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10 Surprising Facts about Addiction: Harvard Medical School Special Report

Harvard Medilcal School - Overcoming AddictionThe Harvard Medical School publishes a series of special reports on health problems. The 10 surprising facts about addictions are taken from the Harvard report on “Overcoming Additions.” To purchase this report, see the web address at the bottom of this blog post.

People engage in addictive activities to escape physical and emotional discomfort. The most common expression of addiction is alcohol, which causes 100,000 deaths annually. It’s the same as 275 people dying from an airline crash every single day. Women are more likely to damage health and well-being from alcohol than men. This is because women have more fatty tissue than men and fat retains alcohol, which results in greater alcohol exposure to brain and organ tissues.

The second most common expression of addiction is nicotine, which accounts for one out of every five deaths. About 23% of men and 18% of women smoke, but the trend is down by 50% since the 1960’s. It typically takes 5 to 7 attempts to quit smoking before stopping for good.

While not everyone agrees that addiction is a disease, everyone unanimously agrees that all addicts suffer and that there’s a biological component to addiction. Of course, eligibility for insurance coverage is a strong, pragmatic reason for buying into the disease concept.

The Harvard report draws the distinction between usage, physical dependence and addiction. People who use a substance don’t automatically develop a dependence or an addiction. People who are dependent might not be addicted. And people who are addicted might not be physically dependent. It’s a little confusing for the average Joe to figure out because addiction involves frequencies and amounts, but it has more to do with repercussions of usage than anything else. You might not have an addiction if it doesn’t adversely affect your daily life.

The goal of treatment for substance abuse of any kind is to completely eliminate the detrimental effects of addiction. Failing that, the goal is to at least reduce the harm. It’s not unusual for people who seek harm reduction to eventually realize — on their own– that total abstinence is appropriate, necessary and often easier than trying to regulate a substance.

Here are 10 more surprising things you might not know:

1. Experts are moving away from the idea that there are multiple addictions. Instead, addiction is thought of as a singular underlying disorder with multiple expressions.

2. There’s a constellation of genes that predispose people to addictions, but no one is immune.

3. 28% or roughly 1 out of every 3 people have an alcohol or drug problem.

4. It’s hard to measure, but experts estimate that 30% of people with alcohol dependence learn how to abstain or limit consumption on their own, without a formal treatment program.

5. Most clinicians no longer ascribe to the “tough love” approach as a helpful substance abuse treatment. Tough love advocates zero tolerance policies and marginalization (rejection) of people who relapse.

6. Addiction and mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and personality disorder typically overlap. These mental/emotional problems precede addiction.

6. Every addiction causes a surge in the release of dopamine. Dopamine coincides with pleasure, but doesn’t necessarily produce pleasure. Dopamine is believed to be the switch that causes “liking” a substance to change to “wanting” a substance. “The insidious thing about addiction is that the phenomenon itself paradoxically robs the brain of dopamine stimulation.”

7. Recovering from addiction arises from finding meaning in your life.

8. Recovering from addiction is helped by exercise because it’s an antidepressant.

9. Repeated attempts at quitting increase the likelihood of eventual success.

10. When people are recovering from addiction, it’s very common for them to “hop” to another addiction before they fully recovery. Hopping can be an intermediary step.

The Harvard Medical School Special Health Report on “Overcoming Addiction” can be found at http://www.health.harvard.edu/special_health_reports/overcoming-addiction

This article is located at: http://stoppingnation.com/2011-10-surpising-facts-addiction-harvard-medical-school-special-report

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