Many people have difficulties understanding how or why others may become addicted to drugs. The idea that a person can become dependent on lethal substances seems to relate more to a lack of willpower, rather than an inability to simply stop. However, studies indicate that addiction is a real disease that impacts the mind and body in drastic ways. Unfortunately, not every substance use disorder is preventable. The U.S. currently has one of the highest rates of SUD in the world with over 27% accounting for total overdose deaths annually. The importance of drug prevention highlights the severity of the disease, as specialists work to change outcomes for many American families.
It’s critical to note that alcohol and drug addiction is not a character flaw nor an indication of a person’s lack of moral principles. Substance abuse can drastically alter the mind and, therefore, behavior, so much so that sometimes outside help is necessary to overcome the disease. Talking with an addiction specialist can help provide clarity on what to do to begin recovery. Contact us today at 720-650-8055.
What is Drug Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences. While the initial decision to consume drugs is voluntary for most people, repeated drug use can actually alter the brain in ways that interfere with a person’s ability to execute self-control. As a result, resisting drug use can become impossible as dependency begins to set in.
These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.
It’s common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans should be tailored to the individual. But is treatment really the best option for every American? Studies highlight the importance of prevention of substance abuse in lieu of costly treatments available today.
How Drugs Work in the Brain
Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” which causes flooding of key chemical neurotransmitters like dopamine, making a person feel euphoric and, in some cases, invincible. In the normal human body, a properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable. Unfortunately, unhealthy behaviors, particularly those linked with drug use, lead many toward problematic behaviors.
As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by 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 of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities.
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. The nature of addiction highlights the importance of prevention of substance abuse.
Factors that Can Contribute to Growing SUD Rates
Numerous studies on drug addictions and behaviors assess factors that may contribute to substance abuse. Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal high numbers of adolescent substance use in the US. What factors contribute to growing SUD rates?
Addiction can happen to anyone from any background, social status, race, or gender. However, it is scientifically proven that many people have higher risk factors for substance abuse and addiction than others. There are certain factors that increase the risk of a person developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Factors that contribute to SUD diagnosis include:
- Family history of SUD
- Mental health
Evidence-based prevention programs can dramatically reduce rates of substance use and SUD. Various programs have been found to significantly reduce substance use, some by over 50 percent. The importance of prevention of substance abuse indicates the need for drug experts, physicians, and policymakers to address the key factors that make a person more susceptible to addiction.
Stopping Cycles of Drug Abuse Among Families
The importance of prevention of substance abuse begins with carefully examining heredity causes and issues within family settings.
SUDs run in families, not just because of genetics, but also because of the direct effects a family member’s illness can have on those around them. Parental SUDs can put children at risk for neglect, abuse, exposure to violence, and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These stressors can make children more vulnerable to initiating substance use at an early age and developing a SUD later in life. Parental substance use can also result in children losing a parent to overdose, incarceration, or loss of parental rights. This trauma, as well as the economic impact on the entire family, can also increase the risk for substance use and addiction among impacted children.
“The science is clear: (genetics) play a very real role in the development of alcohol or drug disorders. If you have any family members who currently have or have had alcohol or drug problems, you are likely to be at higher risk (for addiction).” Chief Scientific Officer, Recovery Centers of America
When a family member has a SUD, it often means that those around them have increased access to substances. These factors, among others, can create a cycle of substance use and SUD within families. There are more than 9 million children in the U.S. impacted by parental SUD and millions more with siblings suffering from this illness. And while there is no available data on the number of children who lose a parent to this disease, with 185 people dying every day from a drug overdose the numbers are likely to be staggering. Targeted prevention interventions can help protect the next generation from experiencing the drug epidemics wreaking havoc on all ranges of communities.
Prevention is Key: Environmental Factors
An individual’s environment is also one of the prominent risk factors for substance abuse. Prevention begins at home and within other settings like work and school. Environmental factors are those related to the family, school, and neighborhood. Factors that can increase a person’s risk include the following:
- Home and Family – A teen who lacks parental involvement or lives in an abusive home often will turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their emotions
- Peers and School – Friends and other peers can have an increasingly strong influence during the teen years. Teens who use drugs can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time. Teens are faced with peer pressure and can easily be influenced to experiment with substances to fit in.
An individual’s environment is also one of the prominent risk factors for substance abuse. A teen who lacks parental involvement or lives in an abusive home often will turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their emotions. Teens are faced with peer pressure and can easily be influenced to experiment with substances to fit in. The importance of prevention of substance abuse begins with addressing environmental causes and working to eliminate them through various community initiatives and programs.
AspenRidge REACH: Increasing Accessibility
Another important factor to consider for prevention is accessibility to the right type of care, particularly for family members. AspenRidge REACH has provided years of support to, not only individuals suffering from addiction, but to family members including parents, children, and friends.
Recently, we’ve increased accessibility to our programs through our online addiction treatment options. At REACH, our virtual doors are open to adult clients seeking healing and transformation to put their lives on the path of recovery. Our online help initiatives offer a warm and welcoming environment paired with exceptional individualized clinical care utilizing the latest in scientific advancement for treating both mental health and addiction treatment. For information on our virtual addiction treatment 720-650-8055.