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Addiction is a disease

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ACCORDING TO THE American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic disease that changes the reward, motivation, and memory centers of the brain. This disease can cause people to persistently seek pleasure from a substance or behavior, regardless of the consequences for themselves or others.

“Addiction can affect four major areas of a person’s life,” says Pam Kraus, MA, LPC, SAC, psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital’s L.E. Phillips– Libertas Treatment Center. “It can influence a person’s social and spiritual lives as well as their biology and psychology.”

HIJACKING THE BRAIN

Although drug abuse or gambling generally comes to mind when we think of addiction, people can become addicted to virtually anything. 

“The brain’s reward system is part of our survival instinct,” Kraus says. “For example, we derive pleasure from eating food so that we don’t starve. Because of this reward system, everyone holds some risk of developing addiction.”

When the reward center of the brain responds positively to an experience, it’s natural for us to seek that experience again. However, when that desire takes priority over other important responsibilities or causes harm, it means that addiction has hijacked the reward center of the brain. Even an action that is vital for survival, such as eating, can become harmful if we develop an addiction to it.

NATURE OR NURTURE?

Both family history and a person’s circumstances can contribute to the development of addiction.

“Research shows genetics are responsible for about half of a person’s likelihood of developing addiction,” Kraus says. “The rest of it can be determined by cultural norms, parenting, early life experiences, trauma, poor stress management, or underlying mental health issues.”

While some people are more prone to developing addiction due to these factors, proper treatment and support can help them overcome the disease. Physical and behavioral health professionals can prescribe therapy or medication to help with cravings. Support groups, family, and friends can offer love and encouragement. Where there is help, there is hope.

If you or a loved one is showing signs of addiction, visit libertascenter.org or call 715.723.5585.

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