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Defining Substance Abuse & Addiction

Substance addiction is a complex disorder, but it can be understood and addressed.

What is substance addiction?

Substance addiction and abuse is a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug or alcohol use that leads to significant disruptions in daily living, including loss of work, relationships and health. It is progressive in nature and requires professional intervention for successful treatment.

Substance use becomes abuse and later addiction when the drugs or alcohol begin to take control over one’s life. For many substance addicts, this is the tipping point: seeking and using increasing amounts of drugs, despite the tremendous problems it causes for themselves and their families.

At Caron, we can help you build a treatment program that meets your needs.

How does addiction affect the body?

Repeated drug and alcohol use causes chemical dependency, or lasting changes to the way the brain functions and operates. In fact, all abused substances alter the areas of the brain responsible for self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, motivation, memory and learning by hijacking the brain’s normal reward pathways. Although abused substances—including alcohol, heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, nicotine and prescription drugs—act on different pathways in the brain, they all necessitate increasingly higher doses to produce a high or simply allow the user to feel normal. Issues such as mental illness, multiple addictions and ancillary health problems may complicate substance addiction. 

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Addiction Indicators

Whether you’re the loved one of someone dealing with substance abuse or addiction, or you’re worried about your own substance use, asking the right questions can help you decide whether to seek professional treatment. “Yes” answers to the following questions may indicate abuse or addiction:

  • Has drinking and drug use caused relationship problems for the individual?
  • Has drinking or drug use caused problems with the individual’s primary responsibilities (work, school, caring for children, etc.)?
  • Has the individual ever tried to stop using alcohol or drugs but was unsuccessful?
  • Has drinking or drug use caused any legal difficulties?
  • Has drinking or drug use caused the individual to show signs of illness (shakiness, vomiting, paranoia, depression, etc.)?
  • Does the individual find it difficult to have a good time without using substances?
  • Have others expressed concerns about the individual’s alcohol or drug use?

At every Caron facility, we have a staff of experienced addiction specialists who are skilled at gaining a thorough understanding of every patient’s addiction and tailoring treatment plans accordingly. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions or concerns.

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Why do people use alcohol and drugs?

Because many drugs act on the brain’s pleasure pathways, the user experiences intense euphoria followed by related emotional highs. Cocaine, for example, induces feelings of empowerment, confidence, high self-esteem and increased energy. People might chase these perceived emotional benefits for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Social: People use alcohol and drugs often as a way to fit in with a particular group or to feel more at ease in a social setting,
  • Stress: Substance abuse may be a means to escape problems or a way to reduce stress. The role of stress in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or relapse in recovering patients should be addressed and approached holistically.
  • Psychological triggers: People suffering from anxiety disorders, trauma, depression or other psychological illnesses may begin using alcohol and drugs to reduce or numb personal distress. Individuals with alcohol or drug dependence are nearly twice as likely to have a co-occurring psychological disorder.
  • Peer pressure: Some people, especially teenagers and adolescents, are vulnerable to group pressure or the rationale that “everyone is doing it.” 
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The Psychodynamic Approach to Addiction

The psychodynamic approach to addiction therapy looks at how past events, thoughts and circumstances shape a patient’s present behaviors. It is believed that these factors result in unconscious processes that cause a person to act in a particular manner.

For instance, a person who was abused in the past may exhibit behaviors that get in the way of healthy relationships, despite the individual’s expressed desire to form them. These unresolved conflicts and experiences might result in the need or desire to abuse alcohol or drugs.

The psychodynamic approach to addiction therapy is thought to be most effective as part of a comprehensive treatment program; it also may be more effective after a person has been sober for a period of time. Therapists who employ a psychodynamic approach to addiction treatment/therapy are specifically trained and possess significant knowledge of substance abuse, 12-Step programs and related topics. At Caron, we believe that the psychodynamic approach is a vital component of successful treatment.

For more information on the psychodynamic approach to addiction therapy, please view this comprehensive report.

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Addiction Interaction Disorder

Most addicts and alcoholics today face more than one addiction at the same time. These addictions not only coexist, they interact, reinforce, and fuse to become part of a package. This process is called Addiction Interaction Disorder (AID).

Addicted persons are likely to struggle with two or more of the following at any given time:

In addiction interaction disorder, addictions are separate and different, yet share similarities and consequences. The same emotions and stressors—including shame, trauma, denial and stress—fuel them. 

