The media has created an image of addiction as struggling urban dwellers, desperate and living on the streets. Unfortunately, much of society still sees addiction that way and often as the fault of the sufferer.

Addiction is actually a disease of the brain. It doesn’t care how intelligent or educated you are or how much money you have in the bank. It crosses all socioeconomic boundaries without prejudice.

Drugs and alcohol can drastically alter the brain and make compulsive behavior harder to overcome. Often, addicts are unable to control their behavior and continuing using, despite destructive consequences.

How Addiction Develops

In the early 20th century, most people believed addiction stemmed from a lack of willpower. However, as medical technology advanced and doctors began to understand how addiction works physiologically, the perception of addiction changed.

Today, we know addiction develops when drugs or alcohol override the brain’s reward center, or limbic system. And though outside factors are often involved – such as PTSD, abuse or psychological trauma – addiction is now considered a disease, not a behavioral issue.

The delivery of dopamine from the limbic system reorganizes a healthy brain into a dysfunctional one. Those who suffer from addiction can become physiologically unable to abstain from their substance(s) of choice. Moreover, one addiction often leads to another.

The Genetic Factors of Addiction

Genetics are complex, and their role in addiction is still being researched, but it is clear that family history often plays a part in addiction. Parents who have the disease are more likely to have children who are at risk. The underlying genes may produce a complex set of behaviors that are interrelated, based on chemistry and environmental factors. In this sense, genes are like a behavioral template, but there are variables as to what fills in that template.

What Does Addiction Feel Like?

Often, addiction develops because a person is trying to fill a void – psychologically, emotionally or physically. Many addicts are chronic pain sufferers who have been unable to control the intensity of their physical discomfort. For them, drugs or alcohol can provide temporary relief.

Those suffering from addiction often describe a feeling of loneliness or desperation, as well as a sense of fear that only seems to go away when their addiction is being fed. The sense of euphoria or high that comes from using leads many addicts to consume their substance of choice more frequently and in higher doses, sometimes with catastrophic results.

The Consequences of Addiction

Depending on the types of substances abused, addicts experience anything from heart arrhythmia or liver failure to diabetes or neuropathy. The high-risk behavior that accompanies some drug use can lead to other issues, such as sexually transmitted diseases or impaired driving.

The consequences of addiction go far beyond the health and well-being of the addict, though. Relationships are often the first casualty of addiction. Because addiction affects a user’s ability to interact with friends and family, as well as professional colleagues, it can have devastating consequences for addicts’ personal lives.

Consider how addiction can alter the following areas of life:

Family and Loved Ones

Addicts go to great lengths to conceal their problems – even hiding it from themselves. Loved ones and close friends are most often the first people to recognize the warning signs. Because addicts commonly deny their substance abuse problem, a figurative wall may form between them and their loved ones. Sometimes, addiction causes irreparable harm, and sufferers end up losing their marriages and their relationships with their children.

Professional Life

Jobs and entire careers have been lost because of addiction, thereby compounding the problem because there is suddenly no income to support the substance abuse. How often do we hear about a Hollywood star or famous musician struggling with substance abuse? There are some individuals who are shining examples of successful recovery. But, sadly, there are many others whose struggle is a public reminder of the shame and heartbreak caused by failing to overcome this terrible disease.

The Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The types of addiction are as varied as the individuals who suffer from it. Here are the three main types that people think of when it comes to addiction:

Illicit/Illegal Drugs

The stigma that surrounds illegal drug use keeps users shrouded in shame. Even though legitimately obtained substances amount to far more instances of abuse, illicit or “street” drugs pose their own unique dangers. One of which is when a drug has been cut with another toxic substance. Buying drugs on the street usually means that users don’t really know the strength of the drug they are purchasing, which can lead to overdose and death.

The black market has no manufacturing standards, so in many cases, adverse reactions and overdoses occur because the substances aren’t what they seem. This is a major reason why many IV drug users have died in recent years. What was thought to be heroin was actually fentanyl, a far more powerful drug. There’s also a risk of serious infection with HIV due to needle sharing.

The lifestyle that a user must engage in to obtain illegal drugs is often associated with other illegal behavior, such as theft. Learn even more about illicit drug addiction by clicking on the following button.

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Prescription Drugs

It’s been called an American epidemic. Prescription drug abuse accounts for more cases of addiction and death than any illegal drug. Opioid abuse, for instance, is so ubiquitous that law enforcement agencies have begun equipping their field officers with naloxone spray, which can immediately counter the effects of painkiller overdose.

The road to dependence begins innocently enough: An injury or medical problem has resulted in someone needing to take powerful medication. This legitimizes the substance and makes it easier to rationalize its abuse. People often think their medication is less harmful than illegal drugs because they have a prescription.

Learn more about prescription drug addiction by clicking below.

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Alcohol is the most abused drug in the United States. More than 100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. Scientists are just recently beginning to understand how alcohol addiction truly works.

The impact of alcohol is rapid: Within 90 seconds of entering the bloodstream, the first swig reaches the brain and increases the release rate of pleasure chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. That’s the effect that provides the high, or buzz.

For some, the body can become so physically dependent on alcohol that the most severe abusers may have violent physical symptoms if they are without it for even a few hours. Withdrawal management with strong (yet harmful) tranquilizers such as Valium or Ativan is usually necessary.

The following button will help you learn about alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, more in-depth.

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Addiction Treatment in Maryland

Maryland Recovery Center is one of the premier drug and alcohol treatment facilities on the East Coast. Based in the rural town of Bel Air, Maryland, just northeast of Baltimore, we treat substance abuse and mental health issues using a mix of holistic and clinical therapies. We have program options such as Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient available.

At Maryland Recovery, you’ll find rare (but highly effective) holistic activities such as auricular acupuncture and drumming circles. We help build a strong foundation for outgoing patients to maintain long-term sobriety. Learn more about how we treat addiction by clicking on the button below.

Maryland Addiction Treatment