Understanding Addiction as a Disease

Understanding Addiction as a Disease

Most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, define addiction as a disease. Just like cancer or diabetes, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that someone will develop addiction.

Substance Abuse and the Brain

We feel pleasure when basic needs such as hunger and thirst are satisfied. This is due to the release of dopamine in the brain, which is the chemical associated with rewards. Most addictive substances cause the brain to release high levels of dopamine. The continued release of dopamine over time causes changes in our brain systems. When these changes occur, a person may need to take the substance just to feel normal. These changes in the brain can remain for a long time, even after one stops using substances. Researchers believe that these changes may leave people with addiction vulnerable to physical and environmental cues that they associate with substance use, also known as triggers, which can increase their risk of relapse.

Addiction – A Chronic Disease

What is a chronic disease? It is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but can’t be cured. Approximately 25-50% of people who have a substance abuse problem also appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. For such people, addiction is a progressive, relapsing disease that requires intensive treatments and continuing aftercare to manage their recovery. However there is good news. Even the most severe, chronic form of the disorder can be manageable and reversible, usually with long term treatment and continued monitoring and support for recovery.

When someone decides to start using substances, they are making a choice. Later, when their brain has been changed due to addiction, their decision making becomes impaired. The very essence of addiction is that the person has no control over their substance use. This is why it is said that people with addiction should not be blamed for being addicted.

However, there is another school of thought that says addiction is not a disease, and that it cannot be a disease, because it is caused by a person’s choice to use drugs. It is important to understand that while the initial use might be by choice, subsequent uses may not be since the brain has been changed by addiction.

Others argue against addiction being a disease because some people with addiction can get better without treatment. Only those who have a mild substance use disorder are able to recover with little or no treatment, but not usually those who have a serious form of addiction. The fact is, we don’t really understand why some people can quit an addiction without treatment and why others can’t. This is why treatment is always recommended for people who suffer from addiction and should be sought by families concerned for their addicted loved one’s well being and long term sobriety.

Serenity Oaks Wellness is a 5-week long treatment program where clients regain their ability to live and restore their confidence in living without drugs and alcohol. We seek to adorn each client with the tools and foundation they need for living a beautiful life of recovery. Call us today for information: 855.652.2683

What Is The Best Balance Of Nutrition For Recovery?

6 Healing Foods That Help in Recovery

A good diet is absolutely foundational for mental health as well physical health. In reality, there is no distinction between mental and physical health. Anything you can do to make yourself healthier will almost certainly make you feel better and think better too.

Trying to figure out what is actually the healthiest way to eat can be maddening. Everyone is pushing his own miracle diet–vegan, paleo, high fat/low carb, low fat/high carb. They all claim the same benefits and put forth testimonials of people who who have lost 40 pounds or cured some chronic disease.

The basic principles of healthy eating are pretty simple. As food writer Michael Pollan said, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Most of what grocery stores sell is not actually food, although much of it is technically edible. “Food” means anything a great-grandparent would recognize as food. Real food has much less sugar and salt than processed packaged food. Foods high in sugar and salt–pizza and ice cream, for example–are great while you’re eating them but they make you feel terrible later. Avoiding foods that sabotage you is half the battle.

The caveat to real food is to be careful how much fruit you eat. Fruit is bred to be sweet and tends to have a lot of sugar. If you like fruit, go for berries. They have less sugar than other fruit and they are high in nutrients, including antioxidants. It’s best to avoid juice.

Don’t eat too much. This is easier when you eat real food because real food tends to have more protein and fiber, which fill you up, and less salt and sugar, which make you eat more. This helps you maintain a healthy weight, which makes you feel better and feel better about yourself.

Eating mostly plants is where most of the positive benefits come from. Limiting salt and sugar can help prevent poor concentration and energy crashes, but eating nutrient-dense plants supports long term health. Your body needs a huge variety of molecules to function properly. It can make many of them but some you have to supply. For example, your body isn’t great at making omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health, so you have to eat fish or take a supplement to get enough.

Eating a variety of plant foods and a moderate amount of meat–probably less than you eat now–is the best way to be sure your body and brain are getting what they need to function properly. Leafy greens, such as kale, collard greens, spinach, and mustard greens are easy to prepare and nutrient dense. Eat at least one serving of vegetables with every meal.

Whole grains, although much vilified in certain circles, are important because they provide the fuel your brain uses. Choose brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat over white rice or refined flour, which can crash your energy. A variety of nuts, beans, and lentils provide fiber and additional nutrients.

