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What is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by behavior around a substance or action that is compulsive and difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to engage in this behavior is voluntary for most people, but repeated use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to use. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery are at increased risk for returning to use even after years of abstinence.
How does Addiction Affect the Body?
Most addictive substances and behaviors affect the brain’s “reward circuit” by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. This reward system controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. This overstimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable “high” that can lead people to take a drug again and again.
As a person continues to use, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by making less of it and/or reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels, compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more, trying to achieve the same dopamine high. It can also cause them to get less pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food or social activities.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Addiction?
Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:
Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction. Since relapse is common in addiction, therapy is often centered around relapse prevention. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the client responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
A certified addiction counselor can Help with Addictions and Substance Abuse
At Charleston Counseling Center, we understand how challenging recovery can be, but also how much hope there is for living a successful and productive life. Our team of experienced and highly trained therapists can help you take a look at your use and set up a successful plan for sobriety. We accept many major insurance plans and offer evening and weekend appointments for your convenience. Contact us to make an appointment, we are ready to help you on your journey.
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