Is Addiction Really a Choice?
Anyone who has lost a loved one to addiction knows that it’s not a life anyone would choose. The American Medical Association (AMA) has classified alcoholism as a disease since 1956 and, following the rise of hard drug use in the ‘70s and ‘80s it added drug addiction to the list in 1987.
What Factors Increase The Risk of Addiction?
If you’ve never dealt with substance abuse yourself, it may seem like using drugs is caused by a mental or behavioral shortcoming, like a lack of self-control or a personality weakness that causes someone to just do what their peers are doing.
In reality, years of addiction research reveal that certain genetic and socioeconomic factors increase the likelihood of substance use. We also understand what happens in the central nervous system when certain substances are introduced, and we know now that addiction is caused by physiological changes in the body — just like other diseases.
While you can argue that a person makes a choice that very first time they use a substance, what are they really choosing? They may be choosing to give in to peer pressure. They may be choosing to numb physical or mental pain. They may be choosing to escape trauma. In any case, they certainly aren’t choosing the pain of addiction.
There are a number of risk factors that can increase the chances of someone suffering from substance addiction. These include:
- Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety
- Chronic diseases, including pain
- A family history of drug abuse
- Environmental factors, including exposure to drug use
- Lack of a strong support system
Research is still being conducted into the nature of addiction in order to inform addiction treatment and prevention services. It’s worth noting that the NIH states that genetic factors could be the cause of addiction by as much as 60%. Scientists are working to identify the exact genes that correlate with substance use.
How Does Addiction Work?
Certain substances lead to rewiring in the brain — marking a notable chemical change — sometimes from the very first use. This chemical shift makes a person crave more of the drug, just as you feel the strong urge to drink water when you’re thirsty or the deep-rooted sensation of hunger when you haven’t eaten all day.
Drug cravings are just as real as these familiar sensations, and they only get worse if you try to ignore them.
Unlike the need for food and water, which can be staved off for awhile and eventually satiated with no ill effects, the need for drugs only gets stronger. Every time a person answers their drug craving with more of the substance, their body and brain grow more dependent on it.
Repeated use leads to tolerance, forcing a person to use more of the drug in order to satisfy the urge. This makes them more dependent, causing the cravings to be even stronger and more frequent. This leads to the cycle of addiction that makes it impossible to “just quit” and get back to living a normal life.
Can Addiction Be Fixed?
It is entirely possible to overcome addiction, although the chances of success greatly increase when an individual gets help from professionals. Some believe that recovering from addiction is a lifelong journey, but it all depends on how you frame it.
Typically, structured inpatient treatment programs last 1-3 months. A person then may transition into outpatient services for a year or more. Beyond that, it’s encouraged that they continue to lean on a strong support system, but they may not continue attending appointments. It all depends on their needs and preferences.
Unless a person has suffered permanent consequences as a result of substance use or overdose — such as liver disease from excessive drinking — they should be able to recover and achieve full health once again. However, this means working with the right providers to support them through recovery and ensure they don’t relapse.
At Zinnia Health, we believe every individual can recover from drug use as long as they have the right support behind them. If you’d like more information about our approach, just call (855) 430-9439 to speak with our team.
Is It Difficult to Overcome Addiction?
Addiction, which is clinically known as substance use disorder, can feel impossible to overcome alone. Even with the help of medical professionals, an individual has to go through an initial period of withdrawal symptoms that can throw even the strongest people back into relapse.
The withdrawal period can last 2-3 weeks and consist of:
- Intense drug cravings
- Anger and hostility
- Emotional outbursts
- Depression, anxiety, and paranoia
- Weakness and fatigue
For someone also suffering from mental illness while trying to recover from drug or alcohol abuse, the withdrawal symptoms can be even stronger.
Hard drugs like meth can lead to physical and psychological symptoms that last for months, complicating the withdrawal process.
How to Help Someone Struggling With Addiction
Seeing friends or family members struggle with addiction can be overwhelming and it’s important to step back and manage your own emotions before you try to step in and help.
While one person may jump at the chance to pursue substance abuse treatment, another might be defensive or hostile if you try to bring it up. As such, it’s critical that you educate yourself on SUDs before having a conversation and that you understand the treatment services available.
If you’re ready to help someone recovery from an addiction, consider these options:
- Explore the inpatient treatment facilities in your area, which may include hospitals and residential treatment centers, in case the individual is ready to detox
- Identify qualified mental and behavioral health professionals, including psychiatry offices, which can address the underlying causes of addiction
- Look into outpatient treatment provided by medical professionals, which is a good way for a person unsure about treatment to transition into the recovery process
- Try to understand more about the substances they’re using, as this will influence the treatment plan along with the risks they may experience if they don’t seek help
- Be there for them whether or not they pursue treatment and, if they go through a program, emphasize the importance of aftercare