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Many people wrongly think that people struggling with addiction don’t have morals or that they lack the willpower to choose to stop using. However, addiction is a complex disease that changes the brain. This makes it hard to quit even when it’s necessary. This is why understanding addiction is so important for friends wanting to help addicted friends.
Addiction is a chronic disease that makes users compulsive. They seek out drugs despite the harmful consequences. Although the initial decision to drink or use drugs is usually voluntary, repeat use leads to changes in the brain. This impairs the ability to resist urges to drink or take more drugs.
The changes in the brain can be insidious, so addicted people are at an increased risk of relapse even after getting sober. Although relapse is common, it doesn’t mean that the addiction treatment failed. Part of understanding addiction is realizing that a one-time treatment program isn’t enough to keep those recovering on track. Treatment needs to be ongoing to fit changing needs or circumstances.
The brain identifies pleasure the same way whether it comes from eating a delicious meal, going to a party or taking drugs. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, when it detects this pleasure. This reaction is part of the communication system in the brain that regulates the chemical balance.
When people drink to the point of intoxication, the brain reacts to the alcohol, changing the chemical balance. Repeat heavy drinking makes the brain adapt to the chemical changes. After a long period of heavy drinking, the brain tries to compensate for the effects. This changes the function of the neurotransmitters, which is believed to cause alcohol dependence.
Taking drugs works in the same way. The brain releases dopamine to recognize the pleasure that the user feels. With repeat drug use, the brain adjusts to the surplus of dopamine by releasing less of it or reducing it effectiveness. This also means that those taking the drug gets less pleasure from food, social events or other activities.
Understanding addiction on this level makes it easier to see why some people drink or use higher amounts of alcohol or drugs. Long-term heavy drinking or drug abuse can also change other chemical systems in the brain. This can affect ability to:
There’s no one factor that decides if someone will become alcohol dependent or addicted to drugs. Multiple factors change the risk for addiction, including genes, social environment and life development. The more factors that someone has, the higher the risk for addiction. Learning about these factors can help people understand addiction.
Genes account for about 50 percent of someone’s risk for addiction. Ethnicity, gender and other genetic disorders could increase the risk for alcohol or drug addiction as well.
The environment around a person has many influences. This includes economic status, family, friends and quality of life. Abuse, exposure to substances, parental guidance, peer pressure and stress have an impact as well.
These factors affect the developmental stages of life, which has an impact on addiction risk. The younger people are when they start drinking or taking drugs, the more likely they are to become addicted. However, heavy drinking and drug use at any age can result in addiction.
Our experienced and compassionate staff at Beaches Recovery in Jacksonville FL, understands the concern that people have for friends suffering from addiction. We can help those who want to learn more. However, understanding addiction is only one step to helping a friend seek recovery. Suggest they contact Beaches Recovery at 866-605-0532 for help with the next step.