What Is Addiction


Addiction is a brain disease that includes the following four symptoms:

   Craving--A strong need, or urge, to drink, use drugs or engage in a particular behavior.

   Loss of control--Not being able to stop drinking, using drugs or engaging in a particular behavior.

   Continued drinking -using drugs or engaging in a particular behavior despite consequences or harm

   Compulsion - to drink, use drugs or engage in a particular behavior

Is addiction a disease?
Yes, addiction is a bio psycho social and spiritual disease. The craving that an addict feels can be as strong as the need for food or water. An addict will continue to use despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Like many other diseases, addiction is chronic, relapsing and potentially fatal, meaning that it lasts a person's lifetime; it usually follows a predictable course; and it has symptoms. The risk for developing addiction is influenced both by a person's genes, childhood experiences, life coping skills, ability to manage their emotions and by his or her lifestyle.

Is addiction inherited?
Research shows that the risk for developing addiction does indeed run in families. The genes a person inherits partially explain this pattern, but life experiences and lifestyle is also a factor. Currently, researchers are working to discover the actual genes that put people at risk for addiction. Other factors that may increase your risk for addiction include; your friends, the amount of stress in your life, and how readily drugs are available.

Can addiction be cured?
No, addiction cannot be cured at this time. Even if an addict has not been using for a long time, he or she can still suffer a relapse. Not using is the safest course for most people with the disease of addiction. 

Can addiction be treated?
Yes, addiction can be treated. Addiction treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help a person stop using. Treatment has helped many people stop using and rebuild their lives.

Which medications treat addiction?  
Three oral medications for alcohol addiction are available--disulfiram (Antabuse®), naltrexone ( ReVia®), and acamprosate (Campral®). Other types of drugs are available to help manage symptoms of withdrawal such as shakiness, nausea, and sweating. Although medications are available to help treat alcohol addiction, there is no "magic bullet." In other words, no single medication is available that works in every case and/or in every person.
There are also medications to treat Opioid addiction and nicotine addiction. Research is being done to look for specific medications for marijuana and stimulant addiction

Does addiction treatment work?
Addiction treatment works for many people. However, like other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, there are varying levels of success when it comes to treatment. Some people stop using and remain sober. Others have long periods of sobriety with bouts of relapse. Still others cannot stop using for any length of time. With treatment, one thing is clear, however: the longer a person abstains from using, the more likely he or she will be able to stay sober.

Do you have to be an addict to experience problems?
No.  Some people who use drugs or drink alcohol may not necessarily be suffering from the disease of addiction. However, their use can still result in physical, psychological, relational and legal problems. Some individuals are merely problem users and their excessive use may have resulted in some problems but they may not have the other symptoms of addiction. A proper and comprehensive assessment by a trained professional can help determine whether one is suffering enough symptoms to have the disease of addiction.

Are specific groups of people more likely to have problems?
Addiction cut across gender, race, and nationality. About l in every 12 adults--abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. An additional 5% to 7% of the general population abuse and are dependent on drugs. In general, more men than women have alcohol problems. Alcohol and drug problems are highest among young adults ages 18-29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older. We also know that people who start drinking and using drugs at an early age--for example, at age 14 or younger--are at much higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems at some point in their lives compared to someone who starts at age 21 or after.

How can you tell if someone has a problem?
There are many self assessment-screening instruments to help decide whether an individual has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Please go to our self-assessment page to see these instruments.

Can an addict simply cut down? 
It depends. If that person is suffering from the disease of addiction, the answer is "no." Those who try to cut down rarely succeed. Abstaining is usually the best course for recovery. People who are not suffering from the disease of addiction may be able to cut down. If they try and cannot cut down, that is often a symptom that they have the disease of addiction and need to stop altogether.

If an addict is unwilling to get help, what can you do about it?
This can be a challenge. An addict cannot be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as a legal reason that results in court-ordered treatment. However, you do not have to wait for someone to "hit rock bottom" to act. Many addiction treatment specialists suggest the following steps to help an addict get treatment:

$1   Stop all "cover ups." Family members often make excuses to others or try to protect the addict from the results of his or her using. It is important to stop covering for the addict so that he or she experiences the full consequences.

$1   Time your intervention. The best time to talk to the addict is shortly after an addiction-related problem has occurred--like a serious family argument or an accident. Choose a time when he or she is sober, both of you are calm, and you have a chance to talk in private. Sometimes it is best to use a Professional Interventionist; call us to enquire more about this.

$1   Be specific. Tell the family member that you are worried about his or her using. Use examples of the ways in which the using has caused problems, including the most recent incident.

$1   State the results. Explain to the addict what you will do if he or she does not go for help--not to punish the addict, but to protect yourself from his or her problems. What you say may range from refusing to go with the person to any social activity where there will be drugs or alcohol, to moving out of the house. Do not make any threats you are not prepared to carry out.

$1   Get help. Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community. If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor. Offer to go with the family member on the first visit to a treatment program and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

$1   Call on a friend. If the family member still refuses to get help, ask a friend to talk with him or her using the steps just described. A friend who is a recovering addict/alcoholic may be particularly persuasive, but any person who is caring and nonjudgmental may help. The intervention of more than one person, more than one time, is often necessary to coax an addict to seek help.

$1   Find strength in numbers. With the help of a health care professional, some families join with other relatives and friends to confront an addict as a group. This approach should only be tried under the guidance of a health care professional who is experienced in this kind of group intervention.

$1   Get support. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic's/addict’s life, and Alateen, which is geared to children of alcoholics. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for an addict’s behavior and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the addicted family member chooses to get help.

Is it safe to drink or use drugs during pregnancy?
No, alcohol and drugs can harm the baby of a mother who uses during pregnancy. The damage caused by prenatal alcohol and drugs includes a range of physical, behavioral, and learning problems in babies. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) results from drinking during pregnancy. These babies may have abnormal facial features and severe learning disabilities. Drug use also will result in numerous pregnancy complications.

How do I know whether I am an addict or alcoholic?
HeartQuest Addiction Wellness Centre provides assessments to determine whether you are an addict or alcoholic. You can start by honestly completing the on line self-assessment tools to determine your addiction risk. We can also provide you will a complete and comprehensive assessment.

Contact Us

Intervention Services Canada

Please contact us for more information about addiction recovery, and intervention services.

We have years of experience helping people and families to return to a healthy life.

Cory Wint, MA, ICADC

Toll Free Line: 1.800.985.3418 or email wint@heartquest.ca