Friday, April 9, 2010

The Addiction Recovery Process: Understanding Drug Abuse

Drug addiction, on its most fundamental level, is a disease. Drug addiction is not a moral issue. Drug addiction is not a character flaw, or an indication of personal weakness. Most importantly, drug addiction is not a choice.

As with any disease, drug addiction is not responsive to anything we might understand as individual will. A drug addict does not “choose” to be addicted, and a drug addict cannot “choose” to get sober. To believe that would be to believe that a cancer patient can “choose” to eliminate his tumor, or that a diabetic can “choose” to stop having diabetes. That’s just not the way it works.

But how does it work, then? Generally speaking, drug addiction functions on two levels: the physical and the psychological. Successful drug and alcohol rehab, it follows, must address both of these roots; any drug rehab program that privileges one at the expense of the other runs the very real risk of long-term failure. Drug rehabilitation can’t work unless it confronts drug addiction in all its forms.

And what of those forms? What’s the difference between physical and psychological drug addiction, and how do they combine to make substance abuse such a serious problem in the United States?

Physically, drug addiction works through chemical reactions in the human brain. Prolonged drug abuse can literally change the brain’s chemical composition, ultimately engendering a scenario in which the drug becomes an essential part of the body’s “normal” metabolic processes. Drug addicts, in this sense, need drugs to function, to survive; drug addiction is drug addiction precisely because those who suffer from it can’t live without maintaining their substance abuse habits.

The psychological roots of addiction are no less vexing. As an addict’s body comes to rely on a drug for physical viability, so does an addict’s mind come to lean on a drug for emotional stability. For an addict, a drug is like a chemical crutch: It provides support in times of trouble; it is an anchor in moments of crisis. Chronic drug abusers, you might say, lose the ability to face the world and themselves through any lens except that of a drug high, and need drugs in a way that, again, renders individual will or personal agency almost entirely moot.

Article courtesy of Cliffside Malibu.