older adults and addiction

Dementia and Alcoholism: An Unsavory Combination

Alcohol is one of the most misused substances in the United States. According to the 2019 NSDUH, almost 15 million Americans over 12 struggle with alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, alcoholism leads to various health problems. But, can alcoholism cause dementia?

What is Dementia?

Individuals often confuse dementia and Alzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s is a common cause of dementia, dementia is a general term for memory loss and cognitive impairments caused by aging. 

Dementia is the result of abnormal brain changes. The disorders grouped under the term dementia trigger a decline in thinking skills. Dementia can severely impact a person’s independent function and daily life as well as behaviors, feelings, and relationships. 

How is Dementia and Alcoholism Linked?

Alcohol directly affects the brain’s functions. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder damages brain cells and interferes with using good judgment and decision making. 

Additionally, many alcoholics develop nutrition issues because of drinking and poor eating habits. All these factors contribute to developing alcohol-related dementia.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Dementia?

Common signs and symptoms of dementia and alcoholism include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks
  • Trouble processing new information
  • Depression and irritability
  • Poor judgment and loss of inhibition
  • Problems remembering words
  • Disorientation
  • Erratic behaviors
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor decision-making
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Damage to liver, pancreas, or stomach
  • Numbness in legs and arms
  • Slow, wide, stumbling gait
  • Poor temperature control
  • Sleep pattern disturbances

Memory Problems Due to Dementia and Alcoholism

Individuals with alcohol-related dementia generally have issues with their memory. For example, they may struggle to understand new information or details of a conversation. They may also have trouble recalling events such as where they went on vacation or where they lived before.

Dementia, Alcoholism, and Balance Issues

Alcohol-related dementia often causes balance issues even when individuals are sober. They may fall over because alcohol damages the part of the brain that controls coordination and balance. 

Can Alcoholism Cause Dementia Mood Swings?

Bith dementia and alcoholism can cause mood swings. People may struggle with apathy, irritability, and depression. Mood swings make it harder for a person to stop drinking and even harder for loved ones to help.

Who Can Develop Alcohol-Related Dementia?

Any person who drinks alcohol heavily over many years can develop alcohol-related dementia. It is unknown why some heavy drinkers develop dementia, and others don’t. It may be a difference in diet and other lifestyle factors. 

Typically, alcohol-related dementia affects men over 45 struggling with chronic alcoholism. However, women may also develop this disease since alcohol affects them more substantially than men. To reduce the risk of dementia and alcoholism, experts recommend drinking no more than two drinks per day.

Does Alcohol Speed Up Early-Onset Dementia?

According to Medical News Today, a study out of France found that alcohol use disorder is a major factor in all types of dementia. Researchers studied one million people discharged with alcohol-related brain damage between 2008 and 2013. 

Simultaneously, researchers also studied one million people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder during that time. Nearly 40 percent of early-onset dementia cases were attributed to alcohol-related brain damage. At the same time, 18 percent had other alcohol use disorders.  

Can Alcohol-Induced Dementia be Reversed?

Unfortunately, dementia is an irreversible disease. However, in some cases, alcohol-related dementia is reversible. Individuals who seek early treatment for dementia and alcoholism often see improvements. 

Since alcoholism can cause dementia, individuals have to be willing to help themselves to reverse the damage. Professional help is often needed when individuals struggle with dementia and alcoholism. 

Can Alcohol Permanently Damage your Brain?

Most people know alcohol has short-term and long-term effects. But, very few people realize that chronic long-term alcohol abuse does permanent damage to your brain. This damage includes:

  • Withdrawal symptoms are often severe and damage brain cells. The most dangerous symptoms include seizures and hallucinations. For instance, 5 percent of alcoholics in withdrawal experience delirium tremens (DTs).
  • Neurotransmitter damage slows down communication between areas of the brain
  • Brain shrinkage results from gray matter loss: gray matter contains cell bodies and white matter, which controls pathways.
  • Cognitive Impairment affects verbal skills, mental processing, memory, learning, and impulse control. The areas of the brain related to problem-solving and impulse control are often damaged the most. This damage typically results in alcoholism and dementia.

