Addiction

Addiction Hub

What Is Addiction? 

By Jen Bruce

 

Defining A Painful Experience 

Addiction is a complex chronic health condition, or progressive disease, which affects the body, mind, and spirit of millions of people worldwide. Addiction originates in the brain and is associated with low dopamine––a brain chemical or neurotransmitter responsible for giving humans focus, motivation, energy, and a sense of reward. Genetics, influenced by stress, seems to be the root cause of this complicated and potentially fatal condition. 

Addiction stems from an attempt to temporarily alleviate physical, mental, and/or emotional pain, despite the fact that it brings serious negative consequences to a person’s life. Then, when the person attempts to quit the addictive substance or behavior, they’re unable to do so for any length of time. Withdrawal symptoms arise when the substance or behavior is abruptly discontinued. Addiction typically gets worse over time and is generally characterized by periods of escalation and remission. 

People can become addicted to legal substances like prescription drugs, alcohol, sugar, tobacco, or food, or people can become addicted to illegal substances like heroin or cocaine. People can also become addicted to behaviors like extreme exercise, sex, shopping, gambling, online gaming, relationships, social media, rage, or even to mindsets like victimhood or negativity. 

Addiction falls on a spectrum, and where a person is on this spectrum depends on a number of factors such as the type of addiction, the length of time a person is addicted, genetics, personal life experience, and health history. Addiction severity ranges from a subtle force that keeps a person from living their best life to full-blown destruction that ruins a person’s entire reality. All too often, it can end in insanity, death, and institutionalization. Or it can end in recovery. 

 

HOW DOES ADDICTION SHOW UP IN ONE’S LIFE? 

Addictions begin as a solution to a problem, usually rooted in deep emotional pain often originating from childhood. People’s early experiences with drugs, alcohol, or addictive behaviors generally bring a sense of relief in the beginning. Of course, no one wants or chooses to become addicted but seeks to escape pain with little or no awareness or regard for the possible consequences. 

Addiction usually happens in stages. The early stages are usually mostly “fun” with some minor to moderate consequences; the middle stages are typically where one starts to recognize that there are some problems, but they are still having some fun; the later stages are often filled with problems, with the severity of consequences rapidly escalating.  

Addiction can be sneaky and hard to identify in its earlier stages, especially in Western consumerism-based cultures that encourage all forms of distraction such as heavy drinking, prescription pills for nearly everything, and general over-consumption of anything we can get our hands on.

To determine if you or someone you know may be addicted, you only need to consider the following three questions: After you take a drink or a drug, do you have control over how much you use or drink? Or, if it’s a behavior, do you have control over how much you engage in it, with whom you engage, where you engage, and how much time and money you spend? After you take a drink or a drug, do you have control over how much you use or drink? Or, if it’s a behavior, do you have control over how much you engage in it, with whom you engage, where you engage, and how much time and money you spend?

  1. After you take a drink or a drug, do you have control over how much you use or drink? Or, if it’s a behavior, do you have control over how much you engage in it, with whom you engage, where you engage, and how much time and money you spend?
  2. When you honestly want to quit the substance or behavior, can you do so without starting again?
  3. Are you adjusting your behavior to reach your goals (normal), or are you adjusting your goals to meet your behavior (addiction)?

One of the earliest warning signs of addiction is that substances or behaviors help a person with something. For people who aren’t at risk for addiction, although they may enjoy a drink, an evening of gambling, a scoop of ice cream, or even a recreational drug, they ultimately can take it or leave it because it isn’t helping them to feel better from a state of inner suffering. 

One of the earliest warning signs of addiction is that substances or behaviors help a person with something. For people who aren’t at risk for addiction, although they may enjoy a drink, an evening of gambling, a scoop of ice cream, or even a recreational drug, they ultimately can take it or leave it because it isn’t helping them to feel better from a state of inner suffering.

People without a tendency for addiction will choose to participate in potentially addictive activities because they enjoy them and never experience consequences as a result of engaging in them. People with a tendency towards addictive behavior will be compelled to do things that are potentially addictive to find relief regardless of the consequences that usually arise as a result.

