Not too long ago, addiction to drugs or alcohol was considered a character defect – a moral or spiritual weakness. People who abused either were told that they could quit if they just had enough willpower. And when they couldn’t end their addiction on their own, they and their families continued to be locked in a desperate and downward spiral.
Today, however, uncontrollable substance abuse in any form is viewed as a legitimate mental disorder – a medical disease, with diagnosable and treatable symptoms.
But what does that REALLY mean?
And more importantly, what does it mean for struggling teenage substance abusers and their families?
How Is Addiction Defined?
Addiction to alcohol or drugs – properly referred to as a substance abuse disorder – is when the continuing and uncontrollable use of intoxicating substance causes significant impairment in a person’s life.
Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease of the brain, involving the regions associated with memory, motivation, and reward. The disease causes biological alterations within the brain, which then manifest as changes in personality and alcohol/drug-seeking behaviors.
In other words, a person with an active addiction is not in control of their actions, because their brain has been “hijacked” by their disease.
Addiction is chronic, because there is no cure. However, just as is the case with other chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma, the symptoms of the disease can be managed. It is possible to live a full, healthy, and productive life, even with an addiction.
This is known as recovery.
Addiction is also progressive, meaning that without treatment and recovery, the disease almost invariably worsens, often resulting in severe disability or early death.
What Are the Symptoms of Addiction?
Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is put out by the American Psychiatric Association, an addictive disorder diagnosis is probable when the person shows three or more of these symptoms:
- Tolerance – a need for increasing amounts of the substance to get the same effect
- Loss of Control – an inability to regulate substance consumption – frequency or amount
- Unsuccessful Attempts to Cut Back or Quit —trying – and failing – to stop/slow down with willpower or go “cold turkey”; failed previous attempts at rehab
- Obsession with Thinking about, Acquiring, Using, or Recovering from Substance Use — the alcohol/drug preoccupation interferes with normal life
- Abandoning Other Responsibilities and Interests – increased isolation/spending time alone, withdrawing from social and family obligations and activities, loss of interest in previously-enjoyed hobbies, unexpectedly quitting clubs or sports teams
- Continued Use in Spite of Negative Consequences – health concerns (disease, injury, overdose), relationship problems (breakups, arguments with family and friends), financial difficulties (job loss), legal complications (arrests, fines), problems at school (poor grades, suspension, expulsion)
- Withdrawal – whenever the substance use is discontinued or unavailable, the person starts experiencing uncomfortable or even dangerous psychological and physical symptoms:
- Confusion/Inability to Concentrate
- Mood Swings
- Sleep Disruptions
- Muscle Cramps
- Irregular Heartbeat
What Does All This Tell Us?
The takeaway from this information is clear – addiction is a disease. There is no shame in having a legitimate medical condition, and seeking help for it.
Furthermore, the best way to manage the disease of addiction is through early intervention and effective, evidence-based treatment that focuses on the specific needs of the individual.
Teensavers Treatment Centers is the most-trusted resource for families and teens in crisis in Southern California. Located in Orange County for over 35 years, Teensavers has been transforming lives by helping young people overcome addictive and behavioral disorders.
If you or someone you care about needs help, contact Teensavers TODAY.
By Albert Fontenot