Sadly, addictions are front-page news every day. No one is immune from either having an addiction or being affected by someone else's addiction. Addictions damage one's health, self-image, career, and relationships. Resulting financial, medical, and legal problems are common and serious. Historically, individuals with addictions were laughed at, ignored, or shunned. It was thought that addictions were due to a lack of self-discipline and/or to moral failure. Addictions have become too costly in many ways to be ignored anymore. Research has demonstrated that brain chemistry and functioning plus the body's physiological reactions to addictions make self-discipline extremely difficult. Although moral, healthy choices may help someone manage his addiction, they cannot change anyone's brain.
The pressures and inventions of modern life have contributed to the expansion of addictions. Technology has created a whole new venue for addictive disorders. Science has shown that even compulsive behaviors such as gambling, shopping, and Internet use can activate addictive responses in one's brain. “Designer drugs” have increased the selection of addictive substances, and they are more potent and dangerous than ever before. Social and peer pressure have drastically lowered the age at which addictions begin. Preteens and teenagers are the fastest-growing population to succumb to addictions. This age group is the least capable, biologically, of making rational and wise decisions regarding addictions. Families, teachers, and friends must rise to the occasion to help kids get through these growing-up years safely. Supervision, education, and good role-modeling will go a long way toward curbing the tide of addictions in our youth.
The good news is that more treatments for addiction exist now than ever before in history. The stigma once associated with receiving treatment is disappearing as friends, family, and employers realize the great cost of untreated addictions. It is now recognized that many individuals with addictions also have co-occurring mental health disorders. Of course, this complicates the whole picture of addictions. Individuals with a dual diagnosis need to be treated for both disorders simultaneously for recovery to be successful. There are a plethora of medications now available to treat both the addictions and the mental health disorders. This is very exciting — addicted individuals who have suffered for years are now finding relief and hope.
Support groups for both addicted individuals and families are in existence in almost every community. Whether these groups are twelve-step programs, faith-based programs, mental health support groups, or Internet groups, something is available to meet the needs of any addict. Support groups are wonderful, in that they have sprung up out of recognition of and respect for the power of addictions. It is a rare person who can successfully recover from an entrenched addiction on her own. There are more and more professionals available who have received specialized training in working with addicted persons and family members affected by addictions. This means that an addict will be treated with respect, empathy, and interventions more carefully designed to target her unique needs. Specialized treatment centers designed to treat addictions and dual disorders provide state-of-the-art inpatient and residential services. Although technology has created many problems in the area of addictions, it has also provided many helps. Unbelievable amounts of resources and educational material can be accessed through the Internet. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, an addict can access online support groups, hear encouraging messages on addiction topics, and interact with other addicts who are struggling in similar ways. There is every reason for an addict, her friends, and her family members to be hopeful. A celebration of recovery lies ahead!