Once a person discovers they can find relief in substance use or behaviors, the individual will become increasingly reliant on their chosen “solution” until they can’t function without it. This is how dependency is often formed, and it is usually not noticeable until it has become a major problem.

Because addiction is a progressive condition that gets worse over time, there is very little relief left for the addicted individual by the later stages of addiction. This is the end stage that we are all more familiar with. For example, it’s when a loved one we know had to go to rehab after an arrest or the neighbor who lost his business and whose family left him after an overdose. It’s a celebrity who is all over the news for poor behavior. It might be the homeless person on the street with a cardboard sign that’s asking for money. This is the misconception of what addiction looks like because it’s the most visible part. In reality, these people had years or decades of addiction before it got to the point of wreckage that the world takes notice of. 


IF YOU THINK YOU’RE ALONE, THINK AGAIN 

Addiction has been a major concern for human beings throughout history. In today’s world, addiction’s at epidemic levels and continues to affect larger and larger numbers of people. 

The following statistical highlights are according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS):

  • Between 1999 and 2017, there have been 700,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. 
  • If alcohol and tobacco are included, 165 million Americans aged 12 years or older currently use drugs. 
  • 14.8 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder. 
  • 8.1 million people in the U.S. have an illegal drug use disorder. 
  • Of those with a drug use disorder, 2 million also have an opiate disorder (this includes prescription pain relievers and heroin). 
  • In 2018, 5.7 million people in the U.S. reported misuse of prescription tranquilizers, such as Xanax, Klonopin, and valium. 
  • Most common substance use disorders are prescription pain relievers. 
  • Alcohol, although legal, kills over 95,150 Americans every year. Among the 15 million Americans with alcohol use disorder, only 8% receive treatment. 
  • 80% of veterans have an alcohol use disorder, and 7% have an alcohol and drug use disorder. 
  • Prescription drugs are the most abused substances by veterans. 
  • According to the CDC’s National Diabetes Report, in 2020, 34.2 million Americans (that’s just over 1 in 10) have diabetes, and 88 Americans have pre-diabetes. This is a direct result of sugar and refined carbohydrate addiction and is one of the leading health problems in the U.S. 

 

PHYSIOLOGY OF ADDICTION: 

The brain plays a central role in addiction. Addictive behavior is primarily a response to low dopamine. Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter in the body, responsible for giving us energy, focus, and a sense of reward. When dopamine is low, the deficient brain creates cravings for substances like drugs, alcohol, carbohydrates, or risk-taking behaviors that can temporarily elevate dopamine levels and give the energy and sense of reward every human being needs to function. 

The tendency to become dopamine deficient is often genetic, which is why we see addiction, as well as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, violence, and other symptoms that are also associated with low dopamine commonly running in families. Dopamine is built from the nutrient tyrosine, which is found in protein-rich foods. Therefore, poor diet and/or nutrient absorption and stress are the biggest influences on the genes associated with low dopamine.  

Stress exposure can begin in utero and can happen anytime throughout one’s life from perceived or real stressful or traumatic life experiences, prolonged demands on the immune system such as infection, exposure to toxins, allergies, sensitivities, and other chronic health conditions, poor diet, poor sleep, or lack of self-care. Exposure to dopamine stimulating substances such as drugs and alcohol in utero or after birth, as well as dopamine elevating behaviors such as gambling, can trigger dopamine deficiency in those who are genetically susceptible. Gastric bypass surgery increases the risk for alcohol addiction in people who previously had no issue with alcohol. 

We know today that genetics aren’t necessarily our destiny, but they are certainly our tendency when under stress, which is why there’s such a significant correlation between trauma and addiction. Our life 

experience, which is largely dependent on our mind’s perception of our life’s events, literally influences our genetic expression and, therefore, our life experience.

 

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ADDICTION 

Depending on what type of addiction, which stages an addiction is in, and what kinds of resources a person has access to, there are many ways to heal from this disorder. Because addiction is complex and affects the whole being at the levels of body, mind, and spirit, as well as relationally, it’s best to incorporate a combination of healing modalities that address all four of these aspects of one’s health and wellbeing. 

