Substance Use

What is Addiction?

Addictive substances, including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs

Table of Contents

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Defining Addiction

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the accepted definition of addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder and a primary (and chronic) disease of “reward, motivation, and memory.” This primary classification illustrates that addiction is not a secondary result of another antagonist, such as a bad childhood, marriage, or financial issues. ASAM also states that co-occurring disorders are also not to blame for addiction.

Like most primary, chronic diseases, such as asthma, high blood pressure, or diabetes, addiction is also punctuated by relapse and remission phases.

If you or your loved one is experiencing the throes of addiction, Zinnia Health can help. Call 855-430-9439 to speak with one of our caring addiction treatment healthcare specialists. Learn more about our variety of treatment options.

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Overview of Addiction

The disease of drug addiction is also widely recognized as a condition of behavioral health. Addiction affects Americans in the millions. Family members, friends, and entire communities are affected — this disease is not only misunderstood but also stigmatized.

The behavioral aspect of addiction is characterized by ongoing abuse of a substance even when the individual recognizes the harm that drug use and substance abuse presents to their mental health, stability, life goals, and interpersonal relationships.

Some refer to the disease of addiction as one of the spirit, mind, and body.

Addiction is two-fold, with both physical and psychological aspects:

  1. It induces both physical (body) and psychological (mind/spirit) cravings or impulses to use substances to alter mood.
  2. It requires treatment programs that address both physical and psychological healing as the precursors of true recovery.

Addiction: Classification and Risk Factors

Classifying addiction (also known in the medical community as substance use disorder) as a disease can be the result of:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Symptoms or signs that can be physically observed
  • Family medical history
  • Predictable progression 
  • Individuals respond to treatment

People with a familial history of substance use disorder are much more susceptible to addiction than individuals whose biological relatives have never experienced substance abuse issues.

Risk Factors: Harmful Consequences of Addiction

Some of the most harmful consequences of addiction that you should be aware of if you suspect your own addiction or that of a loved one include:

  • Addiction is progressive. If the disease goes undiagnosed, it progressively gets worse.
  • Addiction is chronic. There isn’t a cure for addiction, but treatment can help individuals successfully manage their symptoms.
  • Addiction can lead to death. Addiction can also be fatal when left untreated.

But is addiction a brain disease?

Is Addiction a Disease of the Brain?

There has been much research performed regarding the effects of long-term substance use on mental health, brain chemistry and circuitry, and overall health and wellness.

In plain terms, long-term addictive behaviors like substance abuse change how a person’s brain functions. Substance use releases (or floods) dopamine into the brain.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It’s the chemical responsible for feelings of contentment, happiness, self-control, and well-being. If dopamine remains at high levels for long periods, as is the case with drug misuse, your brain attempts to balance itself by creating (and releasing) less and less of this chemical.

Once this stage is initiated, your brain and body require the presence of the substance to transmit the message: release dopamine. If a person reaches this point, the body requires the substance to experience normal functioning.

What Are the Different Addiction Stages?

Some sources state there are only three distinct stages of addiction, while other sources claim there are actually seven or more.

While addiction stages vary by source, the timeline from first use to addiction is generally the same:

  • Recreational use: The person’s initial use or experimentation with a substance. Use is infrequent. If you choose now to refrain from using a specific substance or engaging in a particular behavior, stopping would be relatively easy.
  • Regular use: The person uses socially or begins using more of a substance on a regular basis.
  • Problematic use: The person transitions from social settings or settings considered acceptable to situations in which negative repercussions or increased risk are apparent.
  • Dependent or addicted use: The person’s use is frequent, includes impulsivity and cravings, and even adverse events or negative outcomes do not dissuade continued use.

Once a person has become dependent on a substance, they can become ensnared in a vicious cycle of negative feedback — substance use, quitting, withdrawal, lack of comfort, and constant thoughts of use typically lead to using again, also known as relapsing disorder.

An effective treatment program approached intentionally can help an individual overcome any type of addiction, from opioids and stimulants to alcohol addiction and other health conditions.

