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).

Gateway Treatment Centers Support Red Ribbon Week with Free Family Guides

substance abuse, gateway treatment centers

Click for a Free Copy of Gateway’s Roadmap to Understanding Substance Abuse

In support of Red Ribbon Week’s drug awareness campaign, Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers will distribute red ribbons and free Family Guides on how parents can talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol.

The goal of Red Ribbon Week is to promote drug awareness among parents and teens to keep young people drug free. Children whose parents regularly talk to them about drugs and are 42 percent less likely to use them, according to the Red Ribbon campaign, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.

“Most parents are already aware they should be talking to their children about the risks of drug and alcohol use, but they might be unsure of how to handle such a topic,” said Lori Dammermann, Executive Director of Gateway’s Carbondale center. “The Family Guide offers advice on how parents can initiate and maintain an ongoing conversation with their kids to help keep them drug free.”

The guides will be distributed in schools and other public places throughout Illinois. They cover such topics as talking to your children about drugs and alcohol, understanding substance abuse, information on drug treatment and signs of potential trouble that parents should watch out for.

The ribbons declare this year’s theme for Red Ribbon Week: “Respect Yourself. Be Drug Free.”

Information is also available on the “Getting Help” section of the Gateway website at RecoverGateway.org. This includes the Family Guide, drug treatment options and how families can cope with a loved one who needs help.

The Red Ribbon Campaign, begun in 1985, is an effort by the National Family Partnership to promote drug prevention, education and advocacy.

Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers offer a comprehensive approach to drug rehab. With facilities throughout the state, including Lake County, Chicago, St. Louis Metro East, and Carbondale, its staff creates personalized treatment plans for each client, one that treats the underlying causes of substance abuse—not just their addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Services include substance-abuse education, group and individual counseling, medical treatment of withdrawal symptoms and integrated therapy for underlying mental health concerns. Gateway also provides family counseling and education, relapse prevention and aftercare recovery support programs for teens and adults.

Red Ribbon Week Reminder: Teen Marijuana Use Opens Door to Addiction

Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. Prior to 2007, marijuana use was on the decline however, since then, use of marijuana has increased. It was actually the most frequently identified drug seized in the St. Louis metro area in early to mid 2013.

marijuana use, gateway treatment centersThe growing belief that marijuana is a safe drug may be the result of public discussions about medical marijuana and the public debate over the drug’s legal status. Some naively assume marijuana cannot be harmful because it is “natural” but not all natural plants are good for you—take tobacco, for example.

Likewise, young people are less likely to disapprove of regular marijuana use, which indicates warnings regarding the risks associated with teen marijuana use have fallen on teens’ deaf ears. In fact, in the past 10 years the number of high schoolers who think regular marijuana use is risky has dropped dramatically according to 2013 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The change in attitudes is reflected by increasing rates of marijuana use among high schoolers. From 2008 to 2013, past-month use of marijuana increased:

  • From 13.8% to 18.0% among 10th graders.
  • From 19.4% to 22.7% among 12th graders.

The naked truth is teens using marijuana expose themselves to changes in brain chemistry, which can result in learning, memory problems and IQ loss. Another valid concern is that, contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive. In fact, marijuana addiction results in the withdrawal and craving symptoms that are at the root of addictive disorders. With the legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois this only supports the notion to teens throughout the St. Louis metro east area that smoking pot is not really bad for you.

About 1 in 10 people who try marijuana will become addicted to it. But here’s the kicker: The addiction rate jumps to about 1 in 6 among people who start using marijuana as teenagers, and up to 1 in 2 among daily users!

Oftentimes, even before parents, teens are the first to realize when friends use drugs. In honor of Red Ribbon Week from Oct. 23-30, 2014, I can offer tips for drama-free teen-to-teen interventions:

  • Simply telling a friend you’re concerned about drug and/or alcohol use can be a big help. Let your friend you’re worried their slipping grades and behavioral changes are related to drug abuse
  • Don’t be hurt if your concerns are dismissed as the effects of drug use may prevent your friend from “hearing” you or acting on your concerns.
  • Understand that it is never easy for anyone to admit that they have a drug problem.
  • Assure your friend that he/she is not alone no matter what. People with drug problems may hang out with the wrong crowd—and they don’t want to turn away from these so-called friends for fear of being alone.
  • Listen, encourage, share and support.
  • Read more tips for talking to teens about substance abuse > 
Gateway Treatment Centers Swansea

Article By: Mike Feaman, Program Director, Gateway Swansea

If a friend has been using drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time, it’s important to understand that addiction is a brain disease. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to recover without the help of a doctor, the right treatment and support from family and friends—you can’t expect your friends to heal themselves. If the problem appears to be too big for you to handle alone, turn to a school counselor or a responsible adult to get your friend help. I urge you to take this opportunity during Red Ribbon Week to talk to your friends and family about how to prevent substance abuse or get treatment if someone may need help.

 For more resources regarding marijuana use and its effect on brain chemistry, please visit RecoverGateway.org/Marijuana.

 

%d bloggers like this: