Breaking Down Addiction – The Physical Aspect
Addiction is a complex disease that affects people physically, mentally and emotionally. Because of this, addiction treatment requires addressing each of these aspects. Let’s look first at the physical component of addiction.
Addiction is a disorder that is chronic, progressive, and relapsing. It’s characterized by the compulsive use of one or more substances or behaviors that result in physical, psychological, or social harm to the individual—and then the continuing use of these substances despite the harm they cause.
Physical dependence is the state of being physically driven by a compulsive craving. Prolonged exposure to the substance creates dramatic changes in the brain by affecting specific neurons in the central nervous system. This is why addiction is considered a brain disease.
Once physical dependence has begun, there are issues with tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance is the need for higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects. Withdrawal is the appearance of unpleasant physical symptoms (e.g., nausea, chills, and vomiting) when the drug is not taken within a certain amount of time.
Although addiction begins with a voluntary choice, usage soon becomes involuntary because of the physical chemical reaction to the substance. Once addicted, it is almost impossible for most people to stop the spiraling cycle of addiction on their own without addiction treatment.
Furthermore, addiction often becomes a chronic recurring disorder for which repeated addiction treatment may be required before an individual achieves long-term abstinence.
Addiction to alcohol or other drugs is usually:
Chronic – meaning once the addiction has developed; it will always have to be addressed. An addict may manage to stop using alcohol or other drugs for significant periods of time, but the disease typically does not disappear. Should drug use be attempted again, the disease will usually continue as if it had never stopped.
Progressive – Because of the building of tolerance to a substance, addiction gets worse over time. With some drugs, the decline is rapid. With others, like alcohol, it can be more gradual.
Terminal – Addiction to alcohol or other drugs often leads to death through damage to major organs of the body. Also, the risks of contracting Hepatitis C and HIV rise with use.
Addiction is not just a symptom of some underlying psychological problem. Once the use of alcohol or drugs becomes an addiction, the addiction itself needs to be treated as the primary illness. Once the physical needs are addressed, the underlying mental and emotional concerns can be examined, so that every available tool is used to ensure a lifetime of sobriety.