Addiction is the number one cause of accidental death in the United States. The rate has raised astronomically in the last few years and happens even more than car accidents. It is a condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. There have been several debates on whether addiction is a disease or a choice. What is the difference between addiction and physical dependence? Is it just a habit or is it an addiction? Once you’re an addict, are you always an addict? Those are the most commonly asked questions when it comes to addiction. The most arguable question of all is, is there a cure for addiction? As you read on, hopefully, I am able to clear up some of those questions.
Addiction is not a choice it is a disease. Addiction resides in the limbic system, a subconscious part of our brain that is involved with memory, emotion, and reward. It is a chronic brain disorder. Like any sort of disease, it can be caused from three different factors: environmental, biological, and behavioral. Your brain releases certain chemicals when you’re satisfied. Whether it’s from hunger, thirst or sex your brain will release “feel good” chemicals. A lot of drugs and alcohol also release that same chemical making you feel the way you do after you’ve cured your hunger with a good meal or met your sexual needs. After you do any of those, your brain remembers the satisfaction from it and then craves it.
The addict will continue to take or drink the substance not caring what the harmful consequences are because it starts to make them feel normal. Over time, the person abusing will start to lose interest in normal everyday life activities. Former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), Dr. Michael Miller states, “At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas. Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.”
The part of your brain that directs your judgment and control is affected. When growing up, if you’re introduced to drugs or alcohol at an early stage, it could alter that brain activity and put you more at risk for addiction. The disease makes it hard for people without it to understand why. Many question, why take that first drink when you know you aren’t going to stop? It is so hard for those of us to understand if we don’t have the disease. Personally, my dad's uncle has the disease. He recently got out of rehab and is sober most of the time. It took a lot for me to understand he wasn’t drinking to hurt me, he had that distortion in his brain that made him feel that he had to keep drinking. Although he didn’t have a choice of being an addict, he had a choice in getting help in recovery and did.
With having an addiction, the changes in your brain will last a lifetime even when you’re an addict sobriety, they will have certain triggers that can be from environmental factors, and you need to watch out and be aware of them. The biggest difference between addiction and physical dependence is that dependence is easily predicted and can be managed and cured, while addiction is a disease and cannot be cured.
For example, many people say they’re addicted to diet coke. No, you’re not addicted, you’re physically dependent. The word dependence can often get confused because addiction is sometimes called dependence as well. In addition, you have uncontrollable and compulsive cravings which then lead to the detrimental behaviors of addiction. Physical dependence is simply called dependence whereas addiction is sometimes called opioid or substance dependence. It is very possible to have physical dependence without being addicted but addiction is right around the corner.
You can also have an addiction without physical dependence. Non-substance addictions like sex, gambling, or the internet have no physical dependences. It’s when the withdrawals and tolerance come into factor is when it becomes a physical dependence. Habit and addiction are often used interchangeably, but they are two completely different things. As addressed previously, addiction is a disease and we all know the habit is not. With habits, you can easily change your habitual behavior from negative to positive.
Addiction in its own nature is naturally known to be negative. You don’t have to go to rehab to change the habit of biting your nails or twirling your hair. Addiction ends up affecting your everyday life, health, relationships, and so on. People with an addiction do the drug or drink the fifth because they feel better or “normal” afterward with habits that are not the case. You could have a habit of drinking wine after a bad which could stay just that, a habit if drank in moderation and not having it affect your everyday life.
It is true that once you are an addict you are always an addict? If your addiction is alcohol and you become sober, you will never be able to just have a beer everyone once in a while, that addiction will be there and take your life over again. A lot of addicts after becoming sober form health habits. Notice I said habit, not addiction. For instance, my uncle is a recovering alcoholic and his new habit is going to AA and exercising. He does it to keep himself busy and his mind away from alcohol.
He works a lot and focuses on that, and his spiritual health to stay busy. He said and I quote, “The desire to drink is there every day of my life and will never go away. I can’t promise you I will never drink again but I know that I don’t want to drink because I understand it’s like a poison to my body.” Some addicts misinterpret always being an addict as if they have no hope and are condemned for life. “From the hundreds of addicts I’ve worked with, the phrase (once an addict, always an addict) is still a good reminder for them to always remain cautious and never be so proud or boastful that they forget what they’ve learned in recovery lest they return to a life of secrecy and lies likely leading to a relapse” written by Sam Louie. My uncle has gone through rehab more than once in his life but never followed through with help after he got out of rehab. He was way too proud and didn’t think he needed to go to AA, which led him right back to drinking. It is crucial to continue the help after rehab.
Is there really a cure for addiction? No, but it can be managed successfully with lifelong treatment. Studies show that 70 percent of alcoholics who continue treatment for at least one year will achieve lifelong sobriety. Cure is an incorrect word for alcoholics, remission would be the proper term. It can be controlled but it takes a lot of dedication as it is a progressive, relapsing disease.
The good thing about it is there are a ton of treatments and help you can receive. There’s a quote by Al Leshner I really like, it states “One of the major goals of addiction is to teach addicts how to deal with the cravings caused by inevitable exposure to these condition cues.” That quote is so true, it’s the environment and routines that are the hardest to fight off the addiction.
This disease affects many people in the world and unfortunately causes many deaths but there is hope! Although there is no cure, treatment is always available. Addiction can be controlled. There are major differences between physical dependence vs addiction as well as habit vs addiction. Once you’re an addict, you are always an addict but you can be a recovered one.