When Dementia and Alcoholism Leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

One syndrome of dementia and alcoholism is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or WKS. This syndrome is really two disorders that occur both independently and together. The two disorders are Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome or Korsakoff psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy involves abnormal eye movements, unsteady gait, and confusion. At the same time, alcohol is not a direct cause of this syndrome as much as brain cell damage. Thiamine deficiency or Vitamin B1 deficiency is common with dementia and alcoholism due to a poor diet. 

What are the Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

The symptoms of WKS include:

  • Retelling the same stories
  • Asking the same questions over and over even though they have been asked and answered
  • Repeating the same information in a conversation
  • Unaware these symptoms are happening

Simultaneously, individuals with WKS reason well, make accurate deductions, are witty, and complete mental games such as chess. 

What is Korsakoff Psychosis?

When Wernicke’s syndrome is not treated correctly, the result is Korsakoff psychosis. Korsakoff impairs memory and other cognitive functions. Fabrication is the most common symptom of Korsakoff. 

Fabrication or confabulation is making up detailed and believable stories to cover the gaps in memory. People with this form of dementia struggle to learn new things while still functioning in other mental abilities. 

What are Early Warning Signs of Alcohol-Related Dementia?

If you or a loved one has continually refused help for their alcohol use disorder, it is crucial to watch for early signs of dementia. Since many people with alcoholism don’t understand the damage alcohol does to the brain, signs of dementia may push them to seek help. 

Early warning signs include:

  • Unexplained personality changes
  • Trouble solving complicated problems
  • Getting lost in a familiar area
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Cognitive issues
  • Poor decision-making
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Trouble communicating

Is there Testing for Alcohol-Related Dementia?

Several medical exams are performed to diagnose alcohol-related dementia. Some doctors may insist a person stop drinking before doing these exams, but most doctors do not. 

Doctors will examine the nervous and muscular systems. They look for abnormal eye movement, increased pulse, and muscle weakness.  Blood work is also typically done to check nutrition levels.

Treating Dementia and Alcoholism

Chronic alcohol abuse is the cause of alcohol-related dementia. So, the first step in treating dementia and alcoholism is to stop drinking alcohol. When caught early, individuals with alcohol-related dementia are likely to see improvement with diet changes and no alcohol. 

Adding vitamin B1 to your diet may help minimize the nutritional deficiency damage of alcohol use disorder. For people with Wernicke encephalopathy, vitamin B1 may prevent or reduce the risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. However, once Korsakoff psychosis develops, improving memory loss is nearly impossible. 

Therapies for Dementia and Alcoholism

Just like alcoholism, most people with dementia have irregular behavioral patterns. In addition, dementia causes psychological distress resulting in a decline in quality of life. 

Although there are medications such as sedatives, antipsychotics, and antidepressants, the side effects cause most people to stop taking them. Various types of therapies are useful in treating the psychological and behavioral symptoms of dementia and alcoholism.

  • Occupational therapy – helps overcome functional impairments of dementia that affect daily life
  • Physical therapy – exercise can help with coordination and overall well-being by reducing falls, improving sleep, and treating depression
  • Holistic therapy – yoga and mindful meditation can induce calm and stillness
  • Music and art therapy – music therapy improves memory and well-being while art engages attention and meaningful stimulation

How Can Family Support Someone with Dementia and Alcoholism?

No matter what type of alcohol-related dementia your loved one struggles with, family support is crucial in their daily life. Quitting alcohol by yourself is very challenging. With family support, a person is more likely to have a lasting recovery. 

Adding the struggles of alcohol-related dementia means family support is even more important. Family members can help in the following ways. 

  • Support their recovery – challenges of recovery can change daily
  • Assist them in improving their skills – try not to do things for them but with them
  • Ask professionals for advice
  • Encourage daily journaling
  • Break down large tasks into smaller steps
  • Be patient
  • Use short sentences and give them time to respond
  • Label cupboards and arrange rooms making it easy to find things
  • Encourage a healthy diet
  • Provide them transportation to support groups and therapy for alcoholism

Seek Help for Dementia and Alcoholism at North Jersey Recovery

The best way to prevent alcohol-related dementia is to stop drinking alcohol. For many, this is easier said than done. But, at North Jersey Recovery, we design personalized treatment plans to give you the best chance of recovery. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

Medication for Alcoholism Treatment

If you are suffering from alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), you don’t have to struggle through the severe effects of withdrawal to achieve your goal of sobriety. Instead, you can find freedom through a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program.

