Facts about Addiction
Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disease. It is also a manageable disease.
What Is Addiction?
In 1956 the American Medical Association first recognized addiction to alcohol and other drugs as a chronic disease. It is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse and by long-lasting chemical changes in the brain. Addiction is the same whether the drug is alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, nicotine, or a prescription medication.
Continued use of the addictive substance causes changes in the brain that lead to tolerance, physical dependence, uncontrollable craving, relapse, and, in severe cases, death.
The stigma of addiction as a moral failing or a lack of willpower can keep individuals from seeking help for an alcohol or other drug problem. The concept of addiction as a disease can encourage and empower individuals to seek help.
Does Drug Abuse Affect Different People in Different Ways?
Yes. One person can take and abuse drugs, yet never become addicted, while another merely has one experience and seems to be immediately hooked. Drug addiction is a complex illness characterized by intense and, at times, uncontrollable drug craving, along with compulsive drug seeking and use that persist even in the face of devastating consequences. People with an addiction use the drug(s) repeatedly, regardless of the damage it does to
- their health
- their family
- their career
- their relationships with friends and the community
How Does Addiction Affect a Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorder?
People with a severe mental illness or an addictive disorder face many challenges. Persons with both disorders, or co-occurring disorders, face even more challenges. They have a greater tendency for violence, medication noncompliance, and failure to respond to treatment. These problems can extend to and affect the person’s family, friends, and co-workers.
How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?
Does a dependence on drugs cause an individual’s brain to malfunction? Or does the brain malfunction cause a dependence to drugs? Research has shown the latter is true. A drug on its own is not capable of producing dependence unless several factors (genetics, for example) are in place. Brain chemistry that has gone awry is what leads to compulsive use and impaired control. The drug is only a trigger for the disease.
This is a relatively new finding in the treatment field, but a rapidly growing body of evidence supports it.
Is Addiction Treatable?
Yes. Like diabetes or other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated and managed. Many treatments are available. Treatment can involve detoxification, taking medications, or receiving individual or group therapy in an outpatient, hospital, or residential setting. Evidence-based treatments, or treatments based on research, are listed at the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (nrepp.samhsa.gov). Contact a therapist or medical doctor to find appropriate treatment.
Where Can I Learn More?
- about.com An easily searchable consumer Web site with extensive content.
- drugabuse.gov A National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site.
- familydoctor.org A consumer Web site of general health information, including addiction and mental illness.
- hazelden.org Since 1949, Hazelden has provided interdisciplinary treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
- healthyplace.com This easy-to-search consumer Web site contains extensive information about severe mental illness and specific drug use.
- samhsa.gov and csat.samhsa.gov These U.S. government Web sites are dedicated to mental health and substance abuse treatment, respectively.