How Science has Clarified Addiction and Improved Recovery Strategies

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that at least 23.9 million Americans
have tried drugs, and a large number of them developed an addiction to them. The staggering figures of addiction have encouraged researchers to conduct clinical studies and look for evidence-based solutions.

What is Addiction

Addiction is a brain disease – that is one of the most crucial discoveries science has made to date. At one time, it was believed that people made a choice when it came to chronic substance use. The medical community now has a better understanding of the scientific process of addiction and how it affects the brain.

Repeated drug and alcohol use changes the brain, and this change makes it difficult to control impulses. Someone who suffers from addiction may understand that a substance is harmful, but the changes to the brain make it hard to stop without help.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. (2) This discovery has led to more progressive recovery options for those who suffer from this disease.

How Addiction Affects The Brain

The understanding that chronic drug or alcohol use changes the brain led to more extensive research on the biochemical processes involved in addiction. Substance use is an intrinsically rewarding behavior.

What this means is that using drugs or alcohol stimulates the reward center of the brain. Repeated stimulation diminishes the substance’s effect, so you need to take more to get the same effect.

Over time, the body becomes adapted to the substance’s chemistry and going without it leads to withdrawal symptoms. If you manage to avoid using drugs or alcohol long enough for the withdrawal symptoms to subside, you develop a reverse tolerance. This means even a small amount of the substance can have a very powerful effect and trigger a relapse.

Beyond Brain Chemistry

There is a psychological and genetic component to addiction as well. A family history of addiction makes a person more vulnerable, for example. Genetics account for about 50 percent of the risk. (3)

Environmental factors play a role, as well. Things like psycho-social stress, lifestyle, and trauma contribute to a person’s risk of drug or alcohol misuse and eventual dependence.

The Scientific Approach to Treatment 

Because addiction is such a complex illness, it is important to approach treatment in phases. It starts with medical intervention to help with stabilization and withdrawal symptoms. Over time, treatment professionals teach the client and family members how to build a lifestyle and environment that supports a healthy, long-term recovery.

Thanks to science, treatment is approached systematically:

  • Medical staff help manage the physical symptoms
  • Counselors address the psychological side of addiction, such as triggers and underlying causes
  • Programs use group therapy to deal with the psychosocial pressures
  • Aftercare services help maintain a continuum of care after a client completes a treatment program

Recovery is a process, but science has improved the healing process by defining the disease. Understanding the various risk factors and how the process of addiction works is paramount in improving prevention and enhancing recovery strategies.

Resources:

  • “Nationwide Trends,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, January 2014
  • “Scientific Research has Revolutionized our Understanding of Drug Abuse and Addiction,” NIH Medline Plus, 2011
  • Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, “Cellular basis of memory for addiction” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, December 2013

Addiction Recovery Program at Mandala Healing Center

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