Addiction is a name given to a variety of pathology typically defined by physical or mental dependence on a behavior or substance. Addiction used to be seen as a flaw of morals or spirit, and many addicts were condemned to mental institutions or deemed hopeless. Now, addiction is recognized as falling under the disease model of medicine. This means that addiction is a condition which has a cause and, via treatment, can be fixed. Addiction is unique in that it is a condition which is manifested in the brain, but the symptoms of which are frequently observed in one’s behaviors and body. Addiction is a perilous challenge but not insurmountable. Following are three steps to take that can help you or a loved one in overcoming addiction.
Step 1: Do You Have an Addiction?
Word addiction is frequently thrown around in pop culture in an insincere sense of the word. To be addicted is not to engage in bad behavior or to use a substance. Rather, addiction is inability to cease such behaviors despite their negative impact on oneself. Sometimes, what appears to be an addiction, such as frequent alcohol abuse, may be attributed to another cause. For example, some patients with chronic pain or depression may self-medicate with alcohol. In such cases, patients may or may not be categorized as having addictions because their behaviors are not due to a dependence on alcohol but rather its use to avoid the symptoms of another disorder.
Unfortunately, addiction is not a formal diagnosis that is applied in a mental health setting. As a category addiction is simply to broad. Instead the DSM V, diagnostic manual for mental health professionals, instead identifies several disorders that fall under the umbrella of what we would call addiction. DSM V lists eleven criteria for substance use disorders, at least two of which must be met for a diagnosis to be made. If you believe you or a loved one may be an addict, look over this list and, if any of the criteria apply, contact a mental health professional. It’s important to note that while anyone can read DSM V, only qualified professionals such as MD’s, Psychiatrists, and Psychologists can formally diagnosis a patient with a disorder.
Step 2: Seek Treatment
Most important step in overcoming addiction is to seek treatment. There are a variety of options for addiction treatment across the country and around the world. There are support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, outpatient treatment centers, inpatient treatment centers, drug therapies such as methadone for heroin addicts, and aversion therapy. Most treatment methods for addiction have been researched and various statistics can be found as to treatment duration, relapse rate, etc. But it is vital to note that the most important consideration in whether a treatment program will work is whether the individual with the addiction believes that it can. For example, partly due to its by definition anonymous nature Alcoholics Anonymous lacks empirical support for its effectiveness, but thousands of people have credited the program with helping them become sober. Therefore the best program is one that will work for you.
Step 3: Avoiding Old Habits
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of overcoming addiction is not the initial treatment, but avoiding relapse. Environment is a large contributor to relapse rates. Many addicts optimistically leave treatment and fully intend to live sober, but find themselves surrounded by the same temptations and situations that caused them to use or continue to use in first place. Perhaps it’s an addicts friend group, social group, neighborhood, occupation, or any of a number of other variables that prompted him or her to use. There are two strategies in overcoming this pitfall. First, change what you can. If possible avoid areas, people, activities, etc. that used to signal to you to use or engage in a behavior that contributed to your addiction, and fill the void with new friends, hobbies, etc. Alternatively, if change isn’t possible, acknowledge those location, people, and other variables that cause urges or act as signals to use, but consciously confront urges.