What Is Addiction, Really?

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Ted Crawford, Clinical Therapist

“Addiction” is a term that gets thrown around all the time but few really know what it actually is. Let’s see if we can gain some clarity on the topic. We have special chemicals that naturally flow in our brain as we feel pleasure, like my wife’s brain on an hour’s dose of CSI. Theoretically, anything that gets these “feel good” juices flowing can be abused or develop into an addiction, especially those that tend to give us the more powerful boosts: alcohol/drugs, sex, eating, gambling, shopping, the internet, chasing power/money, etc.

Physiologically, addiction is a brain disorder. A pebble-sized structure in the midbrain called the amygdyla controls our survival response. Think of it as your “Emergency Management Director.” When a crisis activates it, it nudges logic/reasoning over a bit and takes the wheel, which is preferable when you need to act quickly and don’t have time to think about whether or not insurance covers the toe you just removed w/ the mower. It has its flaws, however. After a period of over-indulging in a chosen chemical or activity, the amygdyla becomes accustomed to the pleasure associated w/ it and begins to see the absence of it as an emergency. The rational brain knows there’s no real emergency, but remember, it doesn’t have much say-so right now. So the compulsion to “survive” takes priority and the person does whatever’s necessary in order to use, often at a great cost. So, who becomes an addict? Best indications are: anyone w/ the genetics for it that over-indulges over a period of time…just like diabetes is likely to onset in a genetically predisposed person w/ a sedentary lifestyle and a junk-food diet.

Let’s define some terms: Abuse is any use that results in negative consequences (difficulties w/ relationships, work, health, the law, etc). Addiction is a progressive illness that inhibits a person’s ability to moderate or quit even in the face of ongoing negative consequences (w/o special intervention and support, that is). Addicts haven’t cornered the market on creating chaos, however. Abusers can also make bad decisions, but w/o those nasty genes, abusers generally have the ability to moderate or quit altogether when they’ve had a snoot-full of their own behavior.

The fact that some people can safely partake in certain pleasures and others can’t seems unfair, but it’s also unfair that a diabetic has to watch others enjoy the brownies. Seeing addiction for what it is allows people to drop their ideas that it’s about weakness or immorality. It’s a disease resulting in self-destructive behaviors that can often be labeled immoral, but a disease nonetheless. Of course, anyone w/ any illness ultimately has the responsibility to do what they can (seeking help if necessary) to get it under control. Responsibility for an addict’s recovery is no different. The initial choice to get help must be theirs…for themselves as well as the people around them.

Ted Crawford is a Clinical Therapist for FGH’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides counseling for hospital employees and their families. He is licensed in Marriage and Family Therapy and works with clients on a wide range of issues including depression, anger, anxiety and trauma. Ted also facilitates the local Domestic Violence Intervention Program for men with anger and control issues.

Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is an extension of Forrest General Hospital, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs focus on treating gender specific chemical addiction including a specialized track for co-occurring eating disorders. Additionally, Pine Grove offers a focused substance abuse healing program for adults age 55 and over. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual and intimacy disorder issues. Pine Grove was established in 1984 and has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for over 30 years.

Visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.

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