeking behavior or high impulsivity, which can also make someone more susceptible to engaging in substance abuse and consequently becoming addicted.
What Are the Warning Signs of Addiction?
Each person’s experience with addiction and how it manifests varies, but there are nonetheless many behaviors and signs commonly associated with the progression of substance abuse into addiction. Some warning signs that someone is battling with addiction include:
- Increased tolerance to an addictive substance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Strong cravings for the addictive substance
- Taking medication more often or in larger doses
- Willingness to break the law to obtain the drug
- Unable to focus/function normally without using
- Prioritizing using
- Inability to control how much of the drug you use
- Attempting to rationalize or justify using
- Hiding or lying about using
- Continuing to use despite negative consequences
- Using the drug as a coping mechanism
- Being unable to stop using despite multiple attempts
If you have observed these signs in yourself or in the behavior of someone you care about, it is important to recognize them for what they are and seek out professional addiction treatment services as soon as possible.
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How Does Addiction Treatment Work?
Because addiction itself is so complex, addiction treatment is also a complicated process, involving a wide range of different treatment modalities and therapies spanning across multiple levels of care.
While a given client’s treatment plan is going to be customized based on their specific needs, typically, someone in an addiction rehabilitation program will progress from the highest and most intensive level of care to the lowest as they recover and require less support.
Depending on the severity of someone’s addiction as well as the substance of abuse and other individual factors, they may not need to start at the highest level of care, or they will not necessarily move through it in the same way as someone else. However, the standard treatment path through the continuum of care is as follows:
Medical detox is where substance abuse and addiction treatment usually starts. Detox is designed to clear the drugs or alcohol out of someone’s system to treat acute intoxication, achieve sobriety, and get them physically and mentally stabilized.
Detox is where someone will experience the majority of the symptoms of substance withdrawal, which can range from unpleasant and uncomfortable to dangerous and possibly life-threatening. Withdrawal from drugs like benzodiazepines can involve panic attacks, hallucinations, suicidal behavior, and seizures, and require careful, constant monitoring from an experienced medical detox team.
Even if someone is detoxing from a relatively milder substance, detox should never be attempted without some level of medical supervision from a medical detox professional. There is always the possibility of potential complications, as well as the possibility of relapsing. Medical detox at a treatment facility helps avoid the risk of relapse and also provides those in detox with medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms and get them through the process safely.
After detox is completed, the next phase of treatment is ongoing care, the highest level of which is inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment requires clients to live onsite at a treatment center, allowing them 24/7 access to medical support and other specialist care in a safe and controlled environment free from stress and distractions, as well as potential triggers and temptations.
Inpatient treatment is generally the best option for those who have a history of addiction and relapse, have a co-occurring disorder that complicates their addiction, or live in an environment that is harmful to their recovery.
There’s also residential care, a less clinical, more long-term form of inpatient care that can typically last anywhere from six months to a year. Residential treatment centers will usually have more dorm or apartment-style amenities and also include communal activities for the residents as well as chores and other small responsibilities to keep their non-treatment hours structured.
The next step down the ladder of intensive care is outpatient treatment, which allows someone to engage in an addiction recovery program while still living at home and continuing with their regular schedule. Clients will generally travel to the treatment center for medical check-ins and therapy sessions multiple times a week.
Some people may start at the outpatient level of care if they have not been struggling with substance abuse for very long for otherwise do not require the intensive level of care provided by inpatient treatment. Otherwise, clients in a recovery program may progress from inpatient to outpatient, sometimes living in a sober living home or halfway house to help them transition back to their normal life.
For people who do not require inpatient treatment but still need more support than regular outpatient treatment can offer, there is intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), a sort of in-between level of care that still involves living off-site and traveling to the facility for treatment. The most significant difference in IOP is that it usually involves meeting for intensive therapy more often and for longer sessions at a time than regular outpatient care.
Aftercare is the “unofficial” last step in the continuum of care. Addiction recovery does not stop once someone has completed their treatment program. On the contrary, recovery is something that requires active engagement for the rest of someone’s life to avoid relapsing.
The role of aftercare is to provide a means of support both in the transition from addiction treatment back to regular life and long after someone has finished addiction treatment. There are many different forms of aftercare programs available, including those provided by a treatment center, such as an alumni network.
Alumni services make it easy for people to keep in contact with the friends they made during their time in treatment, creating a ready-made network of support from people who have shared in each other’s recovery experiences.
There are also community-based support groups, 12-step programs, and other self-help groups that can provide people with a safe space they can go to keep active in their recovery alongside like-minded peers that they can reach out to for help.
What Makes Addiction Treatment Effective?
As previously mentioned, no one kind of addiction treatment will somehow be equally effective for everyone. Everyone’s experience with addiction is unique to them, and to some degree, it is the same with treatment, as what may be helpful for one person may be the opposite for another.
That being said, research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has shown that, for substance abuse and addiction treatment to meet a minimum standard of effectiveness, certain elements need to be included, and certain principles should be followed. Some of the most important of these principles of effective treatment include:
- Treatment needs to be readily available. Timing is critical in addiction treatment. As with most other chronic diseases, the earlier that treatment can be made a viable option, the more likely it is to have a positive result. A lack of immediately accessible treatment, on the other hand, can lose a potential client, especially if they are still on the fence about getting help.
- Treatment needs to be personalized. This principle covers the previously stated point that treatment is not a one-size-fits-all situation. An individual going into treatment may have a co-occurring disorder or other associated medical, psychological, or social problems that need to be addressed and require a treatment plan that has been personalized to address those needs. Other unique factors that ought to be taken into consideration include age, gender, culture, and ethnicity.
- Treatment needs to last long enough. While treatment length will vary based on each client’s needs, research consistently shows that most people who enter addiction treatment need to spend a minimum of 90 days there to begin to see positive, lasting changes. There is no shortcut to recovery, and researchers have found that the longer someone stays in addiction treatment, the better the outcome.
- Medication should be combined with therapy when applicable.For some, medication can be a crucial part of addiction recovery treatment. For people with opioid addictions, in particular, the combination of medications like methadone or buprenorphine with behavioral therapies and counseling has seen significant success.
- Treatment plans should be continually reviewed and changed as needed.A client’s needs may change as they progress through treatment, and their treatment plan should change along with them. Similarly, if a therapy or treatment type is no longer proving itself useful, therapists and clinicians should work with clients to update and reshape their treatment plan.
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, don’t wait to seek out treatment. At Serenity at Summit, we specialize in treating every aspect of addiction, from the physical substance addiction to the negative thought patterns and behaviors that drive it.
Serenity at Summit provides the full continuum of addiction recovery treatment, with a seamless transition from detox to ongoing care and beyond.
We understand that the idea of quitting can feel overwhelming and impossible, and while it’s never easy, our dedicated team of doctors, clinicians, and staff will work with you and your loved one to do everything possible to make it a reality.
Call 844-326-4514 now for a free and confidential consultation with one of our professional, compassionate specialists, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also contact us online for more information.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017, September). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf