For decades, the popular perception of those addicted to drugs or plagued by alcoholism is that “those people” just don’t have the moral fiber or willpower to “clean up their act.”

But for anyone having trouble controlling their drinking or drug use, they know it’s the farthest thing from an “act.”

What is addiction?

The truth is, addiction to drugs or alcohol (itself a powerful drug) is rarely overcome simply by “making better choices.” Addiction is a complicated psychological, neurological, and physical interaction. It almost always requires far more than mere good intentions or determination to overcome. The addicted brain has been affected in complex ways that still challenge medical research and the efforts of professionals dedicated to helping victims of addiction.

While the decision to indulge in drugs or alcohol use may initially be voluntary, their ongoing use can pose serious challenges to one’s abilities of self-control or to compulsion resistance. The widespread and common phenomenon of “relapse” among former addicts demonstrates the lasting effects of prolonged drug and alcohol abuse, and points to the need for ongoing individualized treatment.

Recovery is not a short-term protocol, but demands consistent effort, adjustments, and modifications on the part of patients, therapists, and medical professionals.

How does the brain react?

The brain—Grand Central Station for all feelings and incoming neurological messages—responds to “good feelings” by producing a hormone called dopamine. Basically, it’s a “reward system,” and is responsible for the “high” enjoyed with a good meal, sexual activity, or the chemically-induced pleasures of alcohol or drug consumption.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling good. But when those feelings are the result of artificial overstimulation of our brain’s dopamine-pleasure circuits brought on by drugs or alcohol, excess dopamine can reduce the brain’s ability to respond to produce it on its own. The result is “tolerance” to stimulation, requiring ever greater amounts of dopamine to achieve any pleasurable “high.”

The cumulative long-term effect of this overstimulation holds serious negative consequences for many aspects of life, including: memory loss, behavioral change, reactions to stress, poor judgement, and inability to make rational decisions.

Addicts and alcoholics can be fully aware of the potentially devastating impact of these consequences and yet still continue their drug or alcohol use, which truly highlights the insidious nature of addiction itself.

Is there a cure?

Drug and alcohol addiction–like so many other chronic diseases—has not yet found a definitive cure.  But it is highly treatable and, in the right hands of medical professionals, eminently manageable. Anyone in recovery is always at risk for relapse, but today’s advanced treatment protocols provide the best opportunity for ongoing abstinence and healing.

Can addiction be prevented?

Current research points to the success of widespread educational programs in changing patterns of drinking and drug use. With a focus upon schools, cultural groups, and specific demographic profiles, healthcare providers have made great progress in reaching out to those most susceptible to the destructive patterns of drug and alcohol abuse.

What are the warning signs?

There are some specific “red flags” pointing to an individual’s susceptibility for addiction:

  • Family history of addiction is a major one, just as genetics play a part in the risk for heart disease or diabetes.
  • Increased tolerance; being able to “drink others under the table” or finding that one has to increase the dose of medication to get the same effect.
  • Difficulty in reducing or controlling alcohol consumption or drug use.
  • Changing activities, relationships, and interests due to alcohol or drug use.
  • Continued use of alcohol or drugs in the face of increasing medical problems, relationship difficulties, legal issues or employment challenges caused by drinking or drug abuse.

If any one of these “red flags” sounds familiar…it’s time to get help.

The professionals at Recovery Road Medical Center in Santa Barbara understand the challenges…and they’re ready to help you overcome them.

It all starts with a simple phone call to (805) 962-7800…