We see it on the news all the time – addiction can be life-threatening, leading thousands of people down a desperate path and eventually culminating in a tragic fate. But while thousands of Americans lose their lives to addiction overdoses and accidents every year, over 24 million Americans currently struggle with a substance abuse problem.
For the overwhelming majority of them, addiction is not an immediately life-threatening situation, but a day-to-day. Some, often early on in their addiction, believe that they can control their habit and manage to keep things “normal” while relying on a daily supply of substances. But the reality is vastly different.
No matter how strong-willed you may think you are, a substance use disorder – a compulsive need to take drugs, coupled with the inability to stop – will eat into your life and deal damage to your day-to-day long before things become lethal.
Your addiction will threaten your job. And it’s not a matter of keeping your tracks covered well enough – rather, it’s simply a matter of time. To keep your life’s work (and your life) safe, you’ll need to learn to give up your addiction, or even recognize that you’re struggling with one to begin with.
Why Addiction Strips Your Reputation
The primary feature of an addiction is that it often renders an individual unaccountable and incapable of making rational decisions outside of the context of serving their brain’s new supreme priority – getting more drugs. Drug use becomes compulsive and dangerous when both your body and mind decide in unison that they need drugs in order to function. It’s the that addiction or dependence kicks in, and you’re finding yourself falling into a downward spiral wherein your choices are dictated by the need to find access to your next high, lest the emotional and physical pain of withdrawal and sobriety kicks into full gear.
It’s not you – at least, mostly. Yes, all addictions begin with bad choices, but every human being makes mistakes and bad choices. Some have worse consequences than others, and when we’re emotionally blinded, those consequences are not immediately obvious. In cases of stress and trauma, or coercion, drug use becomes the only easy way out, or perhaps even the only way out. While we forgive most people for the mistakes they make, many can’t help but not forgive those who made the mistake of becoming addicted, because what looks like willful misdirection and elaborate lies is a disease in the brain, that cannot be seen on the surface level.
It starts with a few highs, but eventually it becomes a habit, and one you can’t function without. Even if your company doesn’t test for drugs, eventually you will begin to lose track of time, struggle to concentrate and perform your duties, and you’ll let your responsibilities slip. Promises will be broken, trust will be destroyed, and your reputation as a once-accountable person slips away under the haze of drug use.
You promise to change, and you really want to, but you can’t on your own. The drugs keep pulling you back, and every time they do, others around you look on in disappointment thinking you’ve betrayed them and their trust once again. You sink further and further into despair, and it becomes harder and harder to look at the prospect of tomorrow with even a shred of hope.
How Addiction Affects Your Thinking
To understand how addiction can strip you of your career – and many other things – it’s important to understand how and why drug use affects your thinking drastically.
Firstly: chemical and emotional dependence. When addictive drugs enter the body and make their way to the brain, they take effect by binding to the brain’s cells and manipulating the way the brain processes dopamine, either by producing more, or by heavily blocking dopamine’s reuptake, causing a massive surge.
Other pharmacological drugs do similar things – antidepressants, for example, block the reuptake of serotonin – but dopamine is so intrinsically tied to our reward system that researchers believe it’s specifically the interaction between drugs and dopamine that causes the brain to begin getting addicted.
After the initial high, the aftermath often causes the brain to want a little more. This feeling goes away with time and is easily inhibited. This is how millions and millions of Americans experiment with drugs without ever getting hooked on them.
However, if a person decides to use drugs more and more, the brain starts to get used to the presence of drugs in the brain. Two things happen.
The brain develops a chemical dependence. The constant stream of highs causes the brain to adapt to its new dopamine-filled environment, and it begins to struggle to function properly when not high. Even when high, “functioning” is a strong word. Dependence is signified by the presence of harsh withdrawal symptoms that occur upon sobriety – from headaches and nausea to extreme cravings and seizures, depending on the drug.
The other thing that often occurs is tolerance. As the brain gets used to drugs, it begins to metabolize the foreign substance much faster, causing the effects of a certain dosage to diminish. This leads to people using more and more drugs, further increasing their risk of overdose – because while the high may slowly wear off and grow weaker, a drug’s lethality or toxicity doesn’t change as drastically.
Through these two mechanisms, addictive drugs enslave a person. It’s not completely known why they do this, but there are no naturally-occurring drugs that are anywhere near as addictive as synthesized or isolated substances, meaning that addictive drugs on the scale of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are entirely man-made in design and effectiveness. Perhaps it’s sheer coincidence that these chemicals happen to interact with the portion of the mind dedicated to rewards and habit-forming.
Getting Back on Track
Getting professional help for your addiction as soon as possible is the most important part of recovery – the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll function again.
Drug recovery treatment involves keeping a person mentally and physically healthy until they’re ready to stay sober on their own, utilizing various different therapeutic methods to help them adjust to a sober lifestyle, work against their inner cravings and temptations, and resist the urge to use again. Time is the primary element in a good recovery plan, and it takes a long time to feel comfortable with sobriety after a stint of addiction. But by persevering and working hard to focus on what matters most to you, you can keep yourself clean against all odds.