Drug addiction is a chronic, debilitating disease that has become a serious issue in our society. Prolonged substance abuse can result in both long-term chemical and structural changes in the brain. The reward pathway and the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine, are heavily involved in this process. The pleasure felt from taking these addictive drugs is due to an increase in dopamine release. More intracellular dopamine results in more receptors which strengthens the synapse, or increases long-term potentiation. When this happens, more of the stimulus is required for the same pleasurable effect. Soon, you become dependent on the stimulus, as its absence can result in withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction is a vicious cycle and can seem completely hopeless for those trying to recover, but there are some effective ways to fight against it. These treatments include preventative measures, rehabilitation, and medication.
Technically, the most effective way to prevent addiction from occurring is to not try the substance in the first place. I know, way easier said than done, as some situations are completely out of control. Many become addicted to prescription drugs after needing them for some sort of medical treatment. Then, once their prescription runs out or expires, they realize they are dependent and often look to street drugs (ex. heroine) as replacement. However, there are scenarios of recreation, where the user is either not thinking about the risk or believes there is no chance they will become addicted after one time. Sadly, they are frequently mistaken.
Once an addicted individual seeks treatment, the first step is to go through a process of detoxification, often at a rehabilitation center to help with withdrawal symptoms. When the substance has left the body, there are a few different rehabilitation options available:
- Inpatient Rehab refers to a more short-term program that allows patients access to healthcare professionals at all times, similar to a hospital stay. Often used in severe cases immediately after detoxification, this option gets rid of external distractions and responsibilities to allow the patient to focus solely on the recovery process. Often times, patients can be given medications to help with any lingering side effects, as well as starting some cognitive behavior therapy to understand their thoughts and feelings that may contribute to their behaviors.
- Outpatient Rehab is more of a long-term program and gives the patient a little more freedom, as they just have to come in to the rehabilitation center at scheduled times for progress reports. There is also more emphasis on cognitive behavior therapy.
- Social Programs consist of support groups to give patients a sense of community through sharing stories and experiences. Members can also work to keep each other accountable in living a better life and continuing sobriety.
Now, these treatment methods are not foolproof. Many relapse into their old habits after returning to their normal lives, as they still encounter the same old environmental cues and triggers. Treatments are also most effective when the addict truly wants to make a change in their life, as compared to being forced into treatment unwillingly.
While genetics don’t play a major role in addiction, they can make an individual more or less susceptible to developing addictive behaviors. For example, there are some genetic mutations that result in very unpleasant side effects to certain drugs or alcohol. As to be expected, these individuals are much less likely to abuse that substance and become addicted compared to someone who has no negative experience. It is interesting to think about the possibility of inducing these mutations in people as preventative measures, especially if there is a family history of addiction or alcoholism.
I cannot speak from experience, but I have watched close friends battle through the recovery process for drug addiction. It’s daunting, it’s ugly, and it definitely isn’t easy. It’s also extremely discouraging how high chances are for relapse, BUT, I’m here to tell you that it is possible and there is hope.