Addiction is a nationwide problem in the United States. In 2012, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reported that an estimated 23.1 million Americans aged 12 and over needed treatment for substance abuse. That’s nearly one in 10 of the U.S. population. Many of these millions of Americans are just like you – struggling to stay afloat, scared and unsure of how (and who) to ask for help. You are not alone.

The Mayo Clinic plainly states, “The best way to prevent an addiction to an illegal drug is not to take the drug at all.” Well, that’s good to know, but many of us are past that point, and are already in the grips of addiction. When you’ve already tried and developed an addiction to a drug, what can you do next to prevent dependence, and keep it from getting worse?

Be Aware of Addiction’s Effects

You need to know the effects of the drug that you’re abusing – both physiological and psychological. You can learn about the risks of drug abuse by researching trusted sources online, or by talking to a medical doctor.

Many victims of addiction are aware only of the positive effects of trying a drug – a high, heightened sensory perception, reception, etc. Repeated drug use has harmful effects on your body and mind, some of which are permanent, or can affect you long after your last dose. Drug and alcohol use also raises the potential of occurrence of other diseases and conditions. Being aware of the effects of the drug that you abuse can be the first step in realizing that you need to quit.

Be Aware of How Addiction Works

Knowing what’s going on in your brain each time that you take a dose of your favorite drug helps you understand why addiction is so potent and why it has such a strong effect. Harvard Health states that the brain registers all pleasures in the same way, and when you take a drug, it causes feelings of pleasure in the brain. This occurs through the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which is released when you have a pleasurable encounter – getting a raise, accomplishing a goal, having a sexual encounter, etc.

The likelihood of addiction increases based on how quickly dopamine is released, how intense the release is, and how long it lasts. And, as you know, taking drugs in different ways (snorting vs. oral ingestion, smoking vs. intravenous injection) can significantly alter how dopamine affects you.

Dopamine also affects the way that you learn and remember things. When you’re rewarded for something, you have the impulse to do it again to achieve the same feeling of pleasure. When you repeat this action (taking a drug), your brain pairs it with the consequential reward, and you feel continually motivated to pursue the substance and be rewarded again and again. This is dangerous, because you can develop tolerance to the drug, and your brain structure can even change so that you become dependent on the drug to “feel normal”. Knowing these facts about addiction can help you understand what you’re physiologically experiencing, and why it’s dangerous.

Be Aware of Your Treatment Options

Overcoming an addiction and quitting a drug by yourself can be harmful and potentially dangerous. When addicts attempt to go “cold turkey” by themselves, it is seldom that they have lasting success, and oftentimes they relapse and return to taking the drug. Finding a recovery program at a treatment center that you trust will greatly increase your chances of recovering, as well as staying clean and sober post-treatment.

A treatment center will provide you with a plan tailored to your needs – to your addiction, to your personality, and to your personal interests. Treatment centers offer a variety of kinds of therapies, both traditional and holistic, that help you learn to live a healthy life and be happy with yourself. A good treatment program will help you realize that you don’t need to take drugs to feel good about yourself and the world around you.

When you go to treatment, you’ll be surrounded by others facing similar addiction challenges – a strong peer group that you can relate to. Throughout your time in treatment, these people will become your partners in accountability. You can take comfort in the fact that they are in the same place as you, and that they are feeling the same way that you are.

Be Aware that You CAN Overcome Addiction

Our culture widely stigmatizes addiction as a problem with will-power and self-discipline. But scientists have proved that it is, in fact, a powerful disease that can affect and hurt you, and your loved ones that are close by. It takes an immense amount of courage to overcome feelings of shame and insecurity that society has instilled in us about addiction, and admit that you have a problem.

You may need time to grapple with the fact that you need to tell someone you trust about your problem, or that you need to seek professional treatment to get your life back to where you were before you became addicted. What you need to know right now is that there is hope. You are not alone in your addiction, and help is within reach.

“Prevention of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness”, SAMHSA, 10/03/2014, http://www.samhsa.gov/prevention

“Understanding Addiction”, Harvard Health in collaboration with HelpGuide.org, 2011. http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

Ken Seeley, “5 Steps to Stop Drug Addiction Before it Starts”, Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/08/05/5-steps-to-stop-drug-addiction-before-it-starts/

Mayo Clinic Staff, “Drug Addiction”, MayoClinic.org, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/prevention/con-20020970

“Trends and Statistics”, National Institute on Drug Abuse. 1/2015. http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics

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