One of the most misunderstood and often confusing issues in the treatment of people suffering from addiction is the determination of whether the person is truly an addict or if they are a drug abuser.
While the damage that can result from both can be quite devastating, the diagnosis and treatment of each are dramatically different. It is very important to discern whether a person suffers from addiction or if the person has psychiatric components that, once treated, will enable them to desist from such personally harmful behavior. Trained professional staff at GreeneStone can help to determine whether the individual has addiction, and if so, assist in creating an appropriate treatment plan.
Reduced to its essence, addiction is a chronic medical condition that requires treatment for the life of the affected individual, while a drug abuser can, once treated, return to a normal lifestyle with no further need for assessment and care. What follows is a brief explanation of the differences between these two serious problems and what GreeneStone can do to return the addict to a relatively normal and healthy life.
Addiction: Human beings often seek out unique experiences and mind altering substances. For many people who are social users, whether it is alcohol or another substance, the changes enhance the pleasure of the particular circumstance. In the beginning, the person with addiction may find the substance or behavior has been positive and pleasant. However, over time, people with addiction begin to experience:
When a person has addiction, the dysfunction is in the brain, and this manifests itself in impaired behavior, thinking, judgment and changing level of consciousness and moods. The brain is influenced by abnormalities in the levels of chemicals, called “neurotransmitters”. The changes to the brain involve our reward centre’s, through a direct effect on the brain transmitter, dopamine. The faster the stimulation to these areas of the brain, the more powerful are the reinforcing effects (i.e., Drugs that are smoked have on set of action more rapidly than drugs injected > snorted > oral ingestion and so forth). Drugs that attach to the receptor sites in the brain quickly, but leave quickly tend to be more difficult addictions to overcome; for example, heroin, nicotine, cocaine, get into the brain very rapidly, release dopamine quickly, but then let go of the receptors quickly, causing the person to want to take the substances again, right away.
To correct these levels back to normal, there must first be a period of abstinence from all drugs of abuse (at least 90 days for most drugs) to allow the brain to “reboot” and the neurotransmitters to get back to normal levels.
What separates people with the disease of addiction from the drug abusers is that the true addict does not have the ability to control their drug or alcohol use. In fact, impaired control of behaviors is one of hallmarks of addiction. People who suffer from the disease often know and understand, intellectually, the potential harm that may result from the continued use of the drug or alcohol, but their brains are incapable of turning off the switch that controls their desire for more and more of the very substance that they fully appreciate will cause them and the people around them harm.
Abuse: For some who use substances or behaviors to either enhance pleasure or compensate for something negative (physical or emotional pain, insecurity, depression, etc.); they too may experience some negative effects.
For this group of people, the brain changes and loss of control that typify addiction are not seen. Many of these people can be treated on an outpatient basis and often do well when their underlying problems are examined and dealt with. These people are not addicts and are fully capable of returning to a “normal” lifestyle with moderated use of the substances and without adverse repercussions.
There are some people who begin as social users and become addicted, either slowly or rather rapidly (there are people who say that they knew they had lost control after the first few episodes). We don’t know if the process towards an addiction represents a continuum (or whether there is a qualitative difference – e.g., unique genetic makeup among this latter group) and we don’t know exactly why some people go on to the addiction stage so quickly. Fortunately research is ongoing and new advances are being made. Hopefully, very soon, we will have even better diagnostic and treatment strategies to minimize the impact of addiction.
GreeneStone is a holistic care facility that specializes in providing the treatment required by those who suffer from addiction. At GreeneStone, we strive to provide the best possible care utilizing the most advanced methodology to address the unique needs of each individual.
There are a number of ways of approaching and understanding of addictions. With current levels of knowledge, it is useful to see these as a multi-dimensional set of problems with consequences not only to the individual, but also their family, friends, coworkers and society as a whole. There can be many pathways to developing an addiction; because of this there is value in individualizing the understanding in any clinical circumstance.
Similarly it is useful to approach treatment from a holistic perspective; the clinical team incorporates an understanding of the person’s risk factors and reasons for the perpetuation of the addiction. Such an approach is useful in that: