How addiction works has been an enigma for centuries, one we’ve always been familiar with but one we never really figured out. To this day, scientists and experts argue on the truths and fallacies surrounding addiction, and the language continues to be confusing to some laymen. Is it a chronic brain condition? Is it a learning disorder? Is it a question of brain development? Is willpower involved, or not? And if yes, how much, and when?
The concept of intoxication – and the love of it – has been a part of human culture in nearly every instance of civilization. But our medical understanding of addiction is still young. Here’s what we know for sure:
Physical and Emotional Dependence
How addiction works is typically on two fronts, either simultaneously or on one front or the other. How much your addiction is influenced by these two fronts depends entirely on you and the substance(s). On one hand, how addiction works is a matter of physical dependence. On the other hand, addiction is a matter of emotional dependence.
Physical dependence: regular use of addictive substances can lead to a physical dependence, wherein the body develops a tolerance to the substance, leading to the need for a higher dosage, and subsequent symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit. A physical dependence often develops differently from individual to individual, with genetics being the most important factor. Physical dependence develops separately from any of the emotional or psychological aspects of how addiction works – it is purely your brain developing a bond to a substance to such a point that it requires that substance to continue functioning on a basic level at times.
Emotional dependence: drugs have a psychoactive effect on people, meaning they change the way you think and feel for a little while. This makes them, in essence, a powerful coping mechanism for other emotional issues, especially repressed emotions and stresses. People in highly stressful situations are more susceptible to addiction because of this. Teens in environments with lots of peer pressure and mental susceptibility, and people going through arduous life struggles (such as abject poverty) are also more likely to develop an emotional dependence because of the drastic effect that drugs have on their psyche.
How Addiction Works And Drug Use Affects the Brain
Aside from brain damage as a direct result of long term drug use, the mental health consequences of how addiction works gives further insight into on a societal level. It’s only until quite recently that we have begun to take mental health as seriously as physical health, and many still have trouble making the adjustment – yet as things go, the mind is just as important as the body when keeping healthy. If one fails, the other follows suit.
The most common mental health challenges addicts face are depression and an elevated risk of suicide, and anxiety with or without paranoia. Fear and self-loathing are common emotions within the roller coaster that addiction takes you on, for several reasons. People are genuinely ashamed of themselves when they discover that they are addicted, and will typically put themselves under a lot of pressure and stress for their addiction. On top of that, dealing with the issues that present themselves when trying to get sober can further push someone down the mental rabbit hole into places of despair and hopelessness.
Hard as it is to get better, the prospect of just giving in can seem viable to some. And the saddest truth of it all is that addiction and depression aren’t just coupled through their symptoms and co-dependency, but also as two issues that are rarely treated adequately and to a point of real remission. Both how addiction works and how depression functions mean they have to be treated not as acute issues, but as chronic ones, where every patient must be armed to deal with the risk of symptoms coming back.
Addiction isn’t just dangerous physically – it’s a system of symptoms that come together to pose a serious threat, and one that most people misunderstand, ignore or try to combat without having all of the information at their disposal.
More Than Bargained For
One of the biggest dangers when discussing drug use is that there are far more illegal drugs out there than there are legal ones. And the dangers of a black market is that there is no such thing as quality control or regulation. In the market for alcohol, there are distinct rules to be followed when distilling and selling a product. Alcohol, while varying in quality and taste, is generally safe when consumed responsibly.
Prescription drugs passed through an extremely lengthy and highly rigorous testing process, finally passing the FDA’s own critique and receiving a sought-after sign of approval. While any drug comes with its side effects, at the proper dosage prescription medication can change lives for the better.
Illegal drugs, on the other hand, are prone to cutting. Cutting is the process of mixing a drug with other substances, either to market it as stronger or to save money and cheapen the product. Any given substance on the black market may be impure, and as such, automatically far more dangerous than the real thing.
Pure cocaine is a dangerous and powerful stimulant, but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re consuming cocaine and ten other substances. Things get even worse when drugs are injected, as any combination of substances in the blood stream can kill you or deal some serious damage. This makes addiction an ever more potent killer in the dark and unregulated black market of illicit substances.
However, despite the truth of cutting, alcohol claims more lives worldwide than any other drug, and prescription drugs are becoming more dangerous more rapidly than any other substance in the United States. While cutting is one of the significant dangers of illicit drug use, the fundamental issue may simply be that, for all the moral outrage around addiction, we simply are not doing enough to earnestly tackle the issue and actually look into what the best course of action is towards mitigating the death toll of drug use.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Addiction can be overcome, so long as you’re willing to overcome it. The time it takes for recovery to become a success (meaning, the time it takes for you to reach a point of long term sobriety) differs from person to person. However, there is no such thing as an unbeatable addiction. If you need help with addiction, you can always consider a sober housing program or sober mentoring program to help kick the addiction for good.