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Fighting Addiction with Science

by Raul Buman

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – a leading government-funded research center- addiction is a complex illness made up of different components. While an addict may start out by voluntarily taking their drug of choice, when they do so over and over again, they may soon be unable to resist the urge to take the drug.

Part of the reason why an addict becomes compelled to take their drug of choice is because the reward pathways in their brains become physically altered after repeated drug exposure. Alterations in the brain-reward pathway make it much harder for the addict to gain pleasure from experiences other than taking the drug. Therefore, addicts may keep taking their drug of choice in order to try to gain pleasure from something.

Other brain pathways that are hurt by repeated drug exposure are pathways that are involved in making good decisions. With repeated drug use, it may become harder for an addict to resist impulses of all kinds. They may engage in risky behavior in order to obtain their drug of choice, and they may find it very difficult to resist the urge to take the drug. They may even be unable to stop themselves form taking their drug of choice, even though doing so may compromise their relationships or their career.

Because addiction is a complex disease, the treatment is equally complex. Research from NIDA provides clear insight into which treatments work to get addicts to stop using and to prevent them from relapsing. First, just going to a rehab facility and detoxifying by itself is not enough. Getting clean is only the very first step in beating addiction. A good rehab facility focuses not only helping people through the hard physical withdrawal from a drug, but also on all the psychological factors that played into their addiction in the first place.

Good rehab will include both medication and psychological treatment. A combination of both treatment types help addicts stay on the path to recovery. Medication can help ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but may also be used to help an addict beat their cravings and regain control over their lives. Medication by itself, however, rarely works unless the addict is able to understand the situations and/or ways of thinking that led them down the path to addiction in the first place.

Behavioral treatment helps addicts change the way they think about their lives and their addiction. Behavioral therapy may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps addicts examine the way they think and behave in certain situations where they are most likely to use drugs, and to give them different ways to think and confront those situations so that they are able to better deal with the cravings and situations that are most likely to lead to relapse.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.1 million people over the age of 12 needed treatment for an addiction of some sort. Of those who needed treatment, only 10.8 percent actually received treatment at a rehab facility. Of those who did not seek treatment, a full 94.6 percent did not seek treatment because they did not feel that they needed it. The research doesn’t lie. Please, if you need help, seek it. A good rehab facility may save your life and your family.