Substance addiction is recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) as a medical disease as are diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Since 1956, the AMA has classified alcoholism as a disease, and in 1974 drug addiction gained the same classification.
Addiction is defined as a chronic often relapsing brain disease, and is recognized as a primary disease that is not caused by emotional or psychiatric problems or other causes. Research has shown us that in alcoholics and addicts the brain’s “reward” circuity, primarily the dopamine pathway, is modified. This causes cravings for alcohol or drugs, and begins a cycle of compulsive substance seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the alcoholic/addict and those around them. Genetics often plays a part in addiction, creating a greater propensity to become addicted if there is a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction.
Drug abuse refers to using drugs for nonmedical reasons, whether legal or illegal. If you abuse drugs, you can become dependent on them both physically and mentally. This leads to significant changes in the structure and function of the brain. Alcohol abuse involves misusing alcohol and can alter brain chemistry as well and result in addiction. Tolerance is a common characteristic of substance addiction, which involves developing the physiological need for more of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effects. In addition, the presence of withdrawal symptoms typically occurs when use is stopped.
Symptoms of addiction vary depending on the substance being abused, but there are general warning signs that an addiction has taken root including: an overwhelming desire to use, problems at school, work or at home, use despite experiencing negative consequences, mood/behavior changes and isolation from others.
Substance addiction is an incurable yet treatable disease.
Addiction treatment, whether it inpatient or outpatient, is considered the most effective and safest way to overcome an addiction and achieve sustained sobriety. In many cases, alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepine addiction initially require a short stay in a medically supervised facility such a hospital or detox program. In addition, given the complex nature of addiction, typically treatment requires long term or repeated episodes of care to be successful.
My professional outpatient services for clients suffering from substance addiction involve engaging in a discussion about one’s substance abuse history, formulating a substance abuse assessment, and developing a treatment plan with the client, which is geared toward alcohol and drug psycho-education, relapse prevention planning, and the establishment of a recovery-based support system. In order to meet the specific needs of each client, my approach entails consideration of the substance(s) used, the particular characteristics of a client such as personal goals, existence of co-occurring mental health disorders, and physical health needs, and a determination of specific therapies that would help client progress in therapy.