DEFINITION OF ADDICTION

Addiction, whether it is alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or food, has become a by-product of society today. It is so easy to judge another when you don't walk in their shoes. The first step to understanding and compassion for an addict or alcoholic is to become educated about addiction and how biological and emotional cravings can become more powerful than will power.

I'm not providing an excuse for you to enable someone but I am urging you to take the time to educate yourself so that you can make the best decisions for your loved one. You may only have one chance. Research and then give them the optimum chance available for success. Trust me, an addict already feel like a failure. Don't set them up for yet another failure; the failure that is experienced by eighty to over ninety percent of those who attempt traditional rehabilitation. Try to remember them when they were innoscent, loving and free, full of hope and promise and give them the "right" chance to become free again.

Reading this page will give you a much better idea of just how complicated addiction is and why it is so difficult to treat. Most of all, I hope that it will give you compassion for those who suffer from addiction, including the families of Alcoholics and Addicts.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use alcoholic and alcoholism when referring to an addict, addiction, and any substance abuse. According to the National Council on Alcoholism’s Public Policy Committee, “alcoholism is a chronic, progressive and potentially fatal disease. It includes the following elements:

  1. Craving-a strong need or compulsion to drink;
  2. Loss of control- the frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun;
  3. Physical dependence – the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking;
  4. Tolerance- the need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to get “high.”

Note: Not all people who encounter problems with drinking alcohol are alcoholics, but are instead classified as alcohol abusers. Where the alcoholic will likely experience many of the same effects as the alcohol abuser, the reverse is not necessarily true. The alcohol abuser lacks 1, 2 and 3 above and is less likely to experience 4.

Alcoholism is characterized by loss of control over the amount consumed but it is not about drinking all the time.

  • There are binge drinkers who drink heavily for days, weeks or months then stop for awhile.
  • There are daily drinkers who drink steadily at a moderate or heavy level throughout the day.
  • There are weekend drinkers who only allow themselves to let go on the weekends.

Some believe that alcohol is necessary to get through their daily activities. Others drink in isolation to dull the pain of loneliness or alienation. It is treatable but not curable. It is an identifiable biochemical disease and can never be resumed socially without triggering the addiction.

Even though most of those affected by substance abuse are aware of harmful consequences, very few receive medical treatment for their condition. This is due partly to most people, including physicians, viewing addiction not as a medical (brain) disorder but as a character flaw or sign of moral weakness. (5)

Most recovery professionals ignore the underlying chemical imbalances or physical dis-ease and use primarily a psychological and spiritual approach. “They (these programs) are not effective for eradicating addiction unless combined with nutritional rehabilitation.” (2)

According to Ross, “Most of our addicted clients tell me that they didn’t even necessarily use alcohol or drugs to get high. They just wanted to “feel normal”. Ross added that most addicts are born with inherited mood disorders. “Finally, as almost all adolescents do now, they experimented with alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. But they were the ones who could never stop.” (2)

Clients who attend traditional rehabs are painfully aware that talk and spiritual therapy has failed to eliminate their cravings, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and mental confusion. They may stop using cold turkey but “from a physical standpoint, they face many painful years of ‘white knuckling’ it.” (3)

So what is addiction? It is an obsession of the mind and a compulsion of the body including genetic, biological, environmental, psychological and socio-cultural: (1) According to Narconon, (4) addiction is:

  • “Repeated, compulsive seeking and use of a drug despite adverse social, mental and physical consequences….accompanied by psychological (mental) and physical dependence.” (4)
  • “Addiction is an inherited disease….is compounded by a pre-existing mental disorder” such as depression, ADD, ADHD, and Bipolar. (4)
  • (Note: Health Recovery Center researchers have discovered that in 77% of alcoholics they find a certain gene affecting receptor sites (locks that can be opened by the correct chemical key) for dopamine. This gene was absent in 72% of non-alcoholics. There may also be a liver enzyme found in an alcoholic that allows them to drink very large amounts of alcohol without becoming intoxicated.) (3)

  • When the substance is no longer available, there are withdrawal symptoms. (4)
  • The individual is controlled by the drug. (4)
  • Use of a drug will probably lead to permanent chemical imbalances in the brain that will need to be treated. (4)
  • Willpower can’t lift depression or stop cravings. “Anxiety, irritability, mental confusion, and irrational thinking are often caused by physical disruption of the brain and central nervous system”. (2)
  • Lack of education and economic levels do not play favorites in the incidence of alcoholism. (1)

Neuroscience has provided us with new information about the science of addiction

Drugs affect the midbrain which is the area that processes the amoral, limbic, reflexive, or unconscious survival. This is not the same area that processes conscious choice. That area is the cortex. In an unaffected brain, the cortex normally overcomes the libidinal reflexes of the midbrain.* However, in an addict, the defects occur at a level far earlier than cortical processing. This results in the midbrain becoming stronger than the cortex.
(*Note by Jan: I believe that an ADD or ADHD person would have a brain profile very similar to that of an addict, both profiles relying on the limbic responses instead of the rational cortex area of the brain).

Stress is the primary cause of addiction. Although genetic factors play a major part, stress plays an even greater role. It is true that everyone experiences stress but it is also true that everyone does not experience it in the same way. This chronic stress that affects the midbrain is interpreted by the brain as a threat to survival.