Addiction interaction disorder can become chronic and progressive if left unaddressed. While traditional substance abuse treatment programs have focused on a patient’s “drug of choice” (such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin or prescription painkillers), it’s important to focus on the unique set of addictions that defines an individual’s AID. Left undiagnosed and untreated, addiction interaction disorder can leave patients at high risk for chronic relapse.

Treating Addiction Interaction Disorder

Treating addiction interaction disorder can be difficult, as multiple addictions must be identified and assessed both as individual problems and as a pieces of the bigger picture. Clinicians must determine which addiction is the most severe or life-threatening while also attempting to break the overall cycle of addiction. Someone whose addiction interaction disorder involves cocaine and gambling, for example, should first be treated for the cocaine addiction. Once the patient has gone through detox and is abstaining from the drug, they are better equipped to confront the gambling addiction.

Patients suffering from addiction interaction disorder should be encouraged to undergo comprehensive multiple addiction treatment in order to acquire strong recovery habits and an understanding of how to best deal with issues such as anxiety or depression.

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Addiction Treatment

At Caron, we have the expertise, research and tools to help you or your loved one with a substance abuse problem. For patients in treatment, we first address the primary chemical dependency, including any withdrawal symptoms and co-occurring mental health conditions. Each patient’s individualized treatment and rehab plan consists of individual, group and family therapy along with cognitive and behavioral therapy to help a person recover and return to their life as quickly as possible, armed with addiction education and other tools to promote recovery after treatment.

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs differ greatly depending on the type of drug or drugs being abused; any existing conditions (other addictions, dependencies, or mental illnesses—collectively referred to as comorbidities); the severity and duration of the addiction; and any previous attempts to recover from the addiction.

Addiction treatment is most successful when it focuses on the multiple and individualized needs of the addict—not just the addiction. Any social, occupational, familial, legal or financial problems should be addressed concurrently with treatment for the addiction. Treatment should also take into account the addict’s age, gender, and culture. Finally, the treatment plan should be consistently monitored throughout the duration of treatment and altered whenever necessary to meet the addict’s changing needs. In short, substance addiction treatment must address all aspects of the addict’s life in order to be effective.

Since relapse is possible, most treatment plans are followed by a period of monitoring, during which the individual is tracked or supervised as they attempt to return to a productive level of functioning in their life. Effective treatment should also include a continuing care plan following primary or extended care treatment.

Treating addiction at every age

Though substance abuse and addiction affects millions every year, no two people experience addiction the same way. People suffer from substance abuse and addiction for a variety of reasons and usually face related challenges, such as life stressors, emotional burdens and psychological issues. Although the prospect of overcoming substance addiction may seem impossible, recovery is within reach for all addicted persons. To learn more about the characteristics, effects and treatment of substance abuse and addiction, please explore Caron’s treatment programs.

Treating addiction is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. To determine the best, most effective approach, the patient’s age, gender and circumstances must be taken into account. If you or a loved one are exploring care options, choosing age-appropriate treatment will improve outcomes and promote recovery. At Caron, we offer programs tailored to teens (ages 13 to 19), young adults (ages 18 to 25), adults and older adults.


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Relapse

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic disease and, as with other chronic diseases, there is a risk that a person who is in recovery may relapse. In fact, more than half of all people who undergo addiction treatment experience relapse, either briefly or on a long-term basis. Women are less likely to relapse than men, and patients who actively engage in aftercare following treatment are more likely to remain sober longer than those who do not.

Although relapse is common, it is predictable and largely preventable. If relapse does occur, it does not mean that the person has failed in his or her recovery. Relapse is part of a learning process that eventually leads to recovery.

Learning to recognize the stresses and triggers helps people in recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol avoid relapse. Triggers could include:

  • Being around others who are using
  • Being exposed to a situation that is particularly stressful, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss. Even hearing a song or meeting someone who reminds the individual of a time when they were using can trigger relapse.

Family members and friends should be aware of signs that a loved one may be heading toward relapse. Relapse signs include:

  • Decreased interest in attending support groups and meetings or “working the program”
  • Mood swings or periods of moodiness
  • Recurring withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or sleeplessness, which could tempt a person to self-medicate
  • Changes in behavior, such as increased defensiveness or impulsiveness
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Loss of routine or structure
  • Trouble making decisions or making unhealthy decisions
  • Withdrawal from people or activities that were helping in maintaining sobriety
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