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Is Addiction A Brain Disease?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse describes addiction as “a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.”

These changes produce strong urges to use alcohol or drugs and interfere with your ability to resist them. As with many other brain diseases, these brain changes affect the way we think and behave. Our thoughts and behaviors can also go some way to reversing brain changes. So can our social lives and the world around us.

Effective treatment should consider all these factors. It should offer a variety of different treatment approaches, such as behavioral therapy, treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions, and support for you as a family.

Recognizing addiction as a brain disease does not mean medical treatment is the only approach. However, it does reduce stigma and help us design more effective treatment programs.

Policy Makers and Public Opinion

Policy Makers and Public Opinion

Unfortunately, many people are still not fully aware of the science of substance use disorder.

There is a wide gap between the scientific facts and the public perception of it. Many people see addiction as a social problem that has social solutions. They see addiction as a result of the choices a substance user has made and believe that legal deterrents or punishment should prevent it.

Science, however, teaches us that addiction is in large part a medical problem. Addiction is often out of your control, and professional intervention will increase your chance of success. The failure of policymakers and the public to recognize this stops people from accessing effective treatment.

Removing the Stigma from Addiction

The gap between scientific fact and wider opinion partly comes from the stigma attached to addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease that results from changes in the brain. It has many complex causes which are mostly out of our hands.

But while some people accept this, many people believe that substance users are ‘bad’ people who have chosen not to control their actions and behavior. They believe that you can quit whenever you want.

The consequences of this point of view can be devastating. Some people think that people suffering from addiction do not deserve treatment and this mindset ultimately prevents them from having any reasonable chance of recovery.

Understanding the nature of addiction has important implications for public health and social policy.

One of these issues is how the criminal justice system treats drug-related crimes. An estimated 65% of people in prison are addicted to some form of drug or alcohol. Another 20% were under the influence of drugs at the time they committed their crime.

Very few prisoners suffering from substance use disorder take part in recovery programs. Research suggests that only 5% of opioid users in prison receive treatment.

A survey of prison medical directors suggests that most do not know about the benefits of using medications in addiction treatment. When prisoners do receive treatment, it usually consists of only behavioral counseling or detoxification.

The lack of access to effective treatment means that reconviction rates remain high. When substance users leave prison, many turn back to crime to sustain their addiction. This perpetuates a cycle of crime and conviction that is devastating to the prisoners themselves and their victims and comes at a substantial social cost.

Bias and Experience

Many of the people who work in addiction treatment have very strong opinions about the nature of addiction and how it should be treated. These views may also contradict scientific facts.

Some drug abuse workers are themselves recovering from an addiction. They may have had a successful experience with one treatment method and believe that to be the best or only approach.

In reality, scientific research has shown that there are many effective treatments. Different people respond differently to different approaches, and preventing individuals from taking part in the treatment that best suits them can damage their chances of recovery.

It is crucial to work to close the gap between opinion and science. Doing so will open the door to recovery for many more substance users.

At Cirque Lodge, we pride ourselves on personalizing each client’s treatment experience. We will collaborate with our expert team to develop a bespoke treatment program just for you.

Substance Abuse as a Public Health Problem

Research has shown that substance abuse can have severe consequences for your mental and physical health. But it also affects the health of the wider public.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drug abuse leads to the spread of “hepatitis, HIV, fetal effects, crime, violence, and disruptions in the family, workplace, and educational environments” and costs the United States billions of dollars every year.

Because addiction is such a complex and pervasive health issue, its prevention requires education, treatment, and research. Scientists are continuing to research these issues extensively, and we are becoming better equipped to tackle addiction every day.

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

While every drug affects the brain differently, almost all addictive drugs interact with a brain pathway called the mesolimbic reward system.

The mesolimbic reward system extends from the ventral tegmental to the ventral striatum, reaching areas like the limbic system and orbitofrontal cortex. Research suggests that all addictive substances activate the mesolimbic reward system in some way. This makes us associate the substance with a ‘reward’ and produces urges to reuse the drug.

Repeated and prolonged drug use causes physical changes in certain brain functions. These changes can be pervasive and persist long after the individual stops using drugs.

The addicted brain is distinctly different from the non-addicted brain. Chronic use of drugs affects the brain at a molecular, cellular, structural, and functional level. There are changes in brain metabolic activity, receptor availability, gene expressions, and responsiveness to emotional cues.

Addiction relates to brain structure changes and functions, making it, fundamentally, a brain disease. When you first start using a drug, you may use it voluntarily. After prolonged use, however, you begin to seek and use it compulsively. This behavior characterizes addiction.

Because addiction is a consequence of fundamental changes in brain function, a primary goal of treatment must be to either reverse or compensate for those brain changes. You can affect brain changes through medications and behavioral therapies. Research into the underlying biology of addiction is an essential part of developing more effective addiction treatments, particularly anti-addiction medicines.

Addiction as a Chronic Illness

Addiction as a Chronic Illness

The changes that drugs cause in the brain are long-lasting and sometimes permanent.

They can continue to produce urges to use a substance even after long periods of abstinence, especially in response to certain triggers.

Treatment approaches to addiction should resemble treatments for other chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. Instead of seeking a cure, treatments should aim to manage the disease.

Effective treatment ideally leads to abstinence. Relapse should not be viewed as a failure but as a natural part of the cycle of addiction. When we relapse, we can identify its causes to further develop our skills and strategies for coping with triggers and urges. It becomes a part of the healing and recovery process.

Drug Addiction As More Than Just a Brain Disease

Drug Addiction As More Than Just a Brain Disease

While addiction is a brain disease, it is still strongly influenced by the environment around you.

After the Vietnam War, thousands of veterans returned to the United States addicted to heroin. But when they arrived home, treating their addictions was relatively easy.

Their addictions had developed in a completely different environment to their hometowns. Most of the triggers that had caused them to take heroin did not exist in the United States. Triggers usually have an important role in causing persistent drug cravings and relapses, even after successful treatment. Without triggers, recovery for the veterans was a far easier process.

Effective addiction treatment must also address the thoughts, behaviors, and environmental cues that cause you to take a drug. While this may seem surprising, it is the case with many other illnesses that affect the brain. Research suggests that social support helps stroke survivors regain their functional skills.

Addiction Treatment Program

Addiction Treatment Program

Cirque Lodge offers an expert-led individualized treatment program that aims to heal the entire person. We offer a combination of evidence-based treatment approaches to help you overcome the causes of your addiction and reconnect with your body, mind, and soul.

We provide medical treatment for your addiction while addressing the thoughts, behaviors, and environmental factors surrounding drug use.

Surrounded by the spectacular Rocky Mountains, our luxury facilities are the perfect place for personal growth and holistic healing. Our staff are by your side 24-hours a day to offer compassionate care and support. We see rehabilitation as an experience, not a punishment, and ensure our program is enriching, inspiring, and soul-reviving.

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