What is addiction, really? Is it a short-term affliction, or it something a person will always struggle with?
In this post, we’ll delve into this question. Then we’ll take a detailed look at addiction treatment, complete with an exploration of what a typical day in rehab is like. Finally, we’ll wrap things up with an exploration of post-rehab options so that someone struggling with addiction can maximize their chances of remaining sober.
Let’s get started.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a complex phenomenon that has both physiological and behavioral components. Before we look at what addiction is, let’s talk about what it is not:
Addiction is not a moral failing.
Addiction is a chronic illness, and while it can begin with certain behaviors that are under a person’s control, it can be difficult to stop once it gets underway. It’s a condition characterized by compulsive substance abuse. However, it is possible to be addicted to certain behaviors, too. In both cases, the addiction is rooted in the way the brain’s reward pathway responds to repeated stimuli.
One characterizing feature of addiction is that the individual finds it difficult to stop even if they want to—even if they know they’re harming others or themselves.
Indeed, people with severe substance abuse disorder find themselves fixating on their substance of choice to the point where they struggle to function normally. An alcoholic, for instance, may continue to consume alcohol even though they know this behavior will cause problems.
There are many addictive substances and behaviors. Here are but a few:
- LSD or PCP
- Opioid pain killers
Certain areas of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens—which is associated with pleasure—are sensitive to changes in dopamine release over time. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in motivation, reward, and satisfaction. When a person takes a drug that produces a high, they are essentially short-circuiting this brain system. But the brain becomes accustomed to this behavior.
Indeed, people with a substance abuse disorder exhibit differences in their brain chemistry when compared to others. For instance, the brain of a heavy cocaine user releases dopamine when shown images of cocaine.
Moreover, drugs produce more intense dopamine responses than other pleasurable substances, such as food. This can cause a “burn out” situation in the brain whereupon more of the substance is needed overtime to achieve the same high. This phenomenon will be familiar to any addict, and it’s officially known as ‘tolerance.’
As tolerance builds, someone suffering from substance abuse disorder may engage in riskier behaviors in order to obtain more of the substance.
There are many reasons why someone might begin taking drugs, such as:
- To feel good
- To feel better, or as a way to manage mood
- To do better, or to improve performance temporarily
- Peer pressure
Over time, however, tolerance and an increasing reliance on the temporary high provided by the substance can lead to dependence.
The good news is that while addiction can’t be treated overnight, there are a number of effective long term treatments that can help affected individuals lead normal lives.
What is Addiction Treatment?
Addiction treatment is a combination of specialized therapies designed to help an individual stop compulsive drug use. Addiction treatment takes many forms and may be ongoing. Because addiction is a chronic condition, an individual should not expect to enter a rehab facility and leave permanently cured. Short-term treatment is not usually sufficient.
That said, addiction affects everyone differently, and there are psychological factors at play as well. For instance, some people respond to a life-threatening diagnosis, such as lung cancer, by instantly overcoming tobacco addiction. For others, the road to recovery may be longer.
For many, treatment is a long-term prospect. However, the prognosis is good if the individual is willing to adhere to ongoing treatment.
In general, treatment consists of two parts:
Pharmacotherapies. These are drugs meant to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. For instance, methadone is an opioid agonist that lessens the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Behavioral therapies. These therapies are designed to help individuals cope with cravings and to lessen their dependence on drugs. Behavioral therapies help the individual learn to cope with life’s ups and downs without resorting to substances to manage mood.
How Do You Know If You Need Addiction Treatment?
There are several warning signs that use may be turning into abuse. In this section, we’ll look at six such indicators. If you recognize more than a few of these in yourself, it may be time to seek help. The earlier you seek treatment, the better your outcome will be.
#1 You’ve Driven on Public Roads While Drunk or High
As tolerance develops, you may be more willing to engage in riskier behaviors to obtain your substance of choice. Sometimes, this means driving drunk or high. In 2017, over 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes. Being an experienced driver doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll drive safely under the influence, either. In 2010, more than 25 percent of drunk drivers in fatal accidents were 50 or older.
