The fight against drugs can manifest itself on your body in different ways. From weight fluctuation to flushed skin, open sores to tooth decay, there are a variety of unpleasant and sometimes very dangerous symptoms that suggest drug abuse and addiction.
Yet alongside the physical, addiction also attacks you mentally. It can tear at your personality, alter your behavior, undo your motivations, and change you fundamentally. You’re still you – but you’re suppressed under the effects of an addiction.
Identifying addiction within yourself or a loved one is never easy, and it’s safer to contact a professional and get a proper diagnosis. But there are several symptoms that may be cause for alarm, especially if they manifest simultaneously. If suspect you or your loved one are struggling with addiction, then don’t wait to get help. Talk to them or self-reflect and find the courage to seek a professional. Addiction treatment today has come a long way – you can get better.
It’s important to understand how drugs and drug abuse affect the mind not only for the sake of diagnosis and awareness, but to provide a better understanding of what addiction is, how it manifests, and why it’s a disease caused by circumstance, and not a consequence or judgment of character.
Drug Use and Cognition
Before your drug abuse begins to adversely affect your heart health and liver condition, it will affect the way you think and behave. From the very first hit, drugs change your brain’s chemistry – but that isn’t enough to cause addiction. Instead, you may be susceptible to more drug abuse, and with time, drug abuse begins to take a toll on your ability to think, reason, and discern. A rough overview of the cognitive and general mental symptoms caused by addiction include:
- Impaired critical thinking and decision-making.
- Increased risk-taking.
- Aggression and irritability.
- Lowered inhibition and greater susceptibility to suggestion.
- Heightened distractibility, lack of focus.
- Memory loss.
- Mood swings.
Drugs alter the way you think, fundamentally affecting your brain’s cells and structure. These changes aren’t permanent, but they do affect your thinking for weeks after total sobriety begins. This is why early recovery is often such a difficult part in an addict’s life, often wrought with emotional roller coasters and higher perceived stress.
Drugs and Mental Health
Because of the emotional volatility introduced by drug use, as well as its potency as a short-term coping mechanism, there is a common link between addiction and mental illness. Not only can addiction aggravate an existing mental illness or worsen symptoms into becoming a diagnosable condition, but people with mental illness are often drawn to drugs to cope with their condition, creating an unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the two. Drug abuse only feeds the illness and makes it even worse.
When a person struggles with a dual diagnosis, the answer is to treat them as an individual – addressing both diseases in the context of that patient’s experiences, rather than applying separate treatments for the mental illness and the addiction. Like physical and mental health, the two go hand-in-hand, and one affects the other.
The Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse
In the long-term, drug abuse drastically affects your ability to think, reason, and remember. It screws with your motivations and your behavior, wiring you to prioritize drug use over other matters. It lessens your inhibitions and even increases your tendency towards taking high risks for relatively little reward.
Additionally, long-term drug abuse messes with your sleeping, and your ability to remember the time of day, and have a proper schedule. Enough sleep and day-to-day routines are important for the human psyche and for our bodies and having a messed up sleeping cycle can affect everything from your appetite to your mood.
Mood swings also become more common as addiction goes along, as does irritability in between highs.
Thankfully, most of the cognitive damage and behavioral changes revert after about a year of full abstinence, and after 5-7 years, the brain is as back to normal as possible.
That doesn’t mean you’re “back to normal,” however. Developing an addiction, overcoming it, and living a sober life is quite the journey, and there’s a lot of personal growth to go through there. The person coming out at the other side will be wiser and mentally tougher – and if you make it through treatment and recovery, you’ll have a greater understanding of your mind and how to manage it.
Staying Sane After Recovery
Addiction has been described as a chronic disease, due to the fact that relapses can be quite common, and cravings can grow stronger in the face of stress. Because of this, it’s important to remember that no matter how long you manage to stay sober, the fight against addiction is a lifestyle choice rather than a single, prolonged battle. People out of recovery will have to be more mindful of stress than others – memories of the pleasant feeling of being high and carefree can resurface when you’re under a lot of stress.
That does not mean that people in recovery can’t stick themselves into stressful situations and come out the other end sane and sober. Instead, it means you simply have to pay more mind to these periods in your life, and counter them with applicable and personalized stress management techniques.
A big part of addiction treatment is not just helping someone stay sober for a month or two, it’s teaching them how to deal with the stressors of the outside world without resorting to drug abuse and use. You can cope with stress through exercise, art, music, dancing, writing, and more. Whatever it is that best speaks to you and takes your mind off things after a long day, get stuck into it and invest your free time into getting better, and making progress. Not only will this help you stay sane for years to come but getting better at something takes your mind off the addiction, the stress of a career, and the task of sobriety, and lets you focus on a completely unrelated and emotionally fulfilling goal.
Cravings and feelings may still surge even after years, from time to time. Knowing how to deal with them in an emergency, before a relapse happens, is crucial. Be sure to have a plan on who to contact and what to do when you’re close to the brink, and need something to help keep you from jumping back in. Even if everything goes wrong and you do relapse, it’s important to know that this isn’t the end of the world. Get back on the horse as soon as you’re able to. Go back into treatment, get onto a schedule, and work your way back to where you were, with a new lesson in mind.