Symptoms of Addiction

Medical personnel have various screenings used to assess substance abuse and other signs of addiction, such as:

  • Inability to control various aspects of life
  • Desire to frequently use a substance
  • More of the substance is required to feel the desired effects
  • Continuous usage, regardless of various outcomes or consequences
  • Attempts to stop using are not successful
  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal
  • Engages in risky behaviors when the substance is used or when attempting to obtain the substance

Other signs of substance abuse have more to do with behavioral symptoms, such as:

  • Wanting to use a substance just for its inebriation effects
  • Using a substance when it’s inappropriate or unsafe, including during school, at work, before or while driving, etc.
  • Not showing up for work, school, or other responsibilities due to using substances
  • Neglects close relationships
  • Performance drops
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Engages in secretive activities or becomes defensive when asked
  • Unusual or abrupt changes in mood
  • Temperament changes
  • Eating and sleeping rituals are different
  • Begins hanging out with people or groups that are different from their normal relationships
  • Hobbies or activities that once meant a lot hold no interest anymore
  • Shows signs of aggression, physical violence, and potential mental health disorders
  • Their own money or valuable belongings are missing
  • Departs from typical travel radius

Physical signs of addiction in a person’s life can include:

  • Rapidly gaining or losing weight
  • Slow, staggered gait
  • Not sleeping at regular intervals or experiencing wakefulness outside their normal schedule
  • New bruises or needle marks
  • Eyes are red or glazed
  • Pupils different than normal, appears to be daydreaming
  • Palms are sweaty or cold, hands shake
  • Face is puffy, blushed, or pale
  • Hyperactive, excessive talking
  • Symptoms of a cold, such as a runny nose or cough
  • Excessively sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody nose
  • Rapid breakout of skin rash or pimples
  • Weird odors
  • Lacks energy
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Personal hygiene lacking

Are you worried that you or a loved one might be experiencing addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that could potentially lead to addiction? The caring addiction treatment providers at Zinnia Health can help you navigate the road to sobriety. Call us now at 855-430-9439.

What Can Cause Addiction?

Addiction never happens overnight. While you’ve probably heard stories or urban legends about someone who used a certain drug “just one time” and became addicted from that first-time use, developing a tolerance, becoming dependent, and experiencing physical and/or behavioral addiction to a substance occurs in a complex, progressive process.

The part of the brain responsible for rewarding behaviors integral to existence is the same part of the brain that “rewards” an individual for substance use. Addicted brains pursue drugs and/or alcohol as if these substances are a must to survive. The search for substances typically takes precedence over any priorities an individual might have had.

There are multiple factors that cause some individuals to have a predisposition to addiction, including psychological and genetic factors. Two people might have similar use patterns, and while one results in addiction, the other shows no symptoms whatsoever.

How Is Addiction Typically Diagnosed?

Because of its complexity, users often diagnose their own addiction using an addiction self test. You’ll find there are no hard, fast rules that say if you use x substance often or a certain number of times, you’ll be diagnosed as addicted.

Just a few of the questions you should ask yourself if you suspect you may have an addiction to substances include:

  • Have you ever told yourself you don’t want to use the substance anymore or that you’ll use less of it next time? And yet, you don’t quit or reduce your consumption?
  • Are there side effects that you experience after using a substance that take time to wear off?
  • Are your cravings so intense that you can’t seem to think about other things in your life?
  • Have you ever missed work or another important event because you want to use or have to get a substance?
  • Do you have to use more of a substance to feel the desired effect?
  • Have you ever stolen (or considered stealing) from friends or family so you could obtain more of the substance?
  • Has anyone you know expressed concerns about your substance use or ongoing habits?
  • Above all, do you wonder if you might be addicted to a substance?

A yes answer to any of the above questions warrants speaking with a trusted medical professional.

Zinnia Health Can Help

Addiction can sneak up on you. Zinnia Health can help you or a loved one navigate the path to sobriety. Call us at 855-430-9439 to speak with a caring treatment specialist.

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(855) 430-9439
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