#2 Your Friends and Family Have Asked You to Stop
Your close friends and family know you best. If they’ve asked you to stop using, they probably have a good reason. Remember, it’s hard to be objective about your own life or behavior. It may be time to pay heed to what people think—at least, the people you know and trust.
#3 You’ve Damaged Your Body
If your doctor is concerned about changes in liver, kidney or heart function, it’s definitely time to take a step back and analyze your drug use. Any drug abuse will be harmful to the body over the medium to long term. For instance, alcoholism does severe damage to the liver over time. It also negatively impacts brain function and can even negatively impact heart health, in the form of cardiomyopathy. Meanwhile, opiate abuse can slow breathing, which can cause brain damage.
Some drugs, if abused, can cause psychosis, while stimulant abuse can lead to cardiovascular events.
#4 You’ve Seen the Inside of a Jail Cell While Using
If your substance use has caused you to be jailed while under the influence, it’s time to pump the breaks. Whether you’ve been jailed for DUI, arrested for disorderly conduct or been confined to sober up, any forced time out is a clear red flag.
Of course, if you’re on parole or probation, getting snagged by the police on a drug-related crime can be enough to put you back in prison. If you find yourself engaging in risky behaviors to get high, that’s a clear indication that you should seek help. A stint in rehab is a small price to pay for avoiding a stay in prison.
#5 You Become Aggressive or Abusive to Yourself or Others While Using
Some drugs can exacerbate the effects of certain conditions, like depression. You may experience suicidal thoughts while under the influence, or you may become aggressive toward others. If your drug use is causing you to lash out at others, or to harm yourself, it’s time to seek help.
#6 You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms When You Stop Using
If you get withdrawal symptoms a few hours after you drink or use drugs, you’re developing tolerance. Withdrawal symptoms will only become more intense and unpleasant with time. Since you won’t always have access to your substance of choice, coping with those withdrawal symptoms will be an ongoing hassle.
A better way to deal with withdrawal is to undergo detox in a medically-supervised environment. This process isn’t painless, but it can, combined with behavioral therapy, help you get control over your addiction.
Though the prospect of entering rehab is stressful for many, the reality is that most folks readily adjust once they make the leap. That’s not to say they love the experience or would soon repeat it, but many people struggling with substance abuse feel much better after taking decisive action to improve their situation.
The bottom line: rehab is not forever, and pain is temporary.
In this section, we’ll explore a typical day in rehab.
Most drug abuse treatment facilities adhere to a standard treatment framework. Your day would be very structured, and this is by design. The structure you’ll encounter in a rehab facility may feel restrictive at first, but it’s there to minimize your stress. You’ll be doing the hard work of coping with withdrawal symptoms and dealing with—likely suppressed—emotions, so the stress of also managing your day is reduced as much as possible. The goal is to help you focus on your recovery.
The day typically starts early, and you would be provided with a healthy breakfast. This nutrition is a vital component of the recovery process as it provides the body with micro-nutrients it may be lacking. Filling these nutritional gaps can make dealing with withdrawal symptoms easier.
Many programs offer morning activities, or classes, such as yoga or meditation. These activities can help you cope with and process stress leftover from the day before. In addition, you may develop a fondness for these activities, and you can take the habit with you when you leave. Meditation, in particular, has been shown to have a positive impact on brain health.
Following breakfast and these free-time activities, you’ll often have a group therapy session. These sessions are led by a therapist or counselor and focus on:
- The treatment process
- The nature of addiction
- The nature of recovery
- The 12-step program
Group sessions provide a sense of camaraderie. Everyone there will have an idea of what you’ve been through, so don’t be afraid to open up.
One goal of this therapy is to gain insights into how using affects your life, and how your life might be in better balance without the substance. Another focus of therapy is to gain clarity on the issues in your life that have led you to depend on the substance in the first place.
With tried-and-true therapeutic models, like cognitive behavioral therapy, you can begin to recognize patterns in your behavior that lead to self-destructive acts, and you’ll begin to notice thought distortions that make you more likely to act on impulse.
