Addiction is a progressive disease. Like cancer and diabetes, addiction will get worse when left untreated.
We hear stories of a young person, who was a straight-A student in school, who played a sport or two, had a good group of friends, and was headed down the path of a bright future, but took a wrong turn and ended up living the life of an addict or alcoholic.
The progressive aspect of the disease of addiction can take that young person, or someone of any age, from casual substance use to abuse and then to addiction in the blink of an eye.
Recently research has been done to find out more about how this progression works, and what trends or warning signs we can look for to prevent people from the quick path to addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism and The National Institute on Drug Abuse sponsored the studies, and the results are published in the June issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study was lead by Dr. Wilson M. Compton, director of the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse located in Bethesda, Maryland.
The research found that the progression to addiction and alcoholism is not linear, meaning someone can go from drinking socially to then not drinking at all, to then drinking every day. There is not a timeline that says Person A drank one drink each day for a month, then progressed to two drinks each day for a month, then to three, and four, and so on until Person A was eventually drinking too many drinks every day for a certain number of months, and that equals alcoholism.
The path is not that simple, or traceable.
Person B might be prescribed a painkiller after an accident or after surgery. He or she may take the pills as prescribed while the pain is very real. The pain may then subside, Person B stops taking the painkiller, but later finds the pills during a tough time in his or her life. Maybe at that point, Person B takes a few pills at a time, maintains that level of use, but emotional pain leads to more pills one day, and then a desire for more and more.
Predicting Addiction Is Not Possible
The road to addiction is not necessarily predictable, the study teaches us. Instead, nonuse, recreational use, and problem use (the categories used to gauge substance use) can come and go at different times in the same individual’s life.
Dr. Compton’s take on it is, “I was surprised by the number of transitions. There was an awful lot of movement in these 3 different groups. I thought there wouldn’t be as much.”
This means that anyone can make choices that lead to problem use at basically any time in life.
Dr. Compton believes, “I think the findings speak to the importance of early intervention, particularly in routine medical and emergency care settings.””
There are methods and strategies we can use to prevent nonuse from ever getting to the point of problem use and ways to treat problem use so that the individual can return to nonuse.
Good news, right?