About Addiction

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain affecting reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It is progressive, and like any other chronic disease, often involves cycles of relapse and remission that may result in disability and/or premature death.

What Leads to Addiction?

Most experts agree that a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors may predispose certain individuals to develop addictions.

  • Genetic factors account for the largest number of those with the chronic disease of addiction.
  • Environmental factors interact with a person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence.
  • Cultural factors play a role in how a person with biological vulnerabilities progresses to addiction.

For most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary. However, over time, changes in the brain caused by repeated use of drugs and/or alcohol can impair a person's self-control; limiting their ability to make sound decisions and simultaneously creating an intense impulse to take drugs.

The Chronic Disease of Addiction

This figure illustrates the progression of the chronic disease of addiction. During the substance abuse phase, repeated exposure to substances drives the body toward chronic disease, especially when there is a genetic predisposition in the family. Once someone reaches the chronic disease state, choosing to use or abuse drugs/alcohol again leads to relapse.

When Should Someone Seek Treatment?

Someone should seek treatment when he or she recognizes any of these signs of addiction:

  • Inability to consistently abstain from drugs and/or alcohol
  • Impaired ability to control behavior
  • Craving or increased “hunger” for drugs and the related experience
  • Inability to recognize significant problems with one's behaviors and relationships
  • Dysfunctional or inappropriate emotional responses

Once chronic addiction takes over, it can drive every aspect of an individual’s life. At this point, it is essential for that person to seek help if they want to manage their disease and regain control of their life.

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