No alcoholic or drug user ever thought that occasional use would lead to addiction. Uncontrollable progression is never part of the plan. People generally overestimate their degree of self-control and underestimate their level of negative emotions.
The nature of the brain predisposes humans to addiction. Neuropathways physically form in the brain with each new experience. The more that experience is repeated, the more those neuropathways are reinforced. To conserve energy, the brain defaults to frequently used pathways rather than forming new ones, especially when their use is associated with pleasurable feelings. In this manner, the brain literally becomes hard-wired for addiction.
Fuel to the fire
Negative experiences begin to occur as addiction develops. Denial is typical at this stage. People rarely realize that they have an addiction until they attempt to quit but are unable to do so. By this time, the addiction is not only undeniable, but it also has taken over all semblances of self-control. Negative emotions become more persistent.
Negative emotions are like adding fuel to the fire of addiction. Anxiety, fear, anger, resentment and shame are not only underestimated, they can be fatal to people with substance use disorders. Yet, substance use itself causes these negative emotions, thus perpetuating the problem.
Substance use disorders are characterized by obsessive thoughts (of drinking or using) and repetitive behaviors (addiction). Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCDs) are also characterized by obsessive thoughts and repetitive actions. People with OCDs are at particular risk for substance use disorders.
OCD as a risk factor
OCDs are characterized by obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors and may manifest in a variety of ways, such as obsession with cleanliness and excessive hand-washing. Other forms of OCDs include body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling), hoarding and excoriation disorder (skin-picking). Although no longer considered to be an anxiety disorder in the diagnostic manual, those with OCD also suffer from a lot of anxiety and other negative emotions just as those with substance use disorders do.
While the mechanism of the relationship between OCD and substance use remains speculative, the illnesses share characteristic symptoms and behaviors as well as prevalent co-morbidity. A study examining patients with both disorders revealed that 70 percent of those with both disorders reported that their OCD symptoms began first. Those with OCD could avoid the development of a substance use disorder by abstaining from drugs and alcohol completely.
Prevention and treatment
Because addiction is not acknowledged until it is proven undeniable by an inability to stop drinking or using drugs, abstinence is the only way to prevent it for those with OCD or any risk factor (or no risk factor). Yet if addiction prevention were that simple, the U.S. wouldn’t have an epidemic of alcohol and drug use.
Treatment is available for both disorders, and can help reduce suffering and prevent disability, loss, accidents, and death. Unfortunately, those with either OCD, substance use or both tend to go to great lengths to conceal their illnesses, which only reinforces the unhealthy neuropathways and makes things even worse. Those who are able to make it into treatment usually break out of the downward cycle of negativity long enough to realize that there is a better way to live and that they can make it happen.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leader in the treatment of substance use, mental health disorders including OCD, and co-occurring conditions. Our beautiful Fort Meyers and Pompano Beach locations offer comprehensive neuropsychiatric assessment and individualized treatment by our team of experts. We also provide continuing care to support long-term recovery as well as ongoing access to educational and health resources, and other opportunities. To find out more about the specialized programs at Sovereign Health of Florida, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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