According to Oxford Languages, the phrase “cold turkey” means “the abrupt and complete cessation of taking a drug to which one is addicted.” Furthermore, “cold turkey, with no medication, is not recommended for those with medical conditions.”

Thankfully, with the help of an MAT program, you won’t have to worry.

Medication for Alcoholism

After years of research by doctors and health care professionals, there are now options to help treat alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to several studies, medications seem to be an important part of the most effective combination for treating AUD, though they are still underused for treating alcoholism.

The studies found that individuals receiving any medication did much better than those who didn’t receive any medication at all. 

Considering that less than 1% of those getting help for alcoholism receive a prescription medication, it is clear that it is underused. Medication can offer people an advantage for their recovery. This is especially true in a “real-world” setting.

Medications Used in Treating Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia, or Depade)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Topiramate (Topamax)
  • Ondansetron (Zofran)

The COMBINE Study

The Combining Medications and Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol Dependence study, published in 2006, followed more than 1,300 participants over a three-year period to discover what combination of treatment, medication, and counseling was the most effective for treating AUD.

The study revealed that one of the newer medications used for treating alcoholism did not improve treatment results on its own. The COMBINE study showed that no single medication or treatment approach was effective for every person or in every case.

However, after 16 weeks, the study showed generally positive results for the individuals taking part in the study. Furthermore:

  • All of the groups studied reduced their drinking substantially during treatment. The percentage of days abstinent nearly tripled from 25% to 73%. Alcohol consumption per week decreased by 80%, from 66 drinks per week to 13.
  • People who received naltrexone had less craving for alcohol.
  • Adding naltrexone or specialized alcohol counseling to medical management nearly doubled the chance to do well.

Antabuse (Disulfiram) for Alcoholism

Antabuse is the brand name for disulfiram and was the first medicine approved for the treatment of AUD. Typically, Antabuse for alcoholism works by causing a severely bad reaction when a person taking Antabuse consumes alcohol. It causes most people who take it to vomit after a drink of alcohol. This is meant to create a deterrent to drinking.

Antabuse and Alcohol

Antabuse was first developed in the 1920s for use in some manufacturing processes. The unfavorable alcohol effects of Antabuse were first noted in the 1930s because workers in the rubber industry who were exposed to tetraethylthiuram disulfide became sick after drinking alcohol. Later on, in 1948, researchers in Denmark who were trying to find a treatment for stomach parasite infections discovered the alcohol-related effects of disulfiram when they also got sick after drinking alcohol. They then began a new study using disulfiram to treat alcohol dependence.

How Does Disulfiram Work?

Shortly after the Danish research, the FDA approved disulfiram to treat alcoholism and it was manufactured under the brand name Antabuse. At first, Antabuse for alcoholism was given in large doses to make patients extremely sick if they drank. But after severe reactions (including some deaths) it began to be given in smaller doses to support alcohol abstinence.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia, Depade) to Treat AUD

Naltrexone is sold under the brand names Depade or Revia and a monthly injectable form is sold under the brand name Vivitrol. This medication for alcoholism works in the brain by blocking the high that people feel when they drink alcohol or use opioids. It first came out in 1963 to treat addiction to opioids.

During the 1980s, animal studies discovered that naltrexone also reduced alcohol consumption. Soon, human trials showed that when combined with psychosocial therapy, naltrexone could reduce alcohol cravings and decrease relapse rates. It was approved by the FDA in 1994 to treat AUD.

Naltrexone is only helpful when used as part of an AUD treatment program. It is necessary for the individual to attend all counseling sessions, support group meetings, education programs, or other recommended treatments. It can help a person avoid using alcohol or drugs, but it doesn’t relieve withdrawal symptoms.

Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan) for Alcohol Withdrawal

People experiencing alcohol withdrawal need medical treatment and observation. Individuals with symptoms of moderate or severe alcohol withdrawal may be treated with benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are used to treat psychomotor agitation (e.g., pacing, toe-tapping, rapid talking) that most people experience during withdrawal. Additionally, this medication for alcoholism helps prevent minor withdrawal symptoms from becoming major ones.

Generally, long-acting benzodiazepines are the preferred treatment because they appear to result in a smoother clinical treatment plan and a lower chance of repeated withdrawal symptoms or seizures. All people with seizures or DT (delirium tremens) require IV therapy with benzodiazepines. 

