In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences an addiction. Even though we never imagine it happening to anyone we know, the statistics show that you likely know someone who is currently experiencing or who has previously had problems with addiction.
When addiction hits closer to home, it can be extremely hard to understand why and how a loved one has become addicted to a particular substance. In many cases, family members and friends deny a loved one’s problem, or do not find effective ways to be of help.
When a loved one has an addiction, it is important to be as informed as possible about the situation. Education is key to understanding how addiction happens, why it is hard to control and how loved ones can be of assistance. Supportive friends and family can have a much greater impact than even they are aware of.
Characteristics of Addiction
Addiction is a very powerful thing; once addiction takes over, individuals will struggle to or be unable to quit even if they wanted to.
When addiction begins, an addict will continue to ingest a substance regardless of the harm it is doing to their health, finances, relationships and lifestyle. This is usually because the functions and structure of the brain have already been compromised, and the brain has begun to tell the body it needs the substance.
When a loved one has an addiction, it is important to remember that they cannot simply quit their addiction cold turkey. The best response in this kind of situation is to offer full support and encouragement of their sobriety in whatever way works best for them.
How Addiction Develops
When we ingest substances, dopamine begins to fill our “pleasure centers” in the brain. As feel-good chemicals from drugs or alcohol begin to blend with the neurotransmitter glutamate, they begin to take over some of the brain’s processes that are related with reward.
As these systems are flooded with dopamine, the nerve cells in the pleasure center begin to associate the pleasure felt from taking a drug with wanting more of it. The brain begins to tell the body to actively seek out the drug, and this is when addiction begins.
Dependence vs. Withdrawal
Dependence and withdrawal are usually used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. While addiction makes the brain crave more of a substance, dependence sees the brain function at a better level when it’s working on drugs versus when it’s not.
Withdrawal symptoms will begin when the body is not getting the substance that the brain craves. The brain will tell the body that it cannot function properly without ingesting the substance.
When a loved one has an addiction, it is not always easy for them to recognize that they have any kind of problem. It is often the case that family members and friends will need to bring the issue to their attention; this kind of notion creates different reactions from every addict.
Addiction can be treated with a variety of tools and approaches, and rehabilitation centers can offer helpful counseling and therapy sessions for both the addict and their loved ones. The length of treatment often reflects the severity of one’s addiction, and treatment doesn’t necessarily work perfectly right away.
When a loved one has an addiction, understanding what is happening is the first step to fighting it. There are many assumptions about addiction that simply are not true; gathering the right knowledge is key to being as helpful as possible.