These are valuable skills you can take with you when you leave, and, with any luck, you can use them to avoid relapse.
Afternoon commences with a healthy lunch, followed by, you guessed it, more therapy sessions. All this therapy may sound like a drag, but if you fully participate, you’re likely to find it quite beneficial. The first step in controlling addiction is to understand addiction.
Sessions in the afternoons are generally—but not always—more intense, because they’re often one-on-one. You’ll be discussing your particular issues and struggles with the counselor or therapist. This is where much of the hard emotional work is done.
Going into rehab and working through the withdrawal symptoms may make you “clean.” But if you mentally check out during the therapy sessions, you’re only doing half the work. Your chances of relapse are much higher if you only do detox.
You may have difficulty opening up to a stranger about your struggles, issues or life history. But think of it this way: when was the last time you were with someone and it was their job to listen to you talk?
Some facilities provide customized sessions tailored to the individual. This may involve, for instance, specialized grief counseling, anger management or stress management sessions. You may also have access to family therapy sessions designed to help you better relate to, and integrate with, your family. These sessions can be very helpful in working through long-standing issues.
Some treatment centers offer a wide array of other therapies, such as:
- Equine therapy
- Exercise programs
- Dance therapy
- Art therapy
- Music therapy
After dinner, you’ll likely find yourself in another group session. Or, you may be offered a 12-step program. 12-step programs are proven effective, though your success or failure largely hinders on your own desire to stay off drugs.
Most facilities recommend, but don’t necessarily require, that you go to bed at an early hour. Getting adequate sleep is crucial to recovery. Shoot for at least eight hours each night so you’ll be rested and alert the next day.
Free Time in Rehab?
Most centers provide a few hours of ‘off-time’ in the late afternoon or evenings. During these periods, you may enjoy shooting hoops, playing pool, soccer or volleyball. Your facility may also have a swimming pool. Naturally, these amenities vary by facility. Additionally, you could spend your free time journaling, meditating, reading or socializing.
One thing to note before checking into a rehab facility for addiction treatment is that leaving is just the beginning. Addiction is a chronic condition. You can learn to manage it, but you may always struggle with it to some degree. Therefore, you’re much more likely to maintain sobriety if you pursue long-term treatment options. There are several such programs. In this section, we’ll look at two types.
#1 A Sober Living Program
A sober living program is your opportunity to put what you learned in rehab to use. It provides you with a framework with which you’ll be accountable to someone else. For instance, a high-quality program will require frequent drug and alcohol testing. In addition, it may have a personal monitoring program and employment and education assistance. For those serious about recovering from addiction, a sober living program is the next logical step after rehab.
If this sort of program sounds restrictive, keep in mind that the goal is to achieve persistent sobriety. Eventually, you will be expected to live sober, and you’ll have no one to answer to but yourself. A sober living program can be a step along the way.
#2 An Intensive Outpatient Program
An IOP program typically requires you to attend weekly group therapy meetings, during which you can explore your post-rehab struggles with others who understand what you’re going through. The IOP is a solid option if you enjoyed therapy and found it to be particularly helpful.
#3 Return Home Immediately
Of course, you could simply return home immediately after receiving addiction treatment. However, you should carefully consider your home environment beforehand. If you live with other people who abuse drugs, or if you live alone and don’t have a strong social support network, you may be putting your sobriety at risk.
Studies show that individuals who leave rehab and don’t do any sort of follow up programs are more likely to relapse.
In this post, we explored the nature of addiction. We also covered the rehabilitation process and a few post-rehab options. It’s our sincere hope that if you’re in need of treatment, you’ll get the help you need straight away.
If you know anyone who you think might benefit from reading this concise guide, please don’t hesitate to share.
If you’re in the Southern California area and are looking for help with your dependence on or addiction to drugs or alcohol, you have options! Reach out to The Hills in order to see how we can help you heal and develop ways to push back against the normalization of alcohol consumption in your daily life!