It’s much more than a choice. Addiction can best be described as a mental illness or a brain disease, a powerful compulsion that pushes patients to seek out drugs even if they know it’s detrimental and carries heavy mental effects and consequences. Drug users will go out of their way for the next high, to the point of risking something like prison again – repeat offenders prove that even a correctional system as harsh as America’s isn’t an effective deterrent for many.
What does help, however, is treatment. But to understand why treatment helps, it’s important to understand what addiction does to you – and how mental illness and the mental effects of long-term addiction play into why it’s so hard to stay clean for many.
There’s more to addiction than the fact that you feel the urge to get high. Prolonged drug use can physically harm you and cause mental damage, and the financial consequences of addiction can be ruinous.
What Mental Effects Drugs Have On The Brain
Drugs interact with the brain in many ways, but most of them work on the same basic principle. The best way to simplify how drugs work is to think of them as impostors of existing crucial neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. They hijack the receptors in your brain’s cells and act as certain neurotransmitters, transmitting specific signals throughout the brain to elicit feelings of joy and happiness, but also other reactions, such as weakened coordination and slowed movement, as with alcohol, or a numbing effect that reduces the body’s ability to feel pain, like opioids. Whichever one is used, the mental effects are always negative.
All drugs have something in common, and that is their addictiveness. From nicotine to heroin, drugs elicit a response in the brain that is unnatural – this effect causes the brain to adjust. Most drugs invoke mental effects that condition the brain towards further usage, to the point where you begin to crave a drug. But as you take it more often, its effects are also severely diminished, causing you to need to take more. The two effects go hand in hand, making addiction particularly dangerous as the risk of overdosing is built into the nature of the disease.
Over time, it becomes harder to quit. Not only do most drugs cause physical damage to the brain and other organs, making it harder to think rationally and fight against the addiction, but as the brain normalizes drug use, it becomes reliant on it. Suddenly quitting can elicit painful withdrawal symptoms – sometimes, these mental effects can be fatal.
Aside from these complications, perhaps the biggest deterrent to recovery is the fact that drug use actively diminishes a person’s ability to think clearly, make informed decisions, and be critical. Drug use is also seen as a very effective short-term coping mechanism, drawing in people with high levels of stress caused by work or mental illness. At other times, due to its very poor performance as a long-term coping mechanism, and the fact that it can be mentally and socially ruinous to get addicted, addiction also leads to mental health problems including depression due to the consequences of getting addicted. A person who experienced years of loss due to their alcoholism may find it harder to quit because of the emotional (and physical) pain they endure while sober because of their drinking.
The only way out is through. One of the harder truths about recovery is that the mental effects and emotional pain are something everyone must process and overcome if they want to stay sober and successfully abstain for the rest of their lives.
Addiction, Anxiety, And Depression
Research shows that people with mental health issues – particularly forms of anxiety and mood disorders like depression – struggle with addiction more often than the general population. This is because people with mental health issues often try to self-medicate to deal with their issues without seeking out help or treatment, either to avoid stigma or for other reasons.
In other cases, excessive drug use may lead to the development of depressive symptoms and a diagnosis of major depression, because of the mental effects of addiction and the events that followed.
Seeking Comprehensive Treatment
Addiction treatment and mental healthcare have come a long way. Even though we’re not the best in the world at tending to our mental health, we do have a great understanding of the detrimental effects of stress and emotional pain, and the correlation between addiction and mental illness.
That is why many addiction treatment facilities utilize the knowledge of in-house experts to recognize the mental effects of addiction and formulate a comprehensive treatment. There is no one-size-fits-all in addiction treatment or in mental healthcare. But a treatment plan that addresses both issues as one – and even tackles physical issues through proper diet and exercise – can achieve wonders.
The Importance Of Strong Support
Ultimately, a person’s sobriety is as strong as they are – but when your strength falters, it’s important to have people in your corner backing you up, ready to help you get back on your feet and back into the ring. Some wrestle with addiction much longer and much harder than others, but regardless of your story or your circumstances, having people who love you and want you to stay clean and healthy can make a world of difference. A solid support system will give you a shoulder to lean on, an ear to speak to, and a fresh perspective whenever you feel the negativity catching up with you.
It’s one thing to have people around you ready to help you stay clean, but it’s another to be willing to ask them for help at the right moment. It’s important to recognize when you’re slipping and get the help you need to stay on the straight and narrow.
Beyond your support system and immediate circle of friends and family, consider sanitizing your relationships and removing yourself from relationships that you feel hurt you, or pull you down. Sometimes we retain friendships from the old days before the treatment, hoping to help them as well, but some people won’t accept help and have to find their own way to recovery. Knowing when it’s time to move on is important both for staying sane, and for staying clean.
In the end, it is possible that you will be struggling with the aftermath of addiction for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t have to impede on your ability to lead a colorful, exciting, and awe-inspiring life. Once you’re clean and the reigns are in your hands, it’s all up to you.