Before we go on to discuss different treatment approaches for addiction, it’s important to understand that there’s a prerequisite for any of these approaches to work: The person seeking treatment must have a desire to recover. 

Recovery is difficult at the beginning, and it takes hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and a willingness to do anything needed in order to get well. To the degree this attitude is in place is, typically, the level of return one will see from any of the following options for healing. 

  • Traditional medical detox: Detox is where a person checks into a facility specializing in addiction medicine and only addresses the physical detox. You can expect to stay anywhere from 48 hours to 7 days, depending on the substance, severity of the addiction, and level of withdrawal symptoms. One may choose to use this when withdrawing from late-stage alcohol or benzodiazepine addiction because withdrawing from either can be fatal in severe cases if unsupervised by a doctor. One may also choose to go this route when withdrawing from opiates because the withdrawal symptoms can be excruciating and extremely difficult, although not fatal. Someone may also choose to go this route when withdrawing from other narcotics or prescription medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and do so in a safe and controlled environment. Another benefit of going to a medical detox center is that insurance often covers this kind of care.

The downside of medical detox is that many of the medications they use to detox, such as suboxone and naltrexone, are highly addictive, have many adverse side effects, and are almost impossible to get off of. Many people find themselves hooked for life and at a higher risk for relapse due to the fact that these, as well as other medications that are used (e.g., antidepressants and sleeping meds), are mind-altering and interfere with the brain’s ability to heal from the addictive state of dopamine imbalance. Many people who had been prescribed these medications during the detox phase of recovery, although perhaps life-saving at the time, later come to regret the decision because they become dependent on them, and the side effects can cause problems for many years and even decades later. 

  • NAD/Nutrient-based Detox: This is an extremely effective method of detoxing people from drugs, alcohol, and prescription medication addiction. It is very effective at treating the depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms that often come with addiction and lead to relapse. (NAD) is a powerful nutrient that effectively detoxes people without the risk of dependency and has no adverse side effects. Possibly the most effective version of NAD nutrient therapy for detox, addiction, PTSD, and depression is a new proprietary therapy that includes ketamine and was developed by Dr. Liang at the Klarity Clinic in Las Vegas, NV.

You must contact this clinic to locate the few places in the U.S. where it’s being offered due to the fact it’s so new and that it isn’t the same as other NAD or ketamine therapies being offered anywhere else. The downside of this therapy is that it is very rarely covered by insurance and can be expensive. Also, because it’s not yet widely used, you will probably have to travel to receive this therapy. However, it’s an excellent route to go if you need a medical detox if you can access this.  

  • Ibogaine Detox: Ibogaine is a concentrated derivative from the bark of the iboga plant, a psychedelic botanical medicine traditionally used by the Bwiti people of Gabon, Africa. It is one of the most powerful addiction interrupters on the planet, breaking people free from opiate and other addictions without withdrawals generally in less than 24 hours. Ibogaine is a white powder ingested in capsule form, and the person receiving the medicine will usually be under its influence for 18–72 hours while it does its detoxification work on the body, mind, and spirit. Not only does ibogaine have the potential to reset a person to a healthy, pre-addictive state in 18–72 hours, but it can also heal PTSD, trauma, viral infections, parasites, and a host of other chronic health conditions that are generally considered difficult or impossible to treat by conventional medicine.


The downsides to an ibogaine detox are that it’s currently illegal in the U.S. and other countries, so you must be willing and able to travel to countries where it’s legal, like Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, the Bahamas, or New Zealand, to name a few. There’s a small risk of fatality if misused, so finding a good provider is essential to avoid this possibility. Insurance doesn’t cover ibogaine therapy, so it can be expensive. Although most often quite effective, it doesn’t work for everyone for reasons yet unknown, so there is a slight chance you may not get the healing results that you seek. It’s also a powerful psychedelic, so it’s important to keep in mind that the experience may be challenging and require hard work, which isn’t for everyone.  