Serenity Oaks Wellness seeks to adorn each client with the tools and foundation they need to live a beautiful life of recovery. Call us today for information on our treatment programs for addiction and alcoholism: 855.652.2683

How the Brain’s Dopamine Reward System Affects Addiction

Are Bath Salts Addictive?

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), drugs and chemicals affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons send, receive and process information. Certain drugs like heroin and marijuana can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of natural neurotransmitters, which fools the brain receptors and lets the drugs attach onto and activate the neurons. Recent developments in neurobiology have given a better insight into what addiction actually is. By studying the brain’s reaction to different substances, scientists have been able to discover that drug abuse can actually alter the chemical makeup of the brain, which is what causes addiction.

The Brain’s Reward System

When a person does something pleasurable, the brain processes any such activity in the same way, whether it is pleasure received through a delicious meal or a sexual encounter. In each case the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is also known as the brain’s reward center. Essentially, the reward system of the brain ensures that we as humans keep doing life sustaining activities like eating food and drinking water. However, the system goes into overdrive when people use drugs or alcohol.

Drug Abuse and the Reward System

A person using drugs will experience a massive surge of dopamine in the brain, much more than he would experience during a meal or similar mundane activity. This is because the amount of dopamine released due to drug use is between two and ten times higher than natural rewards, and the sensation lasts longer.  Furthermore, the dopamine is released faster. So what causes a drug to be addictive? There are three main contributing factors:


  • The speed with which it promotes dopamine release.
  • The intensity or strength of the dopamine release.
  • The reliability of the dopamine release.


This is why the most addictive drugs of abuse are often smoked or injected, since that causes the drug to get to the brain much quicker. And because the feeling of pleasure is so much greater than that of natural rewards, the brain begins to want more and more of it to produce the same feeling.

Of course, for a person to become addicted to a harmful substance, he must take the substance to begin with. However, many people are able to experiment with drugs without getting addicted. The question is, what makes some people get addicted? Science says that addiction is caused partly by genetics and partly by environment. Some people have a less active reward center, which makes them depressed even before they start taking drugs. In other cases, mental illness might play a role. Whatever the reason, it is important to know that once the brain’s reward system has been affected by drug abuse, it becomes incredibly difficult to stop.


Serenity Oaks Wellness is a 5-week long treatment program where clients regain their ability to live and restore their confidence in living without drugs and alcohol. We seek to adorn each client with the tools and foundation they need for living a beautiful life of recovery. Call us today for information: 855.652.2683

How Good For You is Coffee?

How Good For You is Coffee?

The short answer is “all of the good.” It’s high in antioxidants, it keeps you awake and focused, and it’s delicious. Teddy Roosevelt drank his coffee from a cup that was really more of a bowl, and he ran the country while learning jiu-jitsu and reading a book a day.

There are some caveats. The first is that you have to drink real coffee. Don’t fool yourself that a milkshake with a splash of coffee from Starbucks is good for you. A bit of sugar or cream is fine if you don’t get carried away. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that sugar doesn’t count when it’s in coffee. You’re drinking calories.

Mass produced coffee in tubs is not nearly as good for you as single source beans you grind yourself. Like any other food, the more coffee is processed and the longer it sits on the shelf, the less healthy–and tasty–it gets. Decaffeinated coffee is the worst because it has been chemically treated to remove most of the caffeine. It affects the taste and introduces extra chemicals, which is generally bad.

There may be factors specific to your situation that influence how much coffee you want to drink or if you want to drink coffee at all. If you’re prone to anxiety, for example, coffee can make you extra jittery. If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to drink less coffee or set a firm cut-off time, like no coffee after noon.

If you have occasional heart palpitations or arrhythmias coffee may make them worse. This is a particular concern if you have a history of smoking, alcoholism, or stimulant use, which may have caused heart damage. Even if you are generally in good health, arrhythmias are distressing. Cutting back on coffee may help resolve the problem.

Something else to consider is opportunity cost. If you’re drinking coffee, that means you’re not drinking something else. If your top priority is health, you may prefer to drink tea, which is higher in antioxidants but lower in caffeine. Coffee isn’t quite as good for you as tea, but it will keep you awake during meetings and help stave off the uncomfortable cravings that can come with early recovery.

Serenity Oaks Wellness is a 5-week long treatment program where clients regain their ability to live and restore their confidence in living without drugs and alcohol. We seek to adorn each client with the tools and foundation they need for living a beautiful life of recovery. Call us today for information: 855.652.2683