All of us have seen someone struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. We’ve witnessed a person plunge deeper and deeper into the vicious cycle known as addiction. We may have wondered, “Why are they doing that to themselves?” or “Why don’t they quit and get their act together?” Sadly, this is the life of someone who’s struggling with addiction, and it’s not as easy as simply quitting. That’s because addiction is a disease, not a sign of weakness or lack of self-control.

Changes in the brain

Addiction is a brain disease. Although the addiction begins with a deliberate choice to use drugs or alcohol, within time, the individual is no longer has the control to stop using the substance. The fact is that prolonged drug and alcohol abuse with change a person’s brain. After repeated drug or alcohol exposure, the brain undergoes a series of changes or neuroadaptations. The result? A disease of the brain conveyed by compulsive behavior known as addiction (Leshner, 2001). The transformation from recreational user to full scale addict happens rapidly, without any time for the individual to recognize he/she has developed a severe problem.

Drugs and alcohol affect what is know as the “reward circuit” of the brain. Usually, the reward circuit motivates individuals to repeat pleasurable behavior. Eating a delicious meal, enjoying time with loved ones and sex are a few examples of what the brain should recognize as “pleasurable behavior”. Each time an individual uses drugs or alcohol, it sends a surge of dopamine (feel good chemicals) to the brain, resulting in a pleasurable feeling. Eventually, activities that once brought an individual pleasure, no longer do. That’s because activities, like eating a tasty meal, do not produce the same level of dopamine that drugs or alcohol do. To put this in perspective, drugs may release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards release, depending on the drug (Hardee, 2017). As the individual becomes less able to enjoy these pleasurable activities, he/she turns to drugs and alcohol to regain feelings of pleasure. Ultimately, the individual will build a tolerance to the substances, resulting in needing to take more in order to achieve the same level of pleasure. This is the cycle of addiction.

Unfortunately, people suffering from the disease of addiction are fully aware of the detrimental outcomes associated with habitual substance abuse. Those who are addicted will continue to use, despite the harmful consequences. Why? The individual’s body is now chemically dependent. Even if an individual is facing serious legal repercussions, he/she will not be able to stop his/her drug or alcohol addiction. This is when medical detox is necessary.

Who is at risk for addiction?

Anyone can become a victim to the disease of addiction. There are no specific factors that determine whether a person will become an addict, however, there are certain risk factors that can influence one’s risk for addiction:

• Research indicates that a person’s genetics can account for approximately 50 percent of his/ her risk for addiction. Mental health disorders may also influence an individual’s risk for developing a drug or alcohol addiction.
• An individual’s environment, particularly during adolescent years, can influence his/her likeliness to develop an addiction. Absence of parental guidance, physical and sexual abuse and stress can also affect the probability for one to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
• Although addiction can occur at any age, exposure to drugs or alcohol at younger ages puts those users at greater risk for developing an addiction. Areas in the brain responsible for decision-making, judgement and self-control are still developing, making children and teens particularly vulnerable.

Overcoming addiction

It’s important to keep in mind that addiction is a chronic disease. Just like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, it can be treated, but it can’t be cured. People who are recovering from addiction may be at risk for relapse their entire lives (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Therefore, choosing the right rehabilitation facility is imperative to achieving sobriety.

Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is a nationally recognized drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility. Our team of medical professionals have helped countless people, like you, overcome their addictions and regain control of their lives. All patients receive a customized treatment plan based on his/her specific needs. Our intensive, highly structured treatment programs use a blend of evidence-based practices with traditionally proven addiction treatment methods.

Choosing to enter a licensed substance abuse treatment facility is the safest and most effective way to overcome the disease of addiction. The detoxification process is the most medically intensive time for those wishing to overcome addiction. During this time of temporary discomfort, patients may be given specific medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Some people may be at risk for seizures during the detox process, making it extremely risky to do from home. All patients receive 24-hour medical and nursing supervision for this reason. Upon completing detox, patients transition to our residential level of care. Research shows that individuals who enter and remain in treatment can manage their addiction and improve their quality of life (Hardee, 2017).

Upon completion of our inpatient treatment, the next level of care is Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). Patients respond well to this program designed to help them overcome obstacles and triggers that have fueled their addiction. Patients participate in group and individual therapy sessions, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy and relapse prevention strategies. Patients enjoy numerous amenities to help put them at ease and focus completely on themselves during the recovery process. In fact, it’s not unusual for a patient to travel out of state for treatment because it enables them to remove themselves completely from the temptations and people who may de-rail their recovery efforts. Often described as a middle ground between residential and outpatient treatment, PHP is the ideal program for those wishing to begin the transition to living independently without sacrificing the level and intensity of their medical treatment. For more information, please call (884)771-8372.

Leshner, A. (2001, June 1) What does it mean that addiction is a brain disease? Retrieved from
Hardee, J. (2017, May 19) Science Says: Addiction Is a Chronic Disease, Not a Moral Failing. Retrieved from
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, June 1) Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved from