When we see someone tear themselves and their lives apart while being addicted, the biggest question that tends to pop up is: why?
Yes, drugs make people feel good. But addiction undoubtedly wreaks havoc in a person’s life. An addiction can cause someone to lose their livelihood, ruin their most important relationships, and even lose control over their own homes. To many, any one of these things would be a strong enough motivator to stay clean – let alone going through the entire ordeal because of an addiction.
At least, that’s how addiction might look from the outside. But the fact that it tears their lives apart and still holds an iron grip over many people should be evidence enough to realize that addiction is more than a habit gone wrong – it is a disease. No, people who struggle with addiction do not simply forget about their loved ones and then no longer care about what was once dear to them. Instead, their thoughts and feelings are partially hijacked by addiction.
How Addiction Rewires the Brain
When drugs enter the body, they make their way into the bloodstream and onwards into the brain. A drug, in this context any psychoactive substance, is unique from most other substances in that it mimics the many substances found naturally in the brain. These substances, called neurotransmitters facilitate the exchange of information throughout the brain to kickstart certain processes, from protein synthesis to changing your mood or making you feel faster, or more sluggish.
Many psychoactive substances are relatively harmless. Theanine and caffeine are both psychoactive, boosting your motivation and improving your focus. Caffeine mimics adenosine, blocking actual adenosine from binding to your brain’s cells, thus preventing the effects of the neurotransmitter (namely, drowsiness).
Some drugs are very potent, and thus very dangerous. The more potent a drug, the more your brain and body must adapt to its effects, so as not to be overwhelmed. This is what makes certain substances like cocaine, alcohol, and heroin so addictive. Once they become present in the brain, they cause a powerful high due their effects, and your mind must temper itself for the possibility of that happening again.
And because the high was so enjoyable, you have an inclination to try it again.
That inclination grows with each repeating use, until eventually, a person finds themselves caught in an addiction – a cycle where even if they want to stop, they cannot.
The time from first use to addiction depends on several factors, including the drug in question, biological and environmental factors, stress levels, and more. It is not possible to get “hooked” on the very first hit, but that first hit can lead down a slippery slope into full blown addiction.
Addiction is best defined as the inability to control a compulsive habit, but there are several elements that make it unique to other mental disorders centered around compulsive behavior. Addiction stems from the interplay between dependence and tolerance – as you continue to use a drug, your tolerance of the drug grows, leading to the urge to take more of it to get high.
This cycle leads to physical dependence, wherein not using drugs at all causes you harm, and your cravings manifest not only as thoughts, but through physical symptoms like shakes and colds. Overcoming these withdrawal symptoms is often the first step towards recovery, which is why it is recommended to seek professional help when looking to get sober, to survive the ordeal and stay away from a relapse.
There is Hope
Addiction treatment today is viable for anyone struggling with this disease, and the options people have for overcoming their demons are ever expanding. Yet beyond this, it is important to understand that no matter how difficult addiction is to overcome alone, the point of getting help is that you do not have to be alone.
By turning to friends and professionals for treatment and support, you can tackle addiction with others, and combat the loneliness by surrounding yourself with people who care about you.
Group meetings are a great way to make new friends and help support others while they support you, forging new relationships and learning to trust others again. No matter how you decide to incorporate others into your recovery, the key to overcoming addiction is not to do it alone – at least in the beginning.
Learning to Stay Clean Alone
Staying clean is not easy – staying clean alone is even harder. But there are ways to warm up to your newfound sobriety and live with it successfully. Sober living homes can help you adjust to a clean and sober lifestyle and figure out how to stay clean for weeks and months.
Finding ways to spend your time is key. Similarly, knowing how to deal with stress also helps – consider trying old hobbies, or picking up new ones. If your workplace, family, or friends are the source of your stress and emotional pain, find ways to distance yourself and seek a new job, and new friends. Putting your own needs ahead in recovery might sound selfish, but it is important insofar that it helps you get to an emotionally healthy place.
Always Have a Support System
An integral part of overcoming addiction is always having friends and family to rely on when you really need to. Yes, ultimately, you will want to stand on your own two feet – but sometimes life comes at you with a sledgehammer, and you will be woefully unprepared for it when it happens. There are times when your usual rituals and coping mechanisms simply do not work, and you find yourself crumbling. Being able to dial a number or head to a specific place and just recuperate and try to stay clean can take a lot of pressure off the situation.
Not only can your friends and family help keep you sane in times of crisis, but they will keep you emotionally healthy at other times and be a source of fun and love in your life. Addiction is generally a lot of doom and gloom, but it is critically important to remember to have fun and look towards the next day with hope and optimism. You cannot stay sober if you are not happy with your sobriety, and that happiness does not come on its own. Go out, discover new places, try out new things, make new friends, and remember what it means to have a good time.