Acamprosate (Campral)

Acamprosate is the newest medication approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence. It works by normalizing alcohol-related changes that occur in the brain. This reduces some of the drawn-out physical distress and emotional upset people may experience when they stop drinking. It is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and can lead to relapse.

In 1982, a French company developed acamprosate for treating alcoholism. It was tested for effectiveness and safety from 1982 to 1988 when it was approved for use by the French government. It was first sold under the brand name Aotal. The drug was widely used in Europe for treating AUD but was not approved for use in the U.S. until 2004. It is marketed under the name Campral.

Topiramate (Topamax) 

Topiramate is an anti-seizure medication that is usually prescribed for people with epilepsy, but it is also prescribed to help alcohol-dependent people stop drinking. It is used off-label (not FDA approved for this purpose) for the treatment of alcoholism and AUD. Still, it was recommended in the 2015 United States Department of Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense Practice Guideline for the Management of Substance Use Disorders for individuals who have moderate to severe alcohol use disorder.

This drug has proved to reduce alcohol cravings for people who have AUD. It isn’t known exactly why it works chemically, but there are some possible explanations. Drinkers get pleasure from alcohol because it causes the release of dopamine, a positive feedback chemical in the brain. Alcohol also inhibits an inhibitory neurotransmitter (brain chemical). It is believed that topiramate has an effect on alcohol cravings by decreasing the release of dopamine, the pleasure chemical.

Results of studies done show that low doses of topiramate can: 

  • Reduce cravings for alcohol
  • Reduce the pleasure of drinking alcohol
  • Relieve the anxiety and mood swings that can happen when a person quits drinking
  • Produce a significant effect on improving the maintenance of abstinence

Ondansetron (Zofran)

Ondansetron has emerged as a promising medication for the treatment of AUD, mainly among early-onset alcoholics. Early-onset alcoholics are 25 years old or younger at the onset of alcohol dependence. People who develop early-onset AUD are: 

  • Not typically helped by counseling
  • Exhibit antisocial behavior
  • Have a high relapse rate when they try to quit

Since people in this group don’t usually respond well to behavioral therapy alone, researchers looked for medications to treat their chemical imbalance. One of the medications that regularly reduced cravings in alcoholics who are biologically inclined to alcoholism is ondansetron, an FDA-approved medication used to treat nausea in cancer patients. Its brand name is Zofran. And even though research has shown that ondansetron is effective for treating early-onset alcoholics, it still is not FDA-approved for this use.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms typically occur within eight hours after the last drink. However, they can also occur days later. Symptoms usually reach their peak by 24 to 72 hours and may last for weeks. 

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness or jumpiness
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Inability to think clearly

Other symptoms may include:

  • Sweating and clammy skin
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tremors in the hands or other body parts

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

There is a severe type of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens, which can cause:

  • Fever
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

“Cold Turkey”

You should never try to quit drinking “cold turkey.” Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, depending on:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • The length of time you’ve been drinking
  • Whether you have underlying mental issues
  • Whether you have co-occurring medical issues

Alcohol treatment should always begin with a medically supervised detox, especially if you are a heavy drinker.

Do You Have Alcohol Use Disorder?

The third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. is excessive alcohol use. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders combines the previous categories of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has estimated that AUD affected 9% of adult men and 5% of adult women in the U.S. in 2013, and that many more adults and adolescents took part in high-risk alcohol use.

Standards for Diagnosing AUD

AUD can be diagnosed when a pattern of alcohol use leads to significant impairment or distress, as shown by at least two of the following within a 12-month period:

  • Alcohol is often used in larger amounts or for a longer period than was intended
  • There’s a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • A lot of time is spent trying to get alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects
  • You have a craving or strong desire or urge to use alcohol
  • There is recurrent alcohol use that results in a failure to carry out obligations at work, school, or home
  • Alcohol use continues despite having constant or repeated interpersonal or social problems caused or made worse by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, recreational, or social activities are reduced or given up due to alcohol use
  • Repeated alcohol use in situations where it is physically dangerous
  • The use of alcohol is continued despite knowing that you have a persistent or repeated physical or psychological problem that is probably caused or made worse by alcohol
  • Tolerance, defined by:
    • A need for notably increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or the desired effect
    • A markedly decreased effect with the continuous use of the same amount of alcohol
  • Withdrawal, as shown by either of the following:
    • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol
    • Alcohol or a related substance like benzodiazepine is taken to avoid or relieve withdrawal syndrome

Finding Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

Finding the right treatment center for AUD should be your highest priority if you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism. North Jersey Recovery Center is prepared and experienced in treating alcohol addiction, with a medically managed detox, medication-assisted treatment, and sober living facility. We can design a plan of behavioral therapy and counseling — which is so necessary for recovery — to specifically meet your needs and the needs of your family. 

