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Understanding Substance Use Disorder and Addiction

by Melissa Bell
5 minutes read

Although we have a better understanding of addiction than ever before, many people are still not able to understand how someone can become an addict. There are people who still hold on to old-fashioned ideas that someone using drugs lacks morals or can simply quit by stopping. However, the reality is that drug addiction is a complex illness that requires specialized treatment in a drug abuse rehab center.

Drugs are particularly potent because they affect the brain’s function, which ultimately leads to someone developing a need to use that is beyond their control. When someone has become dependent or addicted to drugs, they will not be able to stop, no matter how much they want to. The most effective way of overcoming drug dependence or addiction is with specialist drug abuse rehabilitation.

What Is Drug Addiction?


As mentioned above, drug addiction is a complex illness that is characterized by a compulsion to use drugs, even when faced with harmful consequences. Although the first time someone uses a drug may be recreational or experimental, they can quickly become hooked on the pleasant sensations they create.

Although there are different types of drugs, they all work in the same ways – which is by altering the communication centers of the brain which are called neurotransmitters. After a while of using drugs, a person’s cravings will be dictated by their brains rather than by desire. When using drugs becomes a compulsion a person has no control over, they are in danger of quickly crossing over from dependence into addiction. For the best recovery outcomes, it is obviously better that someone seek drug abuse rehab sooner rather than later.

Drug addiction is also considered a “relapsing” disease which means that even when someone has completed a program at a drug abuse treatment center, they may return to the drug even after years of being clean. This is because of the persistent changes created by prolonged drug abuse which can sometimes take on a degree of permanence in time. Repeated use adapts the brain to negative behaviors associated with addiction which can have a powerful grip on a person. For this reason, it takes considerable time to rehabilitate from severe drug abuse.

What Happens to the Brain When a Person Takes Drugs?

Drugs affect the neurotransmitters that send signals to the brain’s reward center, flooding it with dopamine which creates a chemical “high”. The way a correctly functioning reward center should work is by alerting the person to perform certain repetitive behaviors they need to thrive such as eating and sleeping.

When surges of dopamine flood the brain it increases the risk of drug use becoming a repeated behavior the body expects to perform when instructed by the reward center. This leads to the body craving drugs rather than the person choosing to take them voluntarily. Once substance abuse has spiraled out of control, addiction is the common result and drug abuse rehab is recommended.

Long-term use of drugs effects brain functions including:

  • Learning
  • Logic and rationale
  • Judgment
  • The ability to make decisions
  • Stress
  • Memory
  • Behavior

Even when someone abusing drugs is aware of its harmful outcomes, they are unlikely to be able to stop on their own and this is the nature of addiction.

Can Drug Addiction Be Cured or Prevented?

Drug addiction is a chronic illness that is similar to diabetes and asthma in that it is likely to require treatment for many years. However, that is not to say that addiction can’t be overcome as detox and drug abuse rehabilitation offers several routes to recovery from drug abuse. Research shows that the most effective form of drug abuse rehab is a combination of holistic and traditional therapies in integrated programs that include components such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and holistic practices like yoga and meditation.

Because of the intensely personal nature of drug addiction and the fact that everyone will have different reasons behind their illness, it requires personalized attention. The best drug abuse rehab centers offer a program that has been devised after a significant amount of assessment and evaluation. Many people who have substance use disorder also have a concurrent mental health condition requiring specialist dual diagnosis treatment. Ultimately, a personalized program will take into account the individual’s needs and encourage them to heal in their own time.

Aftercare Promotes Sustainable Recovery

Drug abuse rehabilitation is challenging and the journey doesn’t end when someone leaves a drug abuse treatment center. The majority of facilities offer aftercare programs which are delivered on an outpatient basis. This provides patients who are transitioning from a drug abuse rehab center to their home environments with extra support during what can be a vulnerable time for relapse.

Outpatient aftercare offers patients with a more flexible form of continued treatment after leaving a residential center. This allows them to integrate back into their daily lives without attracting any attention to themselves as being a recovering addict. Caregivers can return to their roles confident in the knowledge that someone is on the end of the phone should they need extra help to see them through a difficult situation.

Although substance use disorder and addiction are complex illnesses to treat, it is always possible to undo the damage drugs have done to a person’s body and mind by attending a drug abuse rehabilitation center.

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