Addiction is a stress induced defect in the midbrain which interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pleasure. When the brain experiences persistent stress, it releases hormones such as Corticotripin Releasing Factor (CRF). CRF acts on genes for novelty-seeking and dopamine neurotransmission. When under severe stress, people will increase risk taking in an effort to find relief. ** Simultaneously, the brain’s ability to perceive pleasure and reward (mediated by dopamine) becomes unbalanced. This imbalance causes the inability to derive pleasure from things that would normally bring pleasure.

**(Note by Jan: ADD and Addiction related individuals use risk taking to activate the release of adrenaline to the brain which acts like the dopamine that they lack, making their brain feel more normal).

Drugs and alcohol cause a rapid release of dopamine in the midbrain. If the stressed and imbalanced person is exposed to this drug-induced surge of dopamine, the midbrain recognizes the relief and tags the drug as the means of survival. The midbrain now deems the drug as required for life.

Increased stress levels and CRF trigger cravings. In a non-addicted person, this is overcome by self-will. But to an addict, this craving is constant, involuntary, and persists until it is satisfied with the drug. (1)

A person may think they can experiment just a few times with the highly potent drugs available today only to find out they can’t quit when they want to. This includes pharmaceutical drugs, especially drugs for sleep, pain and depression. (4)

Dr. Mercola posted an article regarding addiction to prescription drugs. His web site is always a great resource for research with regard to health and medicinal remedies; including over the counter, prescription and natural drugs. The article, Deadlier than Cocaine, Heroin, and the Swine Flu? dated November 21, 2009 states, "Addiction to prescription painkillers-which kill thousands of Americans a year-has become a largely unrecognized epidemic, experts say." He quoted Leonard Paulozzi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "In fact, prescription drugs cause most of the more than 26,000 fatal overdoses each year. Prescription painkillers have now surpassed heroin and cocaine however, as the leading cause of fatal overdoses." (6)

When the alcoholic takes the first drink, the ingestion of the alcohol triggers a compulsion of the body that demands more. It is as if the drugs have high jacked the brain’s natural motivational control circuits, making the drug the top priority in the addict’s life.

Dependence includes cravings which are a strong need or compulsion to use which can be as strong as the need for food and water. (1)

Cycle of Addiction and Barriers to Successful Recovery by Narconon (4) "The life cycle of addiction begins with a problem, discomfort or some form of emotional or physical pain for a person for which he does not have an immediate answer. Perhaps he has difficulty “fitting in” as a child or teenager, physical injuries such as a broken bone, a bad back or some other chronic physical condition or he has suffered losses in life.” People are very likely to be exposed to alcohol as a means of socializing but certain individuals, in the aforementioned pain, feel relief from their discomfort and the drug becomes the answer, in their eyes. They receive value and the value is what causes then to use again. As an individual becomes an abuser of their drug of choice, most areas of their lives begin to deteriorate which causes even more despair and misery which further encourages escape, i.e. their drug.


Narconon identifies the following as the Barriers to Recovery:

  1. Overcoming mental and physical cravings
  2. Depression —made worse by damage caused in the brain from drug usage. “At some point, an addict surrenders to the idea that they must be high to experience any emotions, they must be high to celebrate an accomplishment, to escape sadness, to solve problems, enjoy sex, have meaningful relationships, work or play. The addict truly believes and operates on this principle….”
  3. Guilt due to the lies, cheating and withdrawal from loved ones

***

An Added Note Concerning Chad’s Addictions

Chad knew he had a drinking problem, as a weekend warrior, by the time he was sixteen. Unfortunately, I did nothing that could have helped Chad, even though my intentions were always the best. Chad became sober cold turkey and managed to stay sober for eight months, giving us the best gift he could have given us--himself. He was a changed person. He said that he could think clearly for the first time in years and he became more of the person he really was. He also began to look out after others headed down that same road.

We face a culture of alcohol and other drug use, which is intrinsic to the entertainment and tourist industries in our area. Chad continued to party with his friends, using Red Bull as his drink of choice. One of the biggest challenges of remaining sober is to stay involved with the same friends, especially when all of them use alcohol as a means for socializing.

Chad once wrote, “Death before dishonor to my family”. I believe he died before causing dishonor or lack of integrity. He died before the inevitable stealing and devious crime became a part of his life in order to pay his debts or to obtain more of the drug. I’m proud that he didn’t sell or become the source for another person’s addiction to crack. Whether it was depression, unbelievably unclear thinking, integrity, or most likely a combination of the three, the consequences and loss, to all of us who loved him, are beyond words.

References:

(1) UNDERSTANDING DRUG AND ALCOHOL ISSUES: AN OVERVIEW BY Michael G. Bickers, LMSW-ACP, LMFT, Psychotherapist. See this overview in its entirety for a better understanding of Addictions.

(2) The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, M.A.

(3) www.hrc@healthrecovery.com check for an article called "Taking the Cure" located on this site under related articles

(4) Narconon Arrowhead, Healing Addicted Lives, www.stopaddiction.com

(5) Dana Foundation

(6) Mercola.com

Note: There are different tests that you can take to determine if you may have an addiction to alcohol (see the Appendix of this Overview Document; or see the web site for Health Recovery Center # 3 above). A Book that is a very interesting read is “Deep Survival” which explains a lot about the Limbic System of our brain and how much it really influences our actions.