Addiction: Widely Discussed but Little Understood

Although remarkable scientific breakthroughs have taken place in recent years, addiction remains a complex illness that affects millions of people around the world. In the United States, it is estimated that one in 10 Americans struggle with abuse or dependence. The National Institute of Health estimates that the illness costs at least a half a trillion dollars every year due to lost productivity, health care expenses and crime.

Although neuroscientists, psychology researchers, pharmaceutical companies and others have pumped billions of dollars into research, much remains to be learned. People continue to wonder why it is so hard to stop using addictive substances, even in the face of determination and a strong desire to stop.

Advanced Scientific Methods

Although stigma and stereotypes continue, society is beginning to understand that addiction is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower. Thanks to advanced brain imaging and other scientific methods, scientists can actually pinpoint the areas of the brain affected by addiction. Thus, it is widely accepted that addiction is considered a chronic disease because of the ways it changes the fundamental structure and function of the brain.

Scientists know there is a powerful link between dopamine, a powerful brain chemical, and addiction. In simple terms, the brain uses dopamine as a positive reward and addictive substances or compulsive behaviors cause the brain to be flooded with the chemical, which explains the good feelings that result from use of drugs and alcohol. As a result, cravings are overwhelming and people become slaves to the substance.

Researchers also know that the complex phenomenon of addiction is different for each individual, and it isn’t fully understood why some people become addicted while others don’t. Addiction can be linked to factors ranging from genetics and personality type to self-esteem, personal experiences, abuse or trauma, lifestyle, nutrition, and even external circumstances and life stresses such as problems at work or school.

Research continues and scientists are working towards development of more treatments, including medication-based treatment.

An Element of Uncertainty Persists

Although scientific knowledge of addiction has provided tremendous insight into addiction, there is still a major disconnect between what we have learned about the illness and what should be done to help people who are suffering. Thus, even the finest drug and alcohol treatment centers and rehabs in the world continue to deal with a certain amount of trial and error.

This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that many addicts are in denial or tend to be dishonest about their substance abuse. Thus, treatment professionals may be unaware of factors that could contribute to successful treatment. This is why long-term treatment with a team of highly skilled professionals provides the best opportunity for successful recovery; the more one-to-one time that experienced therapists and doctors have with each client, the more likely the chances they will get it right for that person.

At Paracelsus, a very diverse team of experienced and dedicated professionals works with one client, one-to-one, many hours a day, to achieve exactly that: the best possible outcome.

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