Addiction is a dangerous disease that affects millions of lives. The effects of addiction can lead to life-threatening symptoms, permanent damage, and even death. Understanding this disease and becoming aware of how it can develop can help to eliminate the damaging stigma surrounding addiction. In order to recover from addiction, it is necessary that the person suffering receives professional help. Turning over a new leaf can lead to a happier and healthier life.

Why is Addiction Considered a Disease?

Addiction is considered a chronic relapsing brain disease. This disease can often be confusing, complicated, and act erratically. Left untreated, symptoms of this disease can cause life-threatening effects, permanent damage, and even death. While addiction can affect all aspects of a person’s life, it also has a direct impact on a person’s brain. The brain is a powerful, yet delicate organ and addiction can disrupt mood, judgement, concentration, and memory.

When drugs or alcohol enter your system, your body immediately begins trying to get rid of the substance. Drugs and alcohol have a direct impact on the brain’s reward pathway. This pathway is responsible for recognizing when things are good or positive, releasing dopamine to make us feel happy. When drugs or alcohol enter the body, they cause the reward pathway to release an abnormal amount of dopamine. This can cause a person to feel a temporary “euphoric” high. The brain recognizes this as a good thing and will become compulsive, desiring more of the substance despite negative consequences that may occur.

Those with Addiction Often Experience Denial

Addiction affects every aspect of a person’s life, even affecting those around them. If left face to face with their addiction, a person may deny their problems. This can be frustrating for loved ones involved and can often lead to the misconception that those suffering do not care about what is happening to them. A stigma can then be fueled that those who are struggling with addiction like the life they are living and content where they are at. That is not true and there is an explanation for how they are handling the situation.

Denial is often a roadblock that can hinder the road to recovery. While it can be difficult at times, it is possible to overcome this. Denial is not exclusive to those suffering from addiction and can happen to anyone. Situations or experiences that may be painful for the brain to process are sometimes pushed aside. This is a defense mechanism set forth by the brain in order to protect itself. This is often seen in those struggling with addiction because of the brain’s intense drive to seek out the drug, despite negative consequences.

In order to combat denial, it is important that you talk to your loved one in a positive and uplifting tone. Do not make judgmental comments or be condescending. One of the most important things you can do is present your loved one with facts. These could include, “Last month you lost your job” or “You missed the family picnic”. Do not state your opinions on your loved one or how you think they should behave. Presenting them with facts will make it more difficult for them to deny the problem.

Nobody Plans to Have an Addiction

Addiction can happen to anyone and nobody sets out to develop an addiction. It is often a misconception that those suffering from addiction chose this life. Addiction is a disease that requires treatment, much like heart disease requires treatment. There is no set timeline for when an addiction may develop after someone begins using a substance. There are many reasons why someone may begin substance use, including a desire to self-medicate and peer pressure. Environmental factors, genetics, and underlying health disorders can increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction.

How is a Stigma Damaging to Those Suffering?

Addiction is not synonymous with a bad person. Since the brain has an intense drive to satisfy its never-ending cravings due to chemical changes, a person may engage in dangerous or criminal activity. They may be experiencing extreme negative consequences, but their brain will not allow them to stop. This can cause people on the outside, including friends and family, to begin labeling their loved one as a criminal or a bad person. This can cause immense harm to their loved one and may prevent them from seeking the help they need.

A person suffering from addiction is likely experiencing some form of isolation. This may be self-induced or a direct effect of damaged relationships. Either way, isolation can be dangerous for someone suffering. Alone, a person has a higher chance of not receiving proper medical attention in the case of an emergency. Those with addiction benefit from positive support systems. If an individual feels judged or ashamed, they are likely to separate themselves from family and friends.

The stigma surrounding addiction harms the recovery process and the steps a person needs to take in order to get there. This negative view blanketing this disease causes people to feel ashamed, guilty, and like they do not deserve treatment. This is not true, of course, as every person suffering from this disease deserves professional help.

How to Help a Loved One

If your loved one is suffering from addiction, there are ways you can help them on top of becoming educated on the disease. Show your loved one that you will be open and honest with them if they are the same with you. Express how much you care about them and how you will support them through every step in the process. Guide them towards making the decision that will lead to them being happier and healthier.

Lifeline recognizes that each individual has a unique path to recovery. Their dedicated team of professionals strive to provide the highest quality of care in a supportive and engaging environment.