Addiction is a chronic brain disease characterized by compulsive engagement in harmful activities or substances, despite negative consequences. Once an addictive behavior has been developed into a reinforced reward system in the brain, detoxing can be extremely difficult and have a wide range of side effects and symptoms.
Addiction causes changes in the brain’s wiring that creates intense cravings for whatever drug or substance is being abused. Studies have been done with brain imaging that has shown the parts of the brain having to do with judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control are all affected by addiction. Repeated use of drugs also builds up one’s tolerance, amplifying the symptoms of intoxication and making the reality of breaking the cycle of addiction much more difficult.
While there are numerous things that people can be addicted to, there are two main types of dependency that stem from addiction:
Addiction is most easily understood as a developed disease, however, there is strong research that supports the potential of multiple factors that contribute to addiction. One of these factors is mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports over 50 percent of drug addicts has one or more severe mental health disorders. This only complicates the process of trying to detox from addictive drugs and can make treatment much more difficult to implement.
There are two main philosophies regarding approaches to treatment. One is abstinence treatment, which is defined by complete cessation of substance use. While this model of addiction treatment has been around for centuries, it has proven to be too tricky sometimes for addicts who severely suffer from their chronic disease. Relapsing, too intense of a withdraw, and unwanted side effects of going cold turkey all serve to undermine the goal of reducing the substance intake. It has been shown that less than twenty percent of patients in abstinence treatment programs remain abstinent for even one full year. While the aim was to be drug-free, the process of getting there can require patience and moderation. Because of this, the second type of treatment, referred to as harm reduction, has come about in recent decades.
The concept behind this treatment approach is to reduce the amount of harm by lowering the amount of the substance that is being abused, and/or replace the substance with a less harmful alternative to safely wean off stronger/more dangerous substances. Studies with abstinence treatment versus harm reduction treatment in homeless addicts have shown that the harm reduction model instead of abstinence has been a powerful eye-opener to how you can help to facilitate change. By alleviating the physical and psychological pressures that come with abstinence treatment, addicts can reduce the amount of harm they are inflicting on themselves, thus making it easier to continue down a path of treatment and reducing the possibility of relapsing.
Another harm reduction treatment is needle distribution/recovery programs that distribute sterile needles and other harm reduction supplies, recover used needles and other supplies, and provide information and containers for their safe disposal. While this serves as an excellent tool for safer drug use, it does not serve to curtail a lot of the physical and psychological characteristics of the actual disease.
Furthermore, cannabis has been proven in addiction treatments as well as in medical treatments to successfully curb addictive behavior and reduce the side effects generally associated with going cold turkey. In contrast to opiates such as morphine or codeine, cannabis is not addictive and poses no withdrawal symptoms to addicts or patients.
Those with severe addictions can benefit from a safer detox regiment with cannabis because, unlike stronger substances, there is no known lethal dose. Use of cannabis for addiction treatment also reduces drug dependence in the long term, providing for a higher success rate for actually curing the disease, not just the symptoms. When treating addiction, it is important to remember that it is a disease with a complex array of causes and symptoms. Cannabis is being proven more and more to be the safest effective treatment to eliminate addiction while simultaneously alleviating symptoms and side effects associated with other forms of treatment.
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