  • Inpatient Rehab: Rehab is different from detox, but many rehabs have a detox unit on site. The majority of rehabs are 12 Step-based, but some aren’t. Each rehabilitation center has a different approach and typically offers 30, 60, and 90-day programs. Insurance often covers rehab, which makes this option more accessible, especially since rehab can be expensive. When choosing a rehab, you’ll ideally want to find one with a holistic approach that recognizes the importance of proper nutrition, the role of trauma in addiction, and that offers mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation.


Be wary of centers that rely heavily on medications, as this doesn’t heal the root cause of addiction and can lead to a host of adverse side effects down the line. People can benefit from rehab by getting a break from their home and work life while accessing the intensive care many people need in early recovery. Still, it isn’t a cure, and people have to continue to keep working on their recovery after they return home from rehab if they want long-term recovery. 

  • Out-Patient Rehab: Out-patient rehab can be helpful for those who don’t need or can’t access in-patient treatment but still need professional support. This will generally include three meetings per week at a treatment center with one-on-one sessions as well. Out-patient rehab is also suitable for those who have completed an in-patient program as a way to solidify their recovery after going home.
  • Recovery Communities: At a foundational level, most people who find successful long-term recovery from addiction utilize some form of a recovery community. This can include principle-based guidelines for living a recovered life in the form of a step-by-step program designed to be worked through as a way to transform one’s mind and lifestyle away from addiction-based and toward recovery-based. Usually, part of the structure includes a guide or teacher to bring community members through the guidelines or steps of recovery. The community consists of people recovering from addiction who share support, accountability, and guidance. The most well-known recovery program is 12 Step recovery, which holds millions of meetings worldwide and online for every known addiction to substances and behaviors. 


There is Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.), Over Eaters Anonymous (O.A.), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and there are even fellowships for the loved ones of addicted people such as ALANON as well as many other groups for specific addictions. If the 12 Step path isn’t a good fit, that’s okay, because there are other recovery communities such as the Buddhist-based Refuge Recovery and Dharma Recovery. If spirituality isn’t for you, that’s okay too because there are science-based recovery communities such as SMART recovery that hold meetings in person and online. She Recovers is a trauma-informed community for self-identified women that recognizes the need for a holistic approach to recovery from all addictions and other forms of suffering. Recovery communities are an effective and accessible strategy (because they are so widespread and primarily donation-based or free) to add to your recovery toolbox that millions of others find benefit from. 

  • Paid Memberships: There are also some really great online paid membership communities that are designed to be an adjunct to your recovery program or a stand-alone approach. Tommy Rosen is an excellent Kundalini yoga instructor who has applied the teachings of yoga to recovery and the 12 Steps in his paid membership platform Recovery 2.0. The Tempest Sobriety School is another online membership model and an example of the growing emergence of alternatives to 12 Step recovery.
  • Mindfulness Practices: Practices like meditation, yoga, and Tia Chi have been used for thousands of years to promote mental, physical, and spiritual health. These modalities are designed to create inner peace, harmony, and connection, which is highly therapeutic for people recovering from the state of stress, disconnection, and lack of awareness that is often inherent with addiction. There really is no downside to adopting these practices into your daily life.
  • Coaching: Coaching is a newly emerging resource for people seeking recovery from addiction. Coaching differs from licensed professional therapists because they do not diagnose or treat, but instead meet clients where they are and help them strategize and take action by holding them accountable to their goals and personal commitments. In addition, coaching differs from sponsorship because coaches can help a person with all aspects of their life and think outside the box as far as recovery goes. In contrast, a sponsor’s role is to focus strictly on the person’s addiction through the process of the 12 Steps. Also, because a coach is paid, there can be a higher level of expectation placed on them as a professional helper.
  • Talk Therapy: Therapy with a trained professional can help someone recovering from addiction address the underlying issues such as trauma, depression, anxiety, negative thought patterns, coping mechanisms, and stress responses that lead to and keep people stuck in addiction. It’s very important to address the underlying emotional and psychological factors associated with addiction to overcome the root causes of a person’s addiction. Although therapy can be beneficial, it’s unlikely that therapy alone will solve addiction.
  • Psychedelic Therapy: Psychedelic therapy is gaining traction as an effective tool to combat addiction, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Research is now showing that the therapeutic use of these medicines in a professional setting can have dramatic results in as little as one session. Ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine, and ayahuasca are some of the substances that, when used properly, are helping people to recover from many chronic conditions of the mind, especially when combined with other modalities like a recovery community.
  • Nutrition: As mentioned earlier, dopamine deficiency is strongly linked to addiction, cravings, and low moods. Dopamine is made from tyrosine, which is a nutrient found in protein-rich foods. Addiction can lead to poor diet and can severely damage the digestive system, leaving people malnourished. People recovering from addiction must address their nutritional needs, preferably with a nutrition professional that is addiction-informed. There is no downside to adding nutrition to a recovery program. Even if you are working with a small budget or food stamps, these funds can still be used to buy nutritious food.
  • Holistic Medicine: Chronic stress, poor self-care, and chronic exposure to toxins as a result of addiction can lead to a multitude of potential health problems that can manifest in chronic pain, low moods, anxiety, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and more, which can all lower quality of life and ultimately lead to relapse. Currently, Western medicine often doesn’t recognize or treat the underlying causes of most chronic health conditions, so it’s important to access a naturopathic or functional doctor, alternative medicine practitioner, clinical nutritionist, registered herbalist, or health coach to identify and treat the specific health problems that may have contributed to the development of an addiction, and that are almost always a result of addiction. Some of these health conditions are viral infections like Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), detoxification problems, autoimmunity, allergies, and sensitivities, mold and fungal infections, inflammation, gut infections, and more. The downside of adding this modality is that it is rarely covered by insurance, but investing in the reparation of bodily damage after addiction is important if you want to feel your best and always worth it, if possible.

