What Addiction is:
A primary, chronic, disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations, often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over use, preoccupation with use, use despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking – most notably denial.
Addiction is not a symptom of an underlying problem, such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, but a separate disease with its own course and complications. This doesn’t mean that resolving other issues is unimportant. The key is to get help for these issues while staying focused on recovery from addiction.
Addiction is a progressive disease.
No matter what the addictive substance – all drugs activate the neurotransmitter dopamine deep in the reward center of the brain. Addiction persists and worsens over time. There is no “going back” to the first time. When a person keeps using addictive chemicals, their brain begins to need the drug more and they stop producing the natural chemicals that give a sense of well-being.
Addiction is a genetic disease.
Studies show differences in brain waves, sensitivity to alcohol, effects of alcohol on hormones all pointing to genetic differences in people who are addicted. Genetics has as much to do with addiction as it does in other chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. People whose parents or close relatives are addicted were probably born with a reduced supply of and ability to use brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin – natural chemicals that help you feel good. The use of drugs/alcohol “make up” for this reduced supply of neurotransmitters.
Addiction is a chronic disease.
Chronic [Kron-ik] – Greek origin meaning “lasting forever”. Other chronic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, and emphysema. People in recovery need to consider each day how to live effectively as a recovering alcoholic or addict. In order to live alcohol and drug-free, they need to make physical, social, emotional, and spiritual lifestyle changes that support recovery.
Addiction is a fatal disease.
Toxic effects of constant alcohol use can cause death through medical complications such as liver disease and heart failure. Other addiction-related causes of death include stroke, heart attacks, respiratory arrest, car accidents, suicide, and drug overdoses. Addiction is often so powerful that it over-rides the natural instinct of survival; meaning the individual continues to use despite grave risks.
Please note that, whereas most if not all of our older blog posts do not have appropriate, non-stigmatizing language – i.e., substance use disorder in place of addiction and/or chemical dependency – all subsequent posts do and will retain language that avoids propagating negative stereotypes and biases through the use of slang and idioms.
Likewise, we have pledged to follow the guidelines set forth by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and that are conceptually and in general endorsed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASA), the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and other federal and state entities governing and regulating substance use disorder. We will therefore now use person-first language that respects the worth and dignity of all people; that focuses on the medical as well as clinical nature of substance use disorders and treatment; and that promotes the recovery process.