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Understanding Addiction Use Disorder

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Understanding Addiction Use Disorder

Addiction Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder are terms that describe an individual with a chronic disease, characterized by the compulsive need to seek out and abuse a substance like drugs or alcohol.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA) has information you can use to help understand addiction use disorder. In reality, addiction use disorder is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from addiction use disorder and lead productive lives.

What is addiction use disorder?

Addiction use disorder is a chronic disease characterized by the compulsive need to seek out and use drugs or alcohol. These urges can be difficult to control, despite the harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why addiction use disorder is considered a "relapsing" disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

It's common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn't mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

Most drugs affect the brain's "reward circuit," causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.

As a person continues to use drugs, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug to try and achieve the same high. These brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities.

Can addiction use disorder be cured or prevented?

As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for addiction use disorder generally isn’t a cure. However, addiction use disorder is treatable and can be successfully managed. People who are recovering from an addiction use disorder will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction use disorder treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug use patterns and any co-occurring medical, mental, and social problems can lead to continued recovery.

Campbell County Health Behavioral Health Services provides Northeast Wyoming with compassionate, confidential and comprehensive treatment and counseling of behavioral disorders, mental illness and substance use treatment following detox.

Contact Behavioral Health Services at CCH by calling 307-688-5000.

Talk to a professional 24/7 at 307-688-5555, or call or text 988, the National Crisis and Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 6 June 2018,

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