Good Reads on Addiction: 

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, arming yourself with facts and different perspectives and approaches on the topic can make all the difference. Here are some great books and authors to explore: 

  • In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Gabor Maté, M.D., is an internationally recognized addiction expert specializing in the connection between trauma and addiction. He has free content available online and has authored many books.
  • Chasing The Scream. Johan Hari set out on an international investigation to see which approaches to addiction are working and which ones aren’t. This is a must-read on the topic of addiction that is sure to enlighten and positively change your perspective.
  • Recovery. Russell Brand is an actor, addiction activist, and educator. This book is a humorous and straightforward explanation of how the 12 Step process works, based on Brand’s own experience. He also has many talks about recovery available for free online.
  • Seven Weeks to Sobriety. Joan Mathews Larson, Ph.D., wrote this book about her findings on the nutritional approach to overcoming alcoholism after her son committed suicide after becoming sober through 12 Step recovery.
  • The Craving Cure. Julia Ross is a psychotherapist who has been using nutrient therapy for her addicted and depressed clients since 1980. This book is about her nutritional approach to addiction.
  • Recovery 2.0. Tommy Rosen is a recovered cocaine addict, a member of the 12 Step fellowship, and a yogi. This book is about applying yoga and other holistic approaches to your recovery to take your recovery to the next level. He also has free and paid content online with some of the leading experts in the world.

There are many more books and experts on addiction and recovery, but these are some good ones, to begin with. 

 

Taking the first step and getting help 

A “bottom” isn’t defined by when you lose everything. A bottom is when you decide you aren’t willing to allow things to get any worse, and you begin working towards recovery. As you can see, even homelessness or overdose isn’t a bottom for some. There is a myth that things have to get this bad for someone to qualify as being addicted or that a person needs to get to this point before they can or need to get help. The truth about addiction is that it can and does get this bad, but it doesn’t need to for it to seriously impact one’s quality of life or for someone to get help and overcome their addiction. There are years and even decades where addiction is not in its late stage, but when a person can still get help to overcome it before it causes irreparable damage and either ruins or takes lives.  

Addiction is a serious condition that almost always requires outside help. If you or a loved one think you may be suffering from an addiction, there is help, and there is hope! You only need to reach out and take the first step, which is asking for help. This can be done by calling a treatment center, attending a recovery meeting or event, or scheduling an appointment with a therapist, recovery coach, or doctor. If the desire to get well is there, there is always a way, no matter your current circumstances.