Many people believe that addicts are amoral and weak – they lose control of their lives, hurt the people they love and, despite knowing the dangers of alcohol and drugs, can’t stop abusing these substances. What most people don’t know is that addiction is a ‘disease’ (DSM5) - addicts are sick.
Good news is that addiction is a treatable illness. It is also chronic, progressive and life-threatening. Just like other serious medical conditions, people afflicted with addiction may die without treatment. Sadly, addiction is often not viewed as an illness or treated as such; this costs the lives of an estimated 2.5 million people every year.
Addiction is an Illness
When alcoholism was first identified as a medical condition 70 years ago, it was thought to be like an allergy – some people’s bodies reacted negatively to alcohol, while most people who drank weren’t drastically affected in the long run. While this definition is no longer considered biologically accurate, the analogy of addiction being like an allergy provides some insight about how addiction works.
Addiction can also be likened to diabetes, as sugar toys with a diabetic’s health just like alcohol and drugs do with an addict’s. When drugs or alcohol enter the bloodstream, they manipulate the secretion of dopamine (a hormone that controls our mood). Some people react drastically to this – their bodies find it difficult to secrete the same levels of dopamine they were secreting before. Addicts start craving mood-altering substances as their bodies feel like further manipulating dopamine secretion can stabilize the addict’s emotions. Unfortunately, it can’t; in fact, this is what sends people through the downward spiral of addiction.
Addiction is both a physical and mental illness, which means it should be treated from a physical perspective in addition to a mental one. The physical treatment for addiction is simple – the addict should give up drugs and alcohol. Just like diabetics have to stop consuming sugar in order to maintain stable blood sugar levels, addicts need to avoid drugs and alcohol in order to maintain regular levels of dopamine. Abstaining from drugs and alcohol isn’t enough; but it is small step towards recovery.
Recovering Addicts are Assets
Like many other illnesses, addiction can’t be cured. It can only be treated. Treatment plans for addiction involve much more than abstinence as addicts have to change their dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors to restore their mental health. Without a spiritual change, there is also a high likelihood of addicts relapsing and continuing with their substance abuse. However, a spiritual change does not mean a change in the core personality of a person.
It can be argued that addicts, or rather, people at risk of becoming addicts give the human race an evolutionary advantage. Diabetes is seen as a disadvantage nowadays but there are theories that diabetics have helped the human race advance. Since people with high blood sugar are less likely to develop frostbite and hypothermia, compared to people with normal blood sugar levels; they may have been one of the reasons the human race survived the ice age.
People sensitive to changes in dopamine levels are known to be innovative and bold. Their wide range of emotions makes them expressive and sensitive. When dopamine levels fluctuate, people’s brains search for rewards in the form of an adrenalin rush; this enables their spirit of adventure. Many of our ancestral explorers; our warriors, inventors, artists, and our spiritual seekers; probably had brains that respond atypically to dopamine. In this way, addicts also possess an evolutionary advantage. Hope Trust educates young people around the country so those with the aforementioned characteristics can use their unique personalities constructively instead of falling down the path of addiction. Hope Trust also provides rehabilitation services that enable addicts to change their lives for the better while capitalizing on characteristic creativity and sensitivity. Recovering addicts from Hope Trust are not only equipped to lead healthy and functioning lives, they are equipped to create a positive change in the world around them.
There have been phenomenal advances in the treatment of addiction. Admittedly, there is no single model and different approaches have had varying results. One of the most successful models is the ‘Minnesota’ model that is a holistic approach.
Hope Trust rehab has an integrated evidence-based model based on the 12 Steps. It also incorporates Yoga, Mindfulness, and CBT along with medical and psychiatric back up. Since its inception in 2002, Hope Trust has helped alcoholics, addicts and persons with dual diagnosis reclaim their lives.