Perhaps the best way to break the addiction cycle is to understand it first.
That is what decades of scientific research attempt to do to find a cure for this brain disease.
As the opioid crisis continues to ravage through the US, it is becoming ever more urgent to identify the causes and treatment of addiction.
The pandemic situation has worsened rates of drug overdose deaths in the US and this needs immediate attention.
Breaking the addiction cycle isn’t just an individual battle. Today, whole communities need healing, not just a few people on the fringe of society.
What Is Addiction?
Types of Addiction
There are two main types of addiction: chemical addiction and behavioral addiction.
Chemical addiction refers to an addiction to substances such as opioids, nicotine, cocaine, caffeine, marijuana, methamphetamine, or amphetamines.
Behavioral addiction can refer to any addictive behavior that affects a person’s day to day functioning. This could include social media, video game playing, porn, shopping, stealing, and even social media.
The two types of addiction are tied in that they are driven by the dopamine response.
What Do We Understand About The Addiction Cycle So Far?
Addiction is no longer considered a moral weakness or a sign of failure. It’s become apparent that abstinence-based programs that see addiction as a choice are outmoded and unhelpful.
Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain.
Chronic disease is a long-term illness that cannot be cured. but can be managed. Addiction differs from a physical disease in that it is a psychological, physical, emotional, and physiological disease.
It is necessary to address any psychological problems that may be driving the problem.
By treating addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, there are much higher chances of combating it.
The Portugal model proves this. In 1990, Portugal was experiencing an opioid crisis that mirrors the opioid epidemic in the US.
After decriminalizing drugs and funneling the taxes raised to addiction treatment, Portugal’s overdose death rates are now the lowest in Europe.
Brain Chemistry and Addiction
The cycle of addiction is rooted in the dopamine response cycle.
The frontal cortex is instrumental in the addiction cycle because it produces dopamine.
When a person first takes a substance or engages in addictive behavior, the brain releases the feel-good chemical dopamine. At this stage, the pleasurable feelings they get from the behavior or substance compels them to seek more of this feeling.
When a person continues with addictive behavior or emotion, it causes long-term changes in their brain chemistry. Researchers have identified three stages to this cycle:
- Withdrawal/negative effect
A person will crave a substance or behavior to escape negative emotions and thought patterns leading them to binge/intoxicated themselves. When they withdraw, they experience the spiraling negative thoughts they tried to escape, and so the cycle continues.
Factors That Cause Cravings
Addiction is rooted in negative thought patterns. An addicted person will use a substance or behavior to avoid difficult emotions.
Certain factors increase the likelihood of a person relapsing and seeking the dopamine response to feeling better such as:
- Loneliness and isolation
- Family problems
- Relationship problems
- Money worries
- Traumatic experiences
Although long-term addiction changes the brain’s chemistry, it still has neuroplasticity. It is still possible to treat an addiction despite its severity. A more severe addiction will require a higher level of input.
If you try to conquer an addiction without support, you reduce your chances of long-term recovery.
Researchers and scientists have found some treatments more effective for addiction than others. Evidence-based treatment backed by clinical studies to measure their effectiveness is now incorporated by treatment centers, often with great success.
Addiction is complex. Often an addicted person may have an underlying mental health disorder that drives their addiction. Accessing a quality treatment program will ensure a high rate of success as you can get an accurate assessment.
If you’re addicted, it’s vital to get a comprehensive psychological assessment of your mental health. Many people who seek treatment discover they have a mental health disorder such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Mental health problems tend to be a result of an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). 60% of people with an addiction have experienced at least one ACE in their lifetime. Nailing the root cause of your negative core beliefs and thought patterns is key to conquering addiction.
Make sure that the treatment center employs qualified and skilled staff who can assess you properly.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is considered the gold standard in addiction treatment. It has a higher rate of success than abstinence-based treatment.
MAT combines prescription medication with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Prescription medicine reduces withdrawal symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses mental health problems and coping strategies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological modality that encourages a person to identify the root causes of negative thought patterns and emotions that compel them to take substances or engage in damaging behavior.
There are many different types of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapy you receive will depend on the severity and nature of your addiction.
Types of cognitive behavioral therapy include:
- Family therapy
- SMART Therapy (Self Management and Recovery Training)
- Exposure therapy
- Eye Movement and Desensitization Therapy (EMDR)
If you receive the right course of cognitive-behavioral therapy, you should find it highly transformative and give you the necessary tools to pursue a new lease of life.
Motivational interviewing assists people who are struggling with cravings. An effective motivational counselor uses interviewing techniques that help to keep you motivated when you feel compelled to relapse.
According to the Journal of Psychology, Motivational Interviewing is 20% more effective than cognitive-behavioral therapy.
MI combined with cognitive behavioral therapy gives a fighting chance of addressing those root causes and reversing negative trains of thought that trigger you to relapse.
Contingency Management is a behavioral therapy that encourages reinforcement of behavior with rewards such as money, a paying job, retail goods, or prizes in return for a negative urine test.
This type of therapy is helpful in the early days of a person’s treatment.
A high percentage of people who leave rehab tend to relapse within a year of leaving rehab due to environmental stressors.
The John Hopkins University found that 37-56% of people relapse after inpatient treatment for the following reasons:
- 5% are unable to meet basic needs
- 9% have no support network
- 6% have friends with an addiction
People who suffer from addiction have reduced career prospects, housing opportunities, and a lack of social support. Trying to cope with cravings and surviving in modern life can be too much for a person.
Addiction is a social disease, not just a brain disease.
Research suggests that the more connected a person is socially, the greater chance they have of achieving long-term sobriety.
Rachel Wurzman is a neuroscientist who believes that an epidemic of loneliness and isolation is responsible for the opioid epidemic. Modern life has separated people, they live in bigger apartments, and people no longer speak with their neighbors. Life is becoming increasingly segregated.
Wurzman believes that people in recovery need to practice mindfulness combined with their passions. Mainstream mindfulness tends to focus on activities such as yoga, but this might not appeal to many people.
She suggests that there should be more initiatives that appeal to a broader range of people, such as mindfulness and par cours, for instance.
Length of Treatment
Another factor is the length of treatment. A person ideally needs treatment for several months or years to achieve long-term sobriety. If a person leaves rehab too early, they are too vulnerable to cope with the stresses of their environment
It may not be feasible for a person to stay in residential treatment for a year as the costs can be prohibitive. The environment needs to change to cater to the increasingly addicted population.
To break the addiction cycle addicts need an environment that is free of stigma and judgment. They need affordable housing and access to medical care.
Sadly, wider social and economic factors make this almost impossible.
Change needs to occur from the top-down and the bottom-up. The community needs to learn about its role in healing the US from addiction.
A person cannot overcome their addiction alone.