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Addiction and Addiction Treatment Explained
If you’ve been struggling with a compulsive desire to repeat a behaviour and you are aware that it’s causing you harm, we would consider this a form of addictive behaviour. Addiction is a complex phenomenon with a myriad of genetic and environmental factors. The theory of addiction as a disease was first developed in the 1960s, and in recent decades neuroscience has backed up the notion that addiction takes root in your brain. (1, 2)
Guilt and shame surrounding addictive behaviour can simply make the problem worse, so when dealing with addictive behaviour it’s best to approach it with compassion and understanding.
Modern theories suggest that there are several genes present in those who fall into the clutches of addiction. While these genes alone aren’t enough to cause the illness, they can predispose you to addiction. When these genetic factors combine with a mixture of environmental factors, addiction may present itself. (3)
While genes may be an influence, they are in no way a guarantee of outcome and should never be a barrier to seeking treatment. Whether addiction is a disease, or a manifestation of symptoms resulting from trauma, it can be successfully treated with the right help and support.
Types of Addictions
With drug addiction and alcohol addiction, a substance binds to receptors in your brain. This causes direct stimulation to certain chemical messengers. When you get pleasure, relaxation or stimulation from taking these substances, your brain takes note of how quickly and easily you’ve derived the desired feeling. When you’re presented with the possibility of doing it again, your brain sends signals that you should do it. These signals also cause cravings and lead to compulsive use.
With a behavioural or process addiction, your brain is taking the same shortcut to pleasure. Repeated exposure to the drug or behaviour reinforces the addiction. It also slowly diminishes the pleasure you can obtain from normal activities. (4)
Drug & alcohol addiction
Different drugs (including alcohol) have different effects on your brain and body, but the process of addiction is the same regardless of the type of substance. You may crave the escape and relaxation derived from depressants such as alcohol, opiates, cannabis and some prescription medication such as benzodiazepines (benzos) and sleeping pills. On the other hand, you may crave the confidence and energy provided by stimulants. Drug use usually serves some kind of function in the first place that you feel actually improves your life.
What starts off as a conscious decision to take drugs can begin to form into a habit. With many substances, such as benzos, alcohol and opiates, your body learns how to flush them from your system more quickly, until you develop a tolerance. When you build a tolerance, you need more and more of it to achieve the desired effects. Once you’re taking large quantities on a regular basis, your chances of developing an addiction and being unable to stop increases. (3)
With the help of a supportive team of addiction specialists and hard work from you, this illness can be treated and you can regain control over your future.
Behavioural addictions are very similar to drug addiction. Experts in behavioural science have come to realise that any stimulating activity can be addictive. When a habit becomes a compulsive desire to repeat the behaviour, despite it damaging other aspects of your life, the boundary to addiction has been crossed. Whether it’s gambling, sex or gaming, these processes can be stimulating to the point where an individual loses interest in other aspects of their lives.
It’s important to remember that addiction isn’t a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. Often, the behaviour is a coping mechanism that helps you to avoid stress and focus on something your brain knows creates pleasure. Once you’ve lost control, the repeated behaviour becomes an extra source of stress, which can perpetuate the situation.
If you’ve found yourself stuck in this cycle, there’s no need to be afraid. We can help you to understand how this process addiction works, how to develop healthy habits and to break free from its grasp. (4)
How Does Addiction Develop?
Every person is unique and has a specific set of genes and experiences that have led them to the point of addiction. You may have a higher tolerance to drug use than other people, which can lead you to thinking addiction won’t affect you. In some cases, you may be more sensitive to emotional pain or anxiety prone. It’s usually a mixture of magnification of the positive effects of drug use and denial of the negative effects, alongside repeated exposure, that leads to addiction developing.
For example, if you’re addicted to alcohol, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief after taking a long sip of your first drink of the day. This sensation isn’t caused by the effects of the drink itself — that takes at least 10 minutes to be felt. Your reward system is, in fact, responding to the expectation of the sensation of intoxication. This rewarding feeling is constantly being chased during a substance or process addiction. (4)
Abuse vs addiction
Drug abuse is defined as the habitual taking of illegal drugs. It can also refer to using prescription medication in higher quantities or more frequently than advised by a doctor. The best way to describe drug abuse is as the use of substances with the intention of producing pleasurable feelings in the brain and body. Not everyone who abuses drugs goes on to become addicted. However, abusing drugs — even on an infrequent basis — may develop into an addiction. (5)
Physical dependence is unique from addiction. It’s characterised by withdrawal symptoms presenting themselves when you stop taking drugs. This physiological change occurs with alcohol as well as drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines. With these substances, withdrawal can be dangerous and is best carried out under medical supervision. (6)
When you’re addicted, you’re unable to stop taking the drug – even if you want to. You’ll continue using them despite the drugs causing issues in your work, school or social life. Withdrawal and tolerance are also major driving factors in developing an addiction but they can exist independently of addiction.
How Do I Know When Addiction Has Developed?
The main defining characteristic of addiction is that you’re continuing to carry out the behaviour despite negative consequences. Not only are you likely to suffer from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop, but you may even experience discomfort or feel very guilty when you’re carrying out the behaviour. You’re inclined to feel like the positive effects outweigh the negative physical and psychological ones, even if it’s clear to everyone around you that this isn’t the case.
In moments of clarity, you may be able to realise that the addiction is doing you more harm than good. In these moments, you may ask for or seek out help. Stress, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms or simply the inexplicable compulsivity caused by addiction will then lead you back into the cycle of drug abuse. Problems at work, school or home and with your social life and financial situation are often rife when you’re suffering from an addiction. (8)
Is There a Cure for Addiction?
We prefer to avoid words like “cure” and instead refer to those in “recovery” or being “treated” for addiction.
Those that adopt the disease model argue that addiction is a “relapsing brain disorder”, characterised by an impulse to seek out rewarding behaviours. This would imply that addiction has no “cure” and that under certain circumstances, an individual may relapse back into addictive patterns of behaviour.
There are however a growing number of addiction experts who argue against the disease model of addiction or argue that the disease model is an oversimplification, and through extensive therapy and a nurturing environment a full recovery is possible. (10)
Whether addiction is a disease or a symptom of a wider problem (i.e. trauma), many individuals from all walks of life go on to lead successful, happy lives without falling back into the cycle of addiction.
What is the best way to treat addiction?
We believe the best way to treat addiction is by taking a holistic approach. This means addressing the whole person — body, mind and spirit — instead of just opting for one treatment style. Different methods work for different people, so we encourage you to try as many of the most well-regarded addiction treatments available. The most important thing to be aware of is that detox and rehab are just the beginning of the journey to recovery.
Addiction treatment is an ongoing process that requires maintenance. Learning alternative methods of coping with drug use doesn’t happen overnight. Drug use can be a fix-all for some people’s problems, and we know it can be effective at masking your issues. Treatment requires addressing these facts and arming you with tools to resist relapse.
Inpatient addiction treatment
Inpatient treatment is highly recommended for treating addiction because it gives you the opportunity to receive full-spectrum treatment in one place. Sanctuary Lodge is a state-of-the-art residential rehab centre that provides a multitude of treatments and activities for those who are struggling with addiction. We use evidence-based methods such as CBD and DBT, group therapy following the 12-step framework and holistic therapies such as art therapy, music therapy and yoga.
With residential rehab, you go through the withdrawal process under the supportive team of addiction specialists. If you feel anxious or uncomfortable, you can seek their advice at any time of the day or night. In some cases, they’ll be able to provide medication to ease you through the process. You also gain a ready-made support network in your fellow residents, with the close proximity of living together bringing you all together.
We also provide one year of free aftercare, as studies have shown that people who stay in treatment for at least a year are more likely to maintain abstinence in the long term. You’ll build strong bonds with your care team that can support you through the most important stage in your recovery. UKAT Alumni is a lifelong scheme that you become part of when you finish rehab, which provides a nationwide support network of fellow survivors to socialise and enjoy sobriety with.
Outpatient NHS programmes
Free outpatient services are available on the NHS. If you’re worried about your substance use, your first port of call should be your GP. They can give you all the information you need to know about the options you have available to you. In most cases, you’ll need to go through a self-referral process. This is quite extensive, and it’s often some time until the referral is processed. Once it’s done, you’ll normally be recommended for outpatient treatment.
You’ll usually spend several months on a waiting list before starting treatment, which can be problematic if you’re spiralling into addiction. When you start, you’ll attend meetings and therapy during the day and spend evenings and weekends at home. In some instances, you can attend evening and weekend courses if you still have responsibilities such as school or work.
While you are offered a good range of care options, some of the complementary therapies on offer at residential rehab aren’t available in an outpatient setting. These holistic treatments can offer respite from more formal therapy and promote the openness that is required in order for you to get better. You will likely be exposed to triggers in outpatient treatment which may increase the risk of relapse.
Support groups are a cornerstone of recovery, and we encourage you to attend these along every step of your recovery. During these sessions, you and your peers share your experiences and advice with one another. Hearing other people’s stories and sharing your own gives you an enormous amount of perspective and facilitates advice from multiple sources. Most support groups including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are 12-step based.
Taking part in group sessions gives you a sense of independence and collective empowerment. Confidence and autonomy are so important when you’re overcoming your fight with addiction.
If you’d like to learn more about addiction or how to combat it, speak with one of our addiction counsellors today for confidential advice.