Nature of addiction
6- Nature of Addiction
As with other chronic diseases, addiction has characteristics that medically define it. Familiarity with these characteristics and the nature of addiction can help us understand why addiction is recognized as a medical condition.
- Factors contributing to addiction
- Characteristics of addiction
Factors contributing to addiction
Addiction is a complex disease with no single factor accounting to its development. There are amalgamations of characteristics that contribute to its development, ranging from:
- Social environment
- Psychology / mental illness
- Trauma & abuse
- Unstable family relationships
- Poor social or coping skills
- Peer pressure
Medical science has not yet been able to find a cure for the disease of addiction. Experience shows that recovery depends on employing a variety of resources, with 12 Step programs being the most effective. Twelve Step programs — with the support of the meetings and comradeship that make up these fellowships — provide the spiritual, cognitive and behavioral tools to best recover from all the elements and effects of this disease. In addition, 12 Step programs offer us as recovering addicts a path to a serene and spiritual life.
Characteristics of addiction
Addiction is defined by the six characteristics:
1. Chronic disease
Addiction is a chronic brain disease characterized by compulsive abuse of drugs in the face of harmful consequences. Over time, our brain structure and functions become abnormal. These changes can be long lasting, and are characterized by obsessive and deranged thought patterns and physical cravings.
There is no cure for the disease of addiction, but as with other chronic diseases, it can be managed successfully and kept in remission on a daily basis. Similar to those who suffer from diabetes, asthma or heart conditions, as recovering addicts we must follow a treatment plan, which in our case usually means working the 12 Steps and attending fellowship meetings and activities.
2. Primary disease
Addiction is a separate entity to itself and not the cause or offshoot of other diseases or conditions. We addicts do not develop the disease of addiction due to social, environmental, or biological conditions, although medical science has proven some factors such as genetics, may attribute to its development. We may start using drugs due to certain circumstances or medical conditions, but once the disease has developed, it becomes an entity of its own. For example, although a person may start using drugs to ease up their depression or chronic pain condition prolonged abuse eventually leads up to the disease of addiction.
Bear in mind: that the 12 Steps provide a recovery plan for the disease of addiction only. Although their spiritual principles can be applied to help us deal with other life problems, the Steps are not a treatment plan for other primary diseases. For example, if you are suffering from a heart condition, then medical attention and relevant medication has to be taken regardless if you are in recovery with 12 Step programs.
3. Progressive & fatal
Disease of addiction is progressive in that it gets worse with time, never better. Neither does a period of abstinence make it safe to use drugs again. Experience shows that addicts who use drugs after a period of abstinence pick up exactly where they left off.
The consequences of not treating your addiction can be fatal in that you may suffer damage to the brain, liver, heart, and other organs – all the way to death through overdose. In addition, adverse effects on the addict’s brain and behavior can prompt suicide, homicide, and accidents — and in general wreak havoc in the lives of users.
4. Obsession & cravings
One phenomenon of the disease of addiction is obsession. This is because drugs produce such intense and euphoric feelings that the addict wants to take more and more of the substance despite harmful consequences to themselves and others.
The addict’s craving to take drugs takes precedence over all other aspects of their lives, including their health, family, job, etc. Ultimately their only priority is how to find and use drugs. This is because of the effects and impact of drugs on the brain.
5. Insanity & denial
Chronic abuse of drugs disrupts the brain’s communication system, leaving us unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. This leads to us suffering from a defense mechanism called denial.
Denial is a form of insanity because our way of thinking is neither whole nor logical. This makes it easier for us to continue using drugs because we are oblivious to the truth about our condition.
Denial shows itself in many forms, such as rationalizing, intellectualizing, justifying or blaming others in order to use more drugs. Yet denial operates outside our awareness, because drug abuse has distorted our sense of reality and we are unaware that we are lying to ourselves and others.
Denial is the number one obstacle preventing us from facing the disease of addiction. Many of us die in denial of the disease, and many must first hit rock bottom before admitting to a problem.
Addiction is the only disease that prompts the sufferer to deny its very existence.
6. Unmanageable life
The disease of addiction ultimately leads us to suffer many adverse consequences. In 12 Step programs these consequences add up to what is termed an unmanageable life.
These adverse consequences can lead us to suffer from:
1. Mental consequences: psychosis, deliriums, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc.
2. Physical consequences: medical conditions or accidents, etc.
3. Interpersonal consequences: marital or family problems, child abuse, etc.
4. Social consequences: criminal activity, dishonesty, manipulations, etc.
5. Occupational consequences: loss of job, economic stature, homelessness, etc.
6. Financial consequences: loss or misuse of income