Addiction has a strong association with the brain’s basic pleasure as well as reward circuits and involves the dopamine which serves as neurotransmitters and hormones. The reward centers get activated when a person engages in any pleasurable activity. If ingestion of a substance causes activation of the reward circuits in the brain, then the person may develop addiction and dependence over a period of time. Some of the common addictions are intoxication due to alcohol, drug abuse and dependence, substance abuse and narcotic abuse, among many others.
Often, it is difficult for people with addictions to quit the habit on their own. Addiction is considered as an illness that has to be treated. Counseling, self-help groups, behavioral therapies, medications, etc., are some of the addiction treatment options that are available. Patients can get addicted to a wide range of substances and dependence occurs as a result of the chemicals that are responsible for causing the addiction. Dependence is a characteristic of tolerance which occurs when the user’s body responds less to the same quantity of the substance and requires increased dosage to bring about the same effect. A person who has developed dependence will experience withdrawal symptoms when he/she stops using the substance suddenly.
Treatment for any kind of addiction must be individualized. This is because there is no single treatment method that can be considered to be appropriate for every case or each type of substance abuse. Further, the treatment becomes effective when it addresses the various needs that a person has instead of dealing with the addiction part alone. Continuous assessment of the treatment plan, incorporating modifications as conditions improve and undergoing the treatment for a sufficient amount of time are some of the other factors that determine the effectiveness of the treatment as a whole. Research studies show that most patients start seeing improvement in about three months’ time. However, recovery from alcohol and drug addiction can be a long drawn process and may require more than one type of treatment.
In the earlier days, addiction was considered to be a moral flaw in an individual. Addiction is now recognized as a brain disease which is characterized by long-lasting and fundamental changes that take place in the brain. Therefore, modern addiction treatments are backed by scientific research and are more effective with 40 percent to 70 percent of the patients remaining drug-free.
The first step to recovering from addiction is detoxification. During this process a patient may suffer because of the withdrawal symptoms that manifest following the stoppage of use of the substance. Modern addiction treatment methods take this aspect into consideration and ensure that he/she does not go through the distressing withdrawal experience. This is because doctors recognize the fact that the chances of recovery are greatly reduced if patients are allowed to go through the painful withdrawal process. Therefore, they put patients on medications that make them feel the same way as they were when using the addictive substance and reduce the dosage gradually over a period of time. This helps their brain to stabilize during the detox process. Typically, the medications prescribed for treatment during detoxification include LAAM and methadone to manage opiate withdrawal, bupropion for nicotine withdrawal and anti-seizure drugs and benzodiazepine for barbiturate withdrawal. Nicotine replacement therapies such as patch or gum are also made use of.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Support groups, counseling and other therapies are also crucial to preventing a relapse. Patients must learn new ways of thinking as well as behaving in order to stay away from drugs or alcohol. Cognitive behavioral therapy may include learning to openly talk about personal experiences, managing problems without resorting to usage of drugs or alcohol, identifying and correcting the behavior that is causing the problem, recognizing drug cravings, managing high-risk situations, improving personal relationships, developing skills to refuse drugs and managing time more efficiently.
Preventing a Relapse with Drugs
The changes that occur in the brain because of addiction may persist for a long time even after a patient has stopped using the substance. As a result of this he/she may experience a relapse. Doctors use drugs to treat cravings and thus prevent a relapse. This also provides time for the cognitive behavioral therapy to start working. The drugs used for this purpose include naltrexone, disulfiram, methadone, LAAM, acamprosate and buprenorphine/naloxone.
Friends, family members and coworkers can play a crucial role in supporting and motivating an individual in going through an addiction treatment. Family therapy is specifically important for adolescents. A family member’s participation in the treatment program of an individual can strengthen as well as extend of benefits that he/she derives out of it.
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John Veron writes about healthcare, addictions and yoga.