Addiction means not having control over doing, taking or using something harmful. You can’t control how you use whatever you are addicted to and you become dependent on it to get through each day.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine begins their definition of addiction by describing it as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”
And treating it as a disease is a good starting point for understanding addiction and realising that the person who abuses or misuses alcohol or drugs is not doing it deliberately, but because they are sick. Some of the confusion, frustration and anger will subside and you will be able to approach the situation more objectively and constructively.
5 Things we know about the disease
You wouldn’t blame your child for coming down with the flu. Instead you would take them to the doctor, have the disease properly diagnosed and do whatever to speed your child to recovery. Similarly, you should not blame the addict for being an addict.
Below are five things we know for sure about the disease of addiction;
- 1. The disease is primary
- 2. The disease follows a predictable and progressive course
- 3. The disease is chronic
- 4. The disease is fatal
- 5. The disease is treatable
The disease is primary
Rather than being a symptom of an underlying emotional or physical disorder, addiction causes many problems or aggrevates those that already exist. And if present, cannot be treated effectively unless the chemical dependency is treated FIRST.
The disease follows a predictable and progressive course
Predictable means that there are certain symptoms that can be seen when addiction is present. Progressive means that without treatment the problem always gets worse, never better. Unchecked, addiction can lead to incarceration, insanity or death. Halting the progression requires abstinence.
The disease is chronic
The word chronic reminds us that there is no cure for addiction. Once a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, there is no going back to drinking or using as a non alcoholic/addict. This is where we begin to see how truly serious this disease is. So the only way forward is complete abstinence from all mood altering drugs.
The disease is fatal
A person whose addiction is not arrested will eventually die from it and die prematurely. Left unchecked, addiction is a 100 percent fatal disease. We are not talking about a bad habit, we are talking about a life or death situation.
The disease is treatable
Primary, predictable, chronic, and fatal; these four characteristics make it seem addiction is the worst disease around. Well it would be, were it not for one more very important characteristic. It can be treated and arrested. In fact it has a predictable response to a specific form of care. The proof is found in the millions of people who are in recovery today. Addiction cannot be cured which is why people who have stopped drinking or using, gone through treatment and set about fully living again, have accepted that recovery is a process and a lifelong commitment.
People often ask how they can tell if someone is actually addicted to alcohol or drugs. Laypeople worried about a friend or relative can ask themselves, “Is the person experiencing repeated negative consequences in any area of their life due to alcohol or drugs, and do they continue to drink or use anyway?” If the answer is yes, the person is probably addicted.
Addiction isn’t something the alcoholic / addict does to us, nor is it a moral failing. Many people of tremendous accomplishment succumb to this illness. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. Yes, it’s true that people have to choose to drink or use drugs before they become an alcoholic or addict, but we live in a society that promotes drinking. Mood altering drugs are widely prescribed to help people sleep, calm down, cope with stress and escape pain. Illegal drugs are readily available any place you go, even in maximum security prisons, and are considered fashionable in some social circles. When we use mood altering drugs of any type, we can expect that a certain percentage of users’ will become addicted to those drugs. Once the choice to use a mood altering drug is made, it is anybody’s guess as to who will or will not become chemically dependent.
All sorts of people become addicted, some for no apparent reason. On the other hand, it seems that some people cannot become an alcoholic or addict, no matter how hard they try.
We know that addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower, or weakness of character, or some flaw in a person’s moral structure. It is not the result of any external influences – an unhappy marriage, trouble at work.
This means of course, that if someone you care about is an alcoholic / addict, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
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