Studies on the scientific side of addiction are still relatively new. Since the 1930s, many have believed addiction to drugs or alcohol to be a moral failing of some sort. It was something that someone wholly chose to do by themselves, and they could stop at any point if they wanted to. While it is now known that this is not the case in any way, many depictions of people suffering from addiction are still framed through this kind of mentality.
Deconstructing the notion that addiction is a personal failing is important in establishing strong, effective recovery methods. Establishing the science that makes up addiction is the first step in breaking down preconceived notions and re-establishing addiction as a medical issue, rather than a moral one.
Addiction Can Happen to Anyone
Drugs and alcohol affect people on a biological level. Prolonged use makes the symptoms of addiction easier to notice, but each drink and each use of a drug has its biological effects. Addiction has nothing to do with a person’s education level, income level, skin color, or religion. Addiction can happen to anyone — nobody is immune. Environmental factors can play a large part in someone’s decision to engage in drugs or alcohol, but the actual addiction can form in anybody. There are also genetic components that can leave certain people with a higher predisposition to addiction. In other words, if a close family member has become addicted in the past, it’s possible that addiction may set in faster for another member of the same family.
Effects in the Brain
Alcohol and drugs inhibit the brain’s neurotransmitters and receptors — the two key parts that transport serotonin and dopamine in between neurons. Dopamine and serotonin are chemicals that “reward” the brain and are typically released when someone is feeling good, happy about an event, or any other joyous occasion. As a person uses more drugs or alcohol, they continue forcing their neurotransmitters to release these chemicals. The more that a drug or alcohol is used, the more the brain begins to require in order to forcibly release these chemicals and once again achieve that “good” feeling.
After time, the brain begins to expect a certain amount of drugs or alcohol in order to process serotonin and dopamine. A person’s brain will take notes on the time of day, situation, physical location, and any other measurable aspect when using drugs or alcohol and begin to connect them to the usage itself. Eventually, the brain will form a lens around someone’s own environment, causing the person to perceive their surroundings through a lens of addiction. The body and brain drive the person to compromise other aspects of their health and responsibilities in order to maintain the usage of drugs or alcohol.
A Lot More than a Lack of Willpower
Addiction is definitely not born from a lack of willpower. Rather, it takes an immense amount of willpower to even take the first step to recovery. Recovering from addiction requires an overhaul on almost every level. All the environmental factors and connections that the brain made while using drugs or alcohol have to be addressed, as well as the biological components that the brain is accustomed to.
First and foremost, these connections have to be deconstructed, but that doesn’t mean that recovery is over — far from it. The next step is establishing new practices that can replace that “good” feeling the person needs in order to be happy. Establishing these new, healthier ways to find joy takes time and involves many people to be successful.
The biological component is also why recovery is something that lasts a lifetime. Even people who have been sober for years can still get urges to use drugs or alcohol again. They can come at unexpected times, involving those past connections that the brain made between usage and a physical location, event, or time. It’s not a lack of willpower that leads to addiction — but it does require a lot of willpower to acknowledge the addiction for what it is and take steps in order to rectify it.
Hope for the Future
As researchers continue to study the medical nature of addiction, it is our hope that perceptions will change in the future. The notion that addiction is the result of a moral failing does a great disservice to the people who suffer from it — and also leads to a false sense of security that a person could “never” become addicted. Addressing the medical side of addiction even in conversation can help those fighting addiction find the help they need faster, while also establishing a culture that seeks help as a positive thing.
Achieve Medical addresses the medical nature of addiction first and foremost, and couples that with therapies designed to instill the necessary coping and life skills that a person needs throughout their daily life. Creating a comprehensive approach to addiction recovery that involves mental health assessment as well as a physical and biological approach, Achieve Medical addresses the personal needs of each individual in their own path to sobriety. We are here to help you find your path as well. For more information about our programs, call us today at (858) 221-0344.