An Introduction to Addiction - Part 1 of 3

Today’s blog is the first one in a three part series on addiction.  This series is to help you gain a better understanding about what addiction is, signs and symptoms of addiction, and help available for those struggling as well as their loved ones.

What are your first memories and thoughts about what a person looks like and acts like who struggles with addiction?   Was the person homeless, unemployed, living under a bridge, unkempt, and with a lack of education?  Sadly, I am sure this is what many of our first impressions were and I am sure many of us were also taught this.  However, this could not be and cannot be further from the truth or reality.  Sure, these may be characteristics of a small number of people struggling with addiction; but there are also pharmacists, doctors, therapists, teachers, clergy, pilots, truck drivers, to just name a few who have families and who are working daily but who also are struggling with addiction.  The thing about addiction is that it does not discriminate based upon age, gender, race, education, career, or socioeconomic status.  It can and does affect any and everyone.  Likely you either struggle with or have struggled with addiction yourself or know someone who is or has struggled with addiction.      

I highly doubt anyone ever had the goal or desire to become addicted to something; whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sex to just name a few.  However, manypeople tell those who are struggling with addictions to “just stop”; as if it is as easy as that!  I remember hearing at one of my many substance abuse trainings  “telling someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to just stop is like giving someone several laxatives and then telling them that they cannot go to the bathroom”.   Quite a way to look at it from a different perspective.

So, what is addiction?  Great question and as mentioned before, there are many ideas and beliefs about what addiction is.  There are also many beliefs as to why someone becomes and is addicted.  Some have said that it is a moral defect.  Others describe it as a weakness.  Most recently, addiction has become known as a disease, yes, like Diabetes.  However, unlike Diabetes, there are still many stigmas associated with addiction and how one should “just stop and get over it”.  Again, if it was just that easy!  American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) definition of addiction is “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.  Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations”.  So, to put this more simply, addiction is very much apart of how our brain functions and responds to use of chemicals or activities that produce pleasure chemicals in the brain, especially the “reward center”.  Addictions affect every aspect of life such as financially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.  Addictions can be related to genetics, nurturing, or both genetic predisposition and the environments we grow up in.  For example, if a child is raised in a family where alcohol is consumed in excess and is socially accepted, the child is more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol and/or other substances or behaviors due to both genetic predisposition and the environment.  Addictions can “skip generations”.  Furthermore, many family have held the unspoken rule of not discussing one’s drinking too much or use of drugs and instead describe it as “that is just how uncle John is…crazy uncle John”.  It is very important to gain a better understanding of what addiction is so that instead of fearing the stigma of addiction, people will and can seek out and get very much needed help.  

This has been a brief introduction to what addiction is.  Stay tuned for the next installment which will address how you can know if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.  

What questions do you have about addiction?  If you feel that you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and is interested in learning more and getting help, please contact us.  We care and are here to help!