You’re not alone
A lot of people feel helpless and powerless against their addiction. And it looks different for everyone. Unfortunately, when a person loses their life to a drug or alcohol addiction, somebody undoubtedly says, “Well, they made their choice.” But is that really true?
If you’re struggling with an addiction, chances are you’re also dealing with a lot of other things, like shame, guilt and probably a tarnished reputation. It can feel like an endless spiral with no means of stopping or getting better. If you’re here, chances are you’re looking to make a change and you’re ready to start doing things differently.
But before you do, it’s important to understand what’s happening in your mind and body.
Addiction: A disease or a choice?
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may be wondering if what’s happening is a valid choice, or is really a disease? Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
How the disease of addiction comes about
Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of a lot of things – including the chemicals in your brain, your environment, and even biological factors, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that somebody will develop an addiction problem. Furthermore, the Center on Addiction reports this involves changes in how your brain works and how your body functions.
What happens to a brain on drugs and alcohol
Most drugs and alcohol impact the brain’s “reward circuit”, by flooding your brain when a chemical called dopamine. This “reward circuit” helps your body to feel pleasure and to do it again. You get “high” or drunk when this system is overstimulated, when the “reward circuit” feels a lot of pleasure all at once. This, many times, is what causes people to get high again and again.
As a person continues to abuse drugs or drink, the brain adjusts itself to the excess dopamine by making less of it and reducing the ability of the cells in this “reward circuit” to respond to it. This reduces the feeling the person feels compared to how high it made them the first time they used the drug. It’s what we know and understand as “tolerance”. Typically, this causes the person to take more of the drug or drink more heavily to get the same effect. As you can imagine, this usually makes people enjoy other things less, like food, or spending time with family and friends.
As the drug or alcohol use and the brain changes continue, people aren’t able to function as well as they once were with things like:
- good judgement
Despite being aware of the many dangers of drug use and over-drinking, people who struggle with addiction continue to abuse them, which is the nature of addiction.
Addiction is sometimes a chronic disease
A chronic disease is defined as a long-lasting condition that can be controlled, but not cured. About 25-50% of people who have a drug or alcohol problem appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. For them, addiction is a progressive, relapsing disease that requires a lot of hard work and help from their family.
Luckily and thankfully, even the most severe, chronic forms of addiction can be manageable and reversible.
Why it’s not a choice
Some people think addiction can’t be a disease because it’s caused by somebody’s choice to use drugs or alcohol. While the first time may be a choice, once the brain has been changed by addiction, most experts believe the person loses control over the ability to choose.
Choice doesn’t determine whether something is a disease. Heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer can sometimes happen because of personal choices like diet, exercise, sun exposure, etc. A disease is what happens to the body as a result of these choices.
How counseling works
Here, we’re not interested in beating you over the head for what you’ve done and what you’ve been through. In fact, we suspect the world has already done plenty of that. Instead, we’re here to work with you to find ways you can find peace, freedom, and healing. Counseling doesn’t mean you’re weak – it means that you’ve decided to be strong enough to make a change in your life and that you’re ready to get to work.
It’s okay to not be okay. But it’s not okay to stay that way.
Together, we’ll look at real, practical ways that you can finally put an end to this struggle of addiction. We’ll talk about what you’ve tried before to quit so we know exactly how we need to move forward. We’ll talk about ways you can make sure you have support in the days ahead to keep you from relapsing.
We’ll use some tools, including some things you’ll take with you and work on outside of your counseling sessions to make sure you have the support you need.
The thought of coming into a counselor’s office can be pretty scary. It sometimes makes people nervous to come in and pour their hearts out to a stranger. But here, we want you to know you’re in a safe place to talk about what you’ve been through, and perhaps more importantly, where you want to go. We’re ready to walk this journey with you to find hope and healing for the future.