What Exactly is an Addict?

The use and abuse of alcohol and drugs have become incredibly common among adolescents and teens, adults, and even senior citizens. Having an occasional cocktail isn’t something to fear, but the addictive power of alcohol and other substances demands our respect. People from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds begin abusing one or more of a variety of chemical substances every day, which can easily spiral out of control and leave an individual with a physical dependence on alcohol or drugs.

When most people recount the tales of their addictions, it often begins with experimentation with a particular intoxicant or mind-altering substance. Alcohol and marijuana are common introductions to the world of recreational intoxication, resulting in the individual imbibing these substances to excess with increasing frequency. Meantime, he or she will require higher doses of the substance in order to obtain the same effects, fortifying the physical and psychological dependency that is developing. It’s not uncommon for such individuals to begin turning to other, more powerful and dangerous substances, which include narcotic opiates, stimulants like cocaine, hallucinogens, and so on. As the severity of substance abuse increases, the individual experiences a profound metamorphosis or transformation, leading to not only a decrease in physical health, but in behaviors that he or she would never have considered before. It’s common of those with a chemical dependency to alcohol and drugs to resort to crime, particularly various kinds of theft, in order to sustain an alcohol or drug habit. By the end of the journey, an individual who once had integrity and the potential for success is on the brink of homelessness, has destroyed all of the relationships that had once been important, and might even be facing criminal charges and a prison sentence.

This story, which is incredibly common in circles of substance abusers, could be considered the archetypal journey of the contemporary alcohol or drug addict. These individuals have become, through a combination of social and genetic predisposition and through a series of poor choices, under the thrall of chemical addiction. However, while this story might illuminate how one becomes an addict, what does it mean to be in the throes of active addiction?

What is Addiction?

By definition, an addict is someone who suffers from a substance abuse disorder, being physically and/or psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs. However, that doesn’t really tell us a whole lot. In order to better understand the addict, one must understand the nature of his or her suffering.

Addiction has been defined countless times by a number of people with varying levels of expertise, but the parameters and criteria for addiction tend to be consistent no matter who is defining the illness. We now know addiction to be a disease that’s not unlike diabetes, but which has a complex interaction of causal factors that we’re only just now beginning to understand. Addiction was previously understood to be the uncontrollable and compulsive habit of using alcohol or drugs, or indulging in some other behavior. As it’s currently understood due to decades of research and study, addiction is the result of a variety of physiological changes that occur, especially in the brain, in response to excessive and repeated behaviors or the frequent consumption of substances in large amounts. As you can see, matters are further complicated because an individual can become addicted not only to mind-altering and chemical substances, but also to a variety of behaviors. However, the reality that behaviors can be addictive in much the same way as alcohol and drugs have led to our understanding of addiction as a disease rather than being a sickness of spirit, moral degeneracy, selfishness, and general abnormality.

Understanding the Contemporary Addict

Due to previous conceptions of addiction being a sickness of spirit and being evidence of a person’s immorality and corruption, there was a stigma against addict’s in general society that left them with only one option if they ever hoped to rehabilitate: Prison. A variety of laws was put into place that resulted in punitive repercussions rather than the healing treatments that addicts need to recover. As such, some of that stigma has continued to today with some feeling that addicts are solely responsible and at fault for their suffering. However, addiction is a disease. While personal choice and behavior is a factor, we’ve found that there are some individuals who are especially susceptible to addiction, or to becoming addicts.

Therefore, those who become addicts shouldn’t merely be punished, but rather guided toward a path of recovery and rehabilitation. Much like a person with diabetes sees a doctor for the condition and may need to take insulin to manage the disease, addicts require their own treatments, which as inpatient or outpatient treatments, psychotherapy, group and family counseling, support groups, and so on, if they are expected to recover from a substance abuse disorder. As there are varying types of addiction—alcohol and drug addiction, behavioral addiction, and so on—there are forms of addiction treatments available that will treat each particular type of addiction.

Perhaps most importantly, the loved ones of addicts would benefit from this more enlightened understanding of addiction, based on the disease model of addiction, that suggests those who suffer from chemical dependence are not immoral, but rather they are sick and in need to recovery treatment. While many addicts damage or destroy relationships over the course of addiction and should be held accountable for their actions to an extent, most addicts do not want to suffer or enjoy suffering as they do and need the support and encouragement of family, friends, and other loved ones in order to achieve sobriety and sustain recovery. With a treatment program and the right support network in place, it’s possible for addicts to achieve sobriety and return to being the productive individuals they once were.

If you or someone you love is currently suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs, Drug Treatment Center can help end addiction by finding a recovery program that best treats individual needs. Our recovery specialists are on standby, waiting to help addicts begin their rehabilitation. Call us today.