Most people recognize that addiction is a terrible thing. It controls people and destroys lives. It’s a problem that challenges the medical community, raises tough public policy questions, and becomes all too personal to the people and families who face it firsthand.
Addiction is a huge problem, but it’s not something that exists in isolation. The causes and consequences of addiction are closely tied to our physical and mental health. Moreover, addiction itself is a mental health condition. Understanding that leads us to smarter policies, better treatments, and a deeper understanding of those who suffer from addiction.
Addiction as a mental health condition
Addiction can be triggered by poor choices, but addiction itself is not a “choice” in any meaningful sense. Doctors and other experts recognize addiction as a mental health disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to use the addictive substance in question. And there’s a physical side to addiction, too. Human bodies and minds are capable of developing a tolerance to most addictive substances, meaning that substance abusers find themselves having to use more and more of the same substance to achieve the desired “high” or other effect. Meanwhile, human bodies may change the ways in which they regulate themselves. For instance, the brains of chronic cocaine users shift the production of chemicals in the brain in response to the “crutch” of cocaine, meaning that it becomes hard to feel normal without cocaine.
Tragically, addiction is quite common. More than 25 million Americans suffer from substance abuse problems, experts say, and significant portions of the population are affected in Canada and other Western nations. The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is historic in its proportions: Experts estimate that an average of more than 130 people a day have died since the start of the epidemic.
Because addiction is a health condition, it deserves professional treatment. What are the options for those who suffer from addiction and substance abuse problems? Well, thanks to the many experts in mental health and medicine who have dedicated their lives to this problem, you have a lot of options.
On the physical side of treatment, plans and programs allow substance abusers to detox as safely as possible and, in some cases, to reduce their use of the substance in question slowly through an alternative like methadone. Because withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, these options play a powerful role.
Ultimately, though, the mental side of the equation is what allows addicts to conquer substance abuse problems for the long term. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of talk therapy can be crucial to this goal. Many therapists, counselors, and psychologists specialize in treating addiction.
It often helps substance abusers to get away from their triggers and their typical environment, the experts who run a respected addiction rehab in Toronto, Canada, explain. That’s why there are rehab centers (including both inpatient and outpatient options) that allow those suffering from addiction to tackle their challenges in a secure environment.
Staying sober is a difficult commitment, but it can be made a bit easier with the help of long-term commitments to therapy and support groups. Finding others in the addiction community who are committed to staying sober can be a powerful thing, provided that those relationships are forged in a responsible and committed environment (such as that available in a 12-step program).
Addiction is many things. It’s difficult, frightening, and relentless. But, above all else, it’s a health condition — and that’s why it needs to be treated like one.