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Alcoholism and Addiction as a brain disease

As an individual interested in addiction and rehabilitation, the characteristics of an addict are no doubt well known. Typically, the person in the duress of active addiction exhibit irresponsible, erratic, amoral and unethical behavior. These attributes, most commonly, are not “native” to the individual. They are the result of relinquishing to intoxication. It is said that alcohol or drugs disinhibits the brain, causing a person to lose the normal social and psychological inhibitions. The result is “acting out” and being socially inappropriate.

Studies of brain function indicate that the reward center of the brain, located in the mesocorticolimbic region, is the center of the feelings of the euphoria of intoxication. This area has to do with the primitive or instinctual aspects of cognition, and has been associated by some anthropologists and psychologists as the historically oldest part of the brain. These professionals believe the limbic region is related to the earliest survival instincts and behaviors such as hunting and fighting, that were our historically earliest social forms of survival.

For the addict, the reward center of this region dominates all other parts of the brain, compelling constant reward and stimulation. The stimulation of the reward center commands all actions and thought – unconsciously of course. The difference between the addict and the non-addictive personality is that the reward is so highly sensitive for the former individual. Rendering matters worse for the addicted, the brain is disinhibited and illogical due to chemical dependence, with the reward center controlling normal cognitive functions such as judgment and logic. The result is a person driven by craving and reward.

In this state of mind, the addict simply is unable to overcome the needs through willpower or struggle. Alcoholism or drug dependence is a physical disease, and will has no power over physical disease. The mind and the body undergo actual physical changes that are a chemical induced abnormality or illness. Addiction has been called a bio-psychological-social disease because it impacts each of those aspects of a person’s being. As Dr. Loving, of the Texas Star Program states, it is a “self induced central nervous system disorder.” He also states there is no cure for the disease. In other words, it is a chronic disease. It is also a gravely critical disease that becomes progressively worse without treatment.

One of the tragedies of addiction is the social consequences. Relationships are destroyed and the user is forced into social isolation due to abnormal and destructive behavior. Frequently, legal and criminal complications arise. Debt becomes a supreme liability. One of the great ironies of the typical addict community is that many times these are individuals of high accomplishment that have become the victims of addiction.

The means to sobriety includes detoxification and recovery. Detox is the medical treatment of the physical addiction to a substance. This process involves using medications to assist in the gradual withdrawal from a dependency. As Dr. Loving says, “withdrawal is like bringing an airplane in for a landing.” It is a complicated and delicate application of medications to implement withdrawal without damaging consequences. The acute, first phase of detox takes approximately one week.

There is a second phase to detox, termed post acute withdrawal or protracted abstinence syndrome. Though less acute, it is a period involving feelings of anxiety and “fuzzy thinking” that can take weeks to months to complete. This return to mental and physical balance is a delicate and vulnerable time for the former addict. During this period, recovery should begin as a support and guidance in the total withdrawal program. The key to recovery is to learn the means to manage life without drugs or alcohol. During detox and the early stages of recovery, it is necessary to work closely with medical and psychological professionals. In many cases, there may be a co-existing medical or psychological condition that contributes to the condition of addiction. Often psychological disorders such as depression, bipolar illness, or anxiety disorder may need to be treated. In other instances, individuals who exhibit psychological issues will find they are a byproduct of addiction, and will gradually subside through detox and recovery.

The recovery plan must be a plan of abstinence, and include a method of managing life through fellowship and a belief in a stronger power. The habits of addiction are replaced with the habits of a spiritually rich and normal life. In the end, sobriety is achieved with healthy and functional activities. Ultimately, recovery must include meaningful fellowship and support from others, and finding ways to manage stress and cope with difficult emotional situations that will always arise in anyone’s life. For recovery to be successful, the participant must develop an open and willing attitude, as the habits of addiction cannot be continued and new methods of managing sobriety must be developed. Informed guidance by professional staff must be met with a willingness to learn new behaviors for positive abstinence.

Alcoholics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous provide the structure and successful habits for recovery. It is a proven methodology in these programs and, really, the ones that work most effectively. AA or CA are not businesses; no one makes money from the program. They are a support network, with teaching and beliefs that can transform the failures of addiction into thinking and habits of a meaningful and productive existence. It is an extensive commitment, 12 arduous steps, that culminates – with dedicated effort and faith – in the development of confidence and belief in yourself.

Those who advocate the Twelve Steps would say, in fact, that an individual must stop fighting the addiction and accept the lack of power they have in this battle with addiction. Once the struggle with addiction stops, the person can accept help and commit to recovery through dedication to an ongoing, proactive, sobriety plan.

Though there are many drug treatment centers to choose from, Origins Recovery Center has a proven track record of success. An individual must be willing to hand over their life to a proven methodology for managing a sober life. In the end, the successful participant will take control of his/her life and, together with their fellows and their beliefs, will seize the true opportunity that life provides.

Please feel free to call us at 561-841-1296 in order to learn more.

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If you or someone you love has a substance use or mental health disorder, Origins Behavioral HealthCare can help. We will work alongside you to provide the most comprehensive treatment available.