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San Diego Sober Living - Recovery

The Addiction Spectrum: A Nuanced Perspective on Substance Use Disorders

In 2018, an acclaimed scientific journalist and a renowned physician teamed up to publish The Addiction Spectrum: A Compassionate, Holistic Approach to Recovery, a book that was mostly written as a guide for people seeking to recover from chemical dependence. Interestingly, this book has been embraced by readers whose lives intersect with those of addicts. We’re talking about loved ones, community leaders, and concerned individuals who now understand addiction doesn’t only exist on a spectrum. It’s also one of the worst degrees in the various spectra of substance use disorders.

Addiction Isn’t Monolithic

Until the end of the 20th century, substance use disorders were painted with an overly broad brush and lumped into a few categories. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders introduced a new paradigm in 2001 for classifying each substance use disorder as a separate condition with unique characteristics, such as withdrawal risks and treatment plans. In addition to this new classification, each substance use disorder condition was assigned a spectrum. This makes perfect sense because conditions such as cannabis use disorder and alcoholism are worlds apart.

Measuring the Severity of Substance Use Disorder

Medically speaking, substance use disorder can be triaged and evaluated as onset, acute, recalcitrant, chronic, critical, or fatal. Behaviorally speaking, substance use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. In The Addiction Spectrum, the authors emphasize that each condition has to be analyzed holistically before it can be measured on the spectrum. To get an idea of the measurement, let’s review the following scenarios:

  • Mild alcohol use disorder – You get drunk every weekend, and it pains you to think about the money you’ve spent while getting drunk.
  • Moderate stimulant use disorder – You consume cocaine, methamphetamine, or “uppers” at least once a day. You try to conceal frequent use and feel guilty about it, but everything is fine again when you use it. 
  • Severe opioid use disorder – You want to recover but you keep relapsing because the cravings are killing you.

Addiction, whether it’s physical or psychological, is always at the severe end of the substance use disorder spectrum. The only worse degree would be severe incapacitation or death.

Understanding the Addiction Spectrum

As a society, if we could somehow agree on the spectrum of addiction, there’s a good chance we would see a lower incidence of chemical dependence. To understand this, we must accept the great diversity of neurochemistry. Not everyone who engages in substance abuse through risky youthful binges will become addicted and need to seek support at a facility such as an Encinitas sober living home. In fact, statistics show that most of those who fall in the moderate stage of the spectrum won’t descend into addiction.

Addressing Severe Stages of Addiction

Withdrawal symptoms can be felt at any stage of the addiction spectrum. Those terrible Sunday morning hangovers are mild withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms that generate despair and convulsions are severe. If they’re exacerbated to the point of suffering delirium tremens, they could cause critical reactions, such as seizures and strokes. All the same, cravings that throw you off the recovery wagon and into relapse must be addressed accordingly. 

Addiction impacts every aspect of physical and mental health, and it’s a serious problem that requires professional treatment. If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, seek help from a medical professional or another person you trust to help you explore options for treatment and continuing support, such as recovery coaching. Encinitas men who need help with forming new sober lifestyle habits can reach out to the dedicated team at Casa Pacifica Sober Living for the guidance they need. Give us a call today at (760) 230-2996.

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