You don’t have to go through this alone, and you shouldn’t. North Jersey has a staff that is experienced, professional, and compassionate. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help you and your loved ones.

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Is Addiction Genetic or Environmental? Discussing the Environmental Factors of Addiction

Is addiction genetic or environmental? In fact, a person’s risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of both their genetics and the environment in which they currently live and/or grew up. The more risk factors a person has, the higher the chance that using drugs could lead to addiction. Below are some of the factors in a person’s environment that may put them at a higher risk:

  • Economic position
  • Peer pressure
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Early introduction to drugs
  • Friends and family use
  • Stress
  • Quality of day-to-day life

So, is addiction genetic or environmental? Keep reading to find out. 

How Do These Factors Influence Addiction?

Economic Position — Are You Lower or Upper Class?

Your economic position is defined by your income level. There are three different levels of economic positions. They are:

  • Upper Class: This income level makes up about 1% to 3% of the American population. They own more than 25% of the total income in this country.
  • Middle Class: Typically, the middle class is made up of “white-collar” employees whose income is higher than those in the lower levels, but less than the upper-class level.
  • Lower Class: This income level is characterized by poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. Problems that individuals in this class have to cope with include adequate food and housing, proper clothing, medical care, and general feelings of safety.

Employment

Many of the risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse are more common in families with a lower income level. About 20% of people who are welfare recipients admitted to using illicit drugs in the past year. 

Research has revealed that an individual earning less than $20,000 per year has a one-third lower chance of recovering from cocaine abuse than someone who earns over $70,000 per year. The place of employment may also determine economic level and have an effect on the likelihood of drug use. One study showed that 19% of full-time workers, 15% of part-time workers, and 23% of unemployed people had tried cocaine at least one time.

Homelessness

Homelessness and substance abuse frequently go together. Statistics from 2003 showed that 38% of homeless people were addicted to alcohol and 26% were addicted to opioids. Ironically, substance abuse is often the cause of homelessness. Despite this, people who are homeless frequently turn to substances to deal with their emotions and problems.

Can Poverty Cause Addiction?

The income level you belong to or the amount of money you actually have has a relatively low impact on the likelihood of addiction, however. Drug abuse being more common among people who live in poverty or who have a low economic level has given rise to the false theory that poverty causes addiction. 

Substance abuse appears to be a result of the lifestyles of individuals on the lower economic level. The indirect relationship between addiction and lower income levels is usually spread through many underlying factors instead of a single cause.

As an example, an individual with no medical coverage may use an illicit drug to relieve pain from an injury or illness. This can unconsciously pass on the habit of drug abuse to their children. This is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are many risk factors that are more common in homes on the lower economic levels than on the higher levels.

Peer Pressure

Peers are people who are part of the same social group, and peer pressure can be positive or negative. Peer pressure can often lead someone to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise, just to try to fit in or be noticed. Adolescents are especially open to peer pressure. They are typically looking for social acceptance and willing to take part in behaviors that are against their better judgment just to be accepted.

Hanging around with peers who participate in risky behaviors like drug abuse is another major risk factor for addiction. For adolescents, this is particularly true. Picking friends who don’t abuse drugs or alcohol can help a person avoid drug dependency and addiction.

Physical and Sexual Abuse (Interpersonal Trauma)

There is a lot of evidence that shows a close relationship between interpersonal violence and substance abuse. In a study of 3,000 women who were followed for two years, interpersonal assault increased the use of alcohol and drugs, even in women who didn’t have a history of substance abuse previously. And for both men and women, previous physical and sexual abuse was significantly linked with more substance abuse consequences.

Early Introduction to Substance Abuse

The availability of addictive substances in a person’s home, school, or community is clearly one of the risk factors for developing a substance abuse problem. For example, the abuse of prescription drugs is occurring at the same time as a notable rise in medical prescriptions. The increased availability and accepted use in the home, coupled with a lack of understanding about the dangers, increases the risk of use and addiction. 

