Substance Abuse and Addiction

Substance abuse describes a pattern of using drugs or alcohol repeatedly despite negative consequences. Initial use of a substances may be voluntary, but very quickly changes occur in the brain that make it difficult to stop using. Individuals may spend excessive time seeking out and using the drug compulsively and without control. Attempts to stop may be unsuccessful. Addiction is a complex disease that requires professional help. Evidence based practices reflect extensive research being done on the brain and how to help those struggling.

Different Types of Addictions
There are many different types of addictions. Most commonly diagnosed are drug and alcohol addictions. Others include sex addiction, gambling addiction, and food addiction.

Current Research Trends
With a rising epidemic of fatal overdoses, research attempts to explore best practices for helping those who suffer from addiction. The biopsychosocial model takes into consideration the complex nature of addiction. It considers the biological component, as well as sociocultural influences and psychological factors like coping mechanisms and underlying issues. Treatment requires flexibility and balance between accepting the limitations of a disease and promoting the will of self determination and change.

What Happens in the Brain
Addiction is a chronic disease that changes the brain. Substance abuse affects the brain’s reward center. Substances flood the brain with an excess of dopamine, creating a high or feeling of euphoria. This changes the way the reward circuit functions. A healthy reward circuit reinforces healthy behaviors like engaging in a hobby or spending time with friends. Dopamine surges cause the brain to reinforce pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like seeking and consuming drugs. These behaviors are repeated compulsively. Over time, the brain adjusts to the dopamine rush and develops a tolerance, requiring more and more of a substance to achieve the high.

Sobriety and Maintenance
Recovery is a significant accomplishment. With sobriety comes new challenges. Ongoing treatment for an addiction is a significant predictor in positive outcomes. A counselor can help you work through slips and relapses, and manage triggers as they arise.

The culture of our society can tragically normalize heavy use of alcohol. Many social gatherings include the use of alcohol as a way to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. Not all people who use alcohol have a problem. If you have tried to limit your drinking, but found it difficult to do so, you may benefit from exploring your relationship with alcohol in counseling. If you find your alcohol use has impaired any aspect of your life including health, safety, legal issues, relationships, school, or work, you may be at risk for alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is progressive and can significantly damage the heart, liver, and other vital organs.