Addiction Is a Progressive Disease

istock_000012354150xsmall“Why doesn’t he just stop drinking?” “Why does she keep using heroin if she knows the consequences?” People can ask these questions when they see someone struggling with substance abuse—they may think that if a person recognizes the dangers, they should be able to stop. But it’s not that simple.

Addiction is not a choice that is made and can be stopped by the simple desire to quit. Research has shown that addiction is a disease. It affects the brain in staggering ways, making the cravings and the reliance on drugs or alcohol involuntary.

Most drugs target the reward center of the brain. When someone uses a drug, dopamine is released and floods their brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure and reward. When an action causes dopamine levels to rise, the person is motivated to repeat that action. In this case, when the use of a drug causes a person to feel pleasure, they are motivated to use the drug again to replicate the feeling. Compulsive cravings start occurring, and the person becomes addicted.

Over the long term, the flood of dopamine from the use of drugs or alcohol causes the brain to slow the natural production of dopamine and/or reduce its response to the dopamine. This can further the addiction, as the person now needs the drug to feel pleasure and happiness.

Addiction not only affects and alters the reward center of the brain but also causes changes to other parts of the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of drugs and alcohol affects the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, habits, impulse inhibition, decision making, cognitive awareness, mood, and stress reactivity. These changes to a person’s brain chemistry can contribute to the continuing use of drugs and alcohol. It is hard for an addicted person to simply use “willpower” to quit when so many vital cognitive functions have been affected.

rrw2016-ribbonThis Red Ribbon Week (October 23–31), Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers want to encourage others to recognize that addiction is a disease, not a choice, and to take steps to reduce both the stigma and the problem. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, remember that it is not as simple as just making the decision to quit. As with other diseases, professional help is often needed to recover. For more information about the effects of drug abuse and treatment options, visit RecoverGateway.org.

Tips for Staying Drug Free

In honor of the upcoming Red Ribbon Week (October 23–31, 2016), Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers want to encourage those just entering recovery from a substance use disorder to find the support they need to continue living a life free of drugs and alcohol. Recovery consists of several stages. Completing treatment and returning to everyday life can be one of the most challenging for those who have struggled with substance use—changing routines and confronting triggers can be overwhelming. As well as attending outpatient aftercare and/or support groups, there are things that can be done in your personal life to help stay focused and feel supported. The following are a few tips to help remain drug free during this difficult but transformative time in recovery.

Stay busy by setting short-term goals. Occupying your time combats the boredom that can cause relapse. Before bed, make a to-do list for the next day. Perhaps you’d like to submit a job application, mow the lawn, and call a friend. Making habits to stay busy during the day will gradually disrupt the association to drugs and alcohol, and will also boost productivity and confidence.

young fitness woman tying shoelaces on trailSweat it out. Try to squeeze in at least 30 minutes of physical exercise. According to a study at the Mayo Clinic, exercise helps reduce stress, improves mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety, improves sleep, and boosts mood. If you’re new to working out, don’t be intimidated. The study suggests that a simple brisk walk is enough to reap these benefits.

Cut out toxic relationships. Don’t “test” yourself with unhealthy friendships or romances. Take responsibility for your recovery by being honest with unhealthy influences. Ask for their respect in your new lifestyle and need for space. Ending it doesn’t mean the other person is “bad.” You’re not assigning blame—only maintaining your own well-being.

Meeting Of Support Group

Utilize your support system. Support networks may include family, friends, colleagues, recovery meeting participants, sponsors, or therapists. You may find that verbalizing your feelings, even when you don’t want to, will help you conceptualize and take responsibility for the next steps necessary. Also remember that your support system isn’t only there to help you through the bad—together, you can celebrate the good!

Self-care and awareness are the focus of these tips. When times get tough, remind yourself that you’ll want to remember this time of adjustment. Valuable lessons and insights are being gained for your use down the road.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol, learn more at RecoverGateway.org, or call Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers for a confidential consultation at 877-505-HOPE (4673).

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