Today over 21 million people suffer from addiction in the United States – that’s 1 in 7 people. On the average, we lose 198 people a day to drug overdose and that number climbs to 475 if you factor in alcohol-related deaths.
Addiction is defined as a disease by the American Medical Association. Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is not a character flaw.
Let's imagine that you have been in a hot dry desert without food or water. You finally stumble back into civilization and you see someone with a big jug of cool water. You tell them that you need their water, or you will die, and they tell you no. At that moment you will do anything or give anything you have because you must get the water. You may even take it forcibly from them. After you get the water you immediately feel guilty and regret the actions you took.
Watch the explainer video below for a 4-minute crash-course on addiction!
Addiction hijacks the part of the brain that is responsible for our basic survival instincts: eating, drinking, finding shelter, having sex, and caring for our children. When these essential tasks are completed, our brain reinforces the behavior with the release of dopamine. That release of dopamine, or “reward” for surviving, is transmitted to the amygdala and hippocampus, which record a memory of that feeling so we seek it again.
Substance abuse activates the same pleasure center of the brain. When drug use is repeated the substance hijacks that part of the brain. This “hijacker” changes the brain and weakens this system to make it believe that the primary need for survival is the abused substance, overpowering our primary motivators of food, water, shelter, sex and protecting our children.
The "hijacker" then needs more and more of the substance to achieve the same level of pleasure, causing the brain tissue to become increasingly damaged.
Advancements have been made in assessments, detox, treatment programs, recovery supports and medications to treat addiction. Brain scans show that once in recovery the tissue can begin to get better.
If you or a loved one had a broken bone, you’d seek care right away.
Are you concerned about addiction for yourself or a loved one?
Visit the Addiction Resource Center or Call the ARC Help Line 24 hours a day 1-833-301-HELP (4357)