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Having an addiction can be harmful to your health, your relationships and many other areas of your life. It is an illness that requires treatment. And while some addictions may be mild and easy to treat others are much more severe.

Addiction has many negative connotations, especially when it is linked to an illicit drug, but it helps to understand addiction and substance abuse are suffering from a medical condition and that there are many treatment programs available to treat substance abuse and mental illness including, behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy.

If you are dealing with addiction you can call the SAMHSAS national helpline. The SAMHSAS national helpline is a 24 hour, free, confidential service for people suffering with mental, drug and alcohol use disorders.

Definition of Addiction

The dictionary definition of addiction is “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity”. Addiction can be understood as a compulsive need for a substance or the inability to abstain from a behavior or substance.

The American society of addiction medicine defines the term addiction as “ a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences”.

There are both behavioral addictions such as a gambling addiction or internet addiction and addictions to habit-forming substances such as alcohol addiction, opioid addiction or nicotine addiction. Addiction is accepted as a clinical syndrome and recognized as a mental illness.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has a chapter on substance-related and addictive disorders which lists 9 specific substance use disorders as well as gambling disorder which reflects a change in the understanding and classification of addictive behavior to include behavioral addictions. Although gambling disorder is currently the only behavioral disorder listed in this section, internet gaming disorder has been listed in section 3 of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders meaning further research is required before it can be considered a formal disorder.

The substances listed include caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, stimulants, hypnotics and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs).

What is an addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine notes that “People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences”. This shows that people who have developed an addiction will often suffer many negative consequences.

Causes of Addiction

As mentioned above addiction is a mental disorder. Biologically speaking addiction is linked to the reward pathways in the brain. When people indulge in the substance or behavior their brain releases feel good chemicals. Their brain’s rewarding them for their behavior.

Alcohol and drug abuse and mental health are also closely linked for many individuals. People may turn to drugs and alcohol to manage the symptoms of mental disorders or become addicted to drugs they are given as treatment. Anxiolytics, for example, are specifically listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and are given to patients to treat anxiety and other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Genetic factors have also been linked to addiction. Studies have shown that if you have parents that suffered alcohol use disorders you may be predisposed to be more likely to suffer this addiction.

Addiction Treatment

The good news is that addiction treatment has been shown to be as effective and there are many different options available depending on the substance or behavior in question and the severity of the addiction.

Substance addiction leads to a physical dependence and those suffering from an addiction disorder will suffer withdrawal symptoms hence developing addiction is much easier physically than recovering from it.

Withdrawal symptoms vary between substance abusers. Although drinking alcohol is common alcohol abusers may suffer alcohol withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, shaking, the sweats and anxiety. Drug abusers will experience similar symptoms which can range in severity from unpleasant to dangerous and will need managing with any addiction treatment.

Types of Treatment

The science of addiction is a constantly evolving field and addiction medicine is improving and developing all the time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism both fund research into the science of addiction, causes and treatments.

Currently there are a number of treatment options available including:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy known as CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on understanding, controlling and modifying behaviors. In particular CBT looks at links between thoughts, feelings and behaviors, how people’s underlying beliefs affect these and people’s conflicting behaviors. Addiction is a conflicting behavior as when you are addicted you do things even though you know they are bad for you.

CBT has an excellent track record treating addiction as well as anxiety and depression which are often contributing factors to people developing an addiction in the first place.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of medication alongside behavioral therapy and counseling, and is a common abuse treatment for opioid use disorder. Opioid treatment programs often include medication as opioids create such a strong substance dependence.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is popular for treating those with alcohol or drug dependencies as well as many other disorders such as eating disorders and psychiatric disorders. Residential treatment facilities tend to have higher success rates as they offer 24 hour support to deal with the adverse effects of withdrawal and can offer constant positive reinforcement and harm reduction. The fact that patients are residential also limits environmental risk factors and removes access to addictive drugs.

However residential treatment is significantly more expensive than outpatient treatment and very disruptive to daily life so tends to be reserved for more serious addictions.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy

TMS therapy uses a highly concentrated magnetic field to stimulate or inhibit stimulation of nerve centers in the brain. It has been FDA approved for the treatment of depression. When used to treat addiction TMS has been shown to have positive results in reducing the brain’s response to cues, for example seeing a liquor bottle, and thus is effective at reducing relapse.