Nobody is born an addict. In fact, there are a number of people who socially drink alcohol or, in places where it’s now legal, smoke marijuana, but aren’t addicts. Recreational enjoyment of certain substances doesn’t definitively equate to a substance abuse disorder and addiction.
What’s more, nobody who experiments with mind-altering substances—such as alcohol, marijuana, and a number of other substances—does so with the intent of becoming physically and emotionally dependent and addiction. The disease of addiction is the sudden change that happens when an individual is no longer recreationally using substances and begins to recreationally abuse them.
It’s at this time that dependency develops, causing the individual to need more of the substance more frequently in order to even achieve a state of perceived normalcy; in order to achieve the same level of intoxication experienced at earlier stages of recreational experimentation, the individual must often imbibe dangerous high doses of the substance after having developed a high tolerance over time.
Individuals who haven’t experienced addiction—having not been addicted themselves and not having had a loved one who has been addicted to alcohol or drugs—are often unclear as to where exactly the line lies that separate an addict from someone who’s not an addict. And even those who have experienced addiction are often unclear as to when, exactly, they transitioned from recreational substance abuse to physical dependency.
Although we understand what addiction is as a disease, it’s poorly understood how addiction works and what it means to be an addict. Additionally, there’s a misconception that when an addict enters treatment, achieves sobriety, and returns to the real world having been rehabilitated, the addict is no longer an addict.
Unfortunately, this is a common misconception that had led many addicts to relapse back into addiction and either require another round of treatment or overdose. Generally speaking, an individual is either an addict, or they aren’t. The only gray area that exists is the stretch of time in which the individual is recklessly experimenting with substance abuse and approaching the point of dependency.
The good news is that for those that don’t drink to excess, who don’t smoke cigarettes or experiment with drugs, those individuals have nothing to worry about until the day that the substance use and abuse begins. The bad news is that those individuals who have developed a physical dependency, even those who have entered recovery and are currently logging sober time, are addicts now and will always be addicts.
The Genetic Component of Addiction
In order to understand what it means to be an addict, it’s essential to understand the many variables that factor into the development of addiction. After decades of research, we’ve come to understand addiction to be a chronic relapsing disease that affects the brain, causing an individual to lose him or herself in the obsessive, repetitive pursuit and consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. And although we’ve found that there are genetic components to addiction, it’s not yet been possible to isolate a single gene or genes that we know are definitively responsible for addiction.
At best, we know that there are a number of genes that tend to be present in individuals who may eventually suffer from alcohol and drug addiction; however, these genes doesn’t guarantee the development of addiction, but rather makes individuals who experiment who mind-altering substances more susceptible to addiction and at greater risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.
This means that since there are a number of people who might have the genes that have been identified frequently in addicts while they don’t suffer from addiction themselves, these individuals may show a genetic predisposition for addiction, but they are not addicts. Only those individuals who have the uncontrollable compulsion to seek and consume alcohol and drugs can be considered addicts, whether they’re in active addiction or in recovery.
The Environmental Component of Addiction
Over the course of decades of research, there’s been a debate as to whether individuals are genetically predisposed to addiction or whether they’re conditioned to be addicts according to environmental factors. In other words, do people become addicts because of nature or because of nurture?
While the genetic factor encompasses genes and potential biological influences, environmental factors of addiction include things like exposure to addiction during childhood, witnessing violence or other traumatic experiences, substance availability, peer groups at various points throughout one’s life, socioeconomic status and geographic location, and so on.
Environmental factors essential groom a person to be an addict due to their experiences, their location, their social life, or by some combination. Additionally, it’s often thought that, instead of being one or the other, addiction occurs when both genetic and environmental factors align, making an individual more susceptible and making it even more likely that he or she will develop a substance abuse disorder.
Addiction Isn’t Cured by Recovery
When an addict enters an inpatient recovery program, he or she often begins with a period of detox, during which time his or her body rids itself of chemicals and other toxins, returning it to what is essentially the natural state. It’s during this period that the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms, which is why it’s recommended for detox to be medically supervised.
After the detox period, addicts participate in a number of substance abuse treatment therapies that include, but aren’t limited to:
- Group and family counseling
- Vocational training
- Alternative therapies like acupuncture or massage therapy
- Exercise and physical activity
- Support for a dual-diagnosis.
Although the individual who completes the program achieves sobriety, he or she is still an addict and will remain an addict permanently. Once an individual develops an addiction, he or she doesn’t have to be in active addiction to be considered an addict; the disease remains present but dormant. This is why individuals who relapse will often immediately revert to the point in their addiction when their disease was at its most severe. To borrow a popular expression, once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict.
However, although addiction is a permanent affliction, countless addicts have completed recovery treatments to achieve sobriety and maintain recovery permanently. With effort and strength of conviction, any addict can achieve long-term sobriety and render addiction powerless of them. If you or someone you love currently suffers from addiction or a substance abuse disorder, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. Our team of recovery specialists is available to help those in need find the recovery treatment necessary to return to a life of health and sobriety. Don’t wait—call us today.