What Is Addiction?
Millions of Americans suffer from untreated addictions. Many of these addicts also struggle with co-occurring psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, or ADHD. At the UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program, we recognize that addiction can make it difficult to recover from another condition - and vice versa. Therefore, we treat both addiction and its related comorbidities at the same time.
Understanding the effects that each of these conditions have on the patient is an important step toward recovery. Although the exact nature of an addiction varies by the substance (e.g., alcohol, stimulants, opiates, benzodiazepines, or other substances) or behavior involved, there are some concepts that are common to most addictions: dependence, withdrawal, tolerance, cravings, and impulsivity.
Chronic use of certain substances (or engagement in addictive behaviors) can lead to an altered physical and/or mental baseline state of the body. Thus, dependence on a substance occurs when a person's body begins to require the substance in order to continue functioning at the body's new "baseline." In other words, when the substance use stops, the body feels deprived of an expected and necessary component of its accustomed state, and responds by producing withdrawal symptoms. Addicts can be physically dependent (causing physical withdrawal symptoms like nausea or convulsions), psychologically dependent (causing psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression), or both.
A person is said to have developed a tolerance to a drug if increasingly higher doses are needed to achieve the desired effect. Both tolerance and dependence can occur in a normal medical (treatment) setting, meaning that the presence of either or both in and of themselves is not necessarily indicative of addiction. However, if the substance use has started to interfere with the person's daily life and responsibilities, the chances of an addiction are increased.
Cravings include both physical sensations and emotional longings for specific substances or behaviors. Although cravings may be uncomfortable, it is how a person responds to cravings that determines the extent of the problem. The UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program will equip recovering addicts with the most effective tools to resist cravings when they arise.
People who are impulsive tend to engage in behaviors without necessarily thinking about the potential consequences of those behaviors. Impulsivity is often characterized by emotional or physical "gut" responses to environmental stimuli (including cravings and triggers) as opposed to objective, reasoned reactions that consider a much larger context than simply the present moment. Because addiction makes it difficult for addicts to consider the future, addiction is often marked by impulsivity. Whether impulsivity develops because of addiction or impulsive individuals have a greater propensity to become addicts (and if addiction can exacerbate pre-existing impulsivity) is being studied.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms in your life, we encourage you to make an appointment at the Clinic today.