The Science of Drug Addiction
The Science of Drug Addiction
No one ever imagines or hopes that their future will involve drug addiction. But 23.5 million individuals in the United States have found themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is not discriminatory — it affects people of all races and all ages. With its ability to be so widespread and its effects so devastating, questions of how and why are often asked. Is addiction simply a result of bad choices? Were those individuals who found themselves addicted destined for that reality because of their environment? Scientists have been studying addiction since the 1930s, and their research has resulted in groundbreaking advancements in understanding addiction and how to treat it.
Addiction: What is it?
According to the National Institute of Health, addiction is classified as a brain disease because alcohol and drugs can change the structure of the brain and the way it functions. It is a chronic disease that persists and results in a compulsive need for the addict to seek out a drug, even in the face of incredibly negative consequences. Although addiction is a brain disease, the changes in the brain resulting from alcohol and/or drug abuse may ultimately result in self-destructive and harmful behaviors. These effects can be long-lasting and even life-threatening.
How does it happen?
Scientific research has also shown that it is not simply brain chemistry that causes a person to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Both environmental factors and “protective factors” influence whether or not a person will become an addict. Protective factors include self-control, parental monitoring, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and a strong neighborhood attachment. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that individuals with psychological disorders are at a greater risk than the general population for drug abuse and addiction. Additionally, risk factors such as poverty, drug availability, early aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, substance use and poor social skills can increase the likelihood of addiction. Scientists have made significant progress in identifying which genes are indicative of addiction, but the interplay between genetics and environmental factors is very complex and there is no single factor that dictates whether or not a person will become addicted.
How to treat addiction
Studies have shown that although the brain is changed by alcohol and/or drug abuse, the ability to respond to a reward is not damaged. Positive reinforcement and rewards can come in the form of reaching treatment milestones, attending a job program or school. The Atlantic published an article in September 2013, “The Science of Choice in Addiction” taking a closer look at the science behind addiction and how rewards can make a difference. In the article, the author noted that “progressive rehab programs use rewards to encourage completion of job training and attendance at treatment or meetings.” These treatment methods specifically use knowledge derived from scientific research in terms of how the brain functions and how humans behave. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient’s drug abuse patterns and drug-related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.”
The good news is that addiction, though a chronic disease, can be treated and managed effectively. Treatment centers like Crossroads work hard to personalize a treatment plan that will fit your needs to help make sobriety and recovery a reality for you. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today.
Jun 22, 2016 | Blog