The Influence of Family Members

Drug and alcohol abuse by a person’s parents during childhood can result in drug and alcohol abuse by that person in adulthood. Parents who drink alcohol are four times more likely to have children who become alcohol dependent. A parent’s involvement in drug abuse is likely to influence a child to use drugs because they have grown up where substance use was a regular part of life.

In the question, “Is addiction genetic or environmental,” there is some evidence that shows the impact of a person’s environment. One study of 559 people showed the direct relationship between the condition of the family and the degree of drug abuse. It showed that drug addicts come primarily from unhealthy and incomplete families. Also:

  • Addicts have weaker family ties than people who don’t use drugs
  • Addicts come from homes where there is a lot of hostility
  • Alcohol was used in nearly 50% of families where drugs were used

Stress

Stress may be defined as a physical or emotional demand or strain (stressor) that causes your body to release powerful neurochemicals and hormones. These changes are important to help your body prepare to respond to the stressor. Short-term stress can help you focus but long-term stress can cause serious health problems. Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, violence, and terrorism, can cause a serious illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Research on the brain now reveals that people exposed to stress are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Researchers at  the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have discovered the following links between stress and drug abuse:

  • Stress can cause changes in the brain similar to those caused by addictive substances. This indicates that some people who experience stress may be more susceptible to addiction.
  • Individuals who become addicted to drugs may be overly sensitive to stress.
  • Stress can raise a person’s risk for substance abuse.
  • Scientists have discovered a rise in substance abuse among people in the New York City neighborhoods impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Quality of Life

Individuals who abuse substances often look for help to quit drugs and alcohol to escape the negative consequences they have experienced and to attain a better life. Therefore, the aim of substance abuse treatment is not just to promote abstinence but to help the person improve their quality of life.

In a sample of substance use disorder (SUD) patients, the characteristics linked with a poorer quality of life include:

  • Depression
  • Physical inactivity
  • Negative body image
  • Social isolation

The Role of Genetics

Is addiction genetic or environmental? The answer is “both.” Addictive disorders are complicated conditions that arise from a number of genetic and environmental risk factors. The genes that a person is born with cause about half of their risk for addiction. Some genes that are involved in vulnerability to addiction include both genes that are susceptible to certain substances and those that act on common brain pathways that are involved in addiction to different substances. Also, other influences include:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Having other mental disorders

Addiction and Mental Development

Environmental and genetic factors also affect each other during important stages of development in a person’s life. Although abusing substances at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier it starts, the more likely it is to result in addiction. This is a particular problem for teens. The areas in their brains that control judgment, decision-making, and self-control are still not fully developed, making them especially susceptible to risky behaviors like substance use.

Treating Substance Use Disorders

These days, SUDs are more often seen as chronic conditions and treatment facilities are using models that are used to treat other chronic conditions. These models take into account the impact of disease and services on the patient’s total well-being. Looking at it this way, treatment for addiction aims for the wider goal of recovery, with recovery defined as abstinence plus improved quality of life. To that end, many treatment programs incorporate holistic therapy practices to treat the whole person, body, mind, and spirit.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient or residential programs where the individual lives at the treatment facility with round-the-clock supervision help to reduce the environmental influence on addiction. This type of program is crucial in cases of severe addiction, lack of support in the home environment, and for people who have relapsed.

Outpatient Treatment

There are several levels of outpatient treatment. They differ in intensity and amount of time spent at the treatment facility. These outpatient programs are helpful for people who have: 

  • A mild addiction
  • Completed a higher level of treatment
  • A safe, stable, and supportive home environment

Sober Living Home

If a person has completed residential treatment and does not feel confident enough to return home or live “in the real world,” a sober living residence is an excellent way to transition. Residents in sober living homes are responsible for maintenance, chores, and paying rent. Some homes require residents to be employed and attend meetings.

Breaking Out of Addiction

Is addiction genetic or environmental? In either case, you can break free from your addiction and find a real quality of life you may have given up on. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we are experienced addiction specialists. Our goals are your goals and we dedicate ourselves to helping you achieve your purpose in life. From detox to sober living, we will be with you every step of the way. If you’re worried about a loved one with a substance use disorder, we have interventionists and can help you organize an intervention if it becomes necessary. Nobody needs to go through this alone. Contact us today.