If someone in your life is abusing drugs or alcohol, you may be frustrated with their lack of willpower or their unwillingness to change. If you’re dealing with substance abuse in your own life, you may be frustrated with these things in yourself. In reality, drug and alcohol addicts are no longer making bad decisions. When people cross the line between abuse and addiction, they lose the power of choice. People who are addicted to substances no longer have the ability to reliably think or act on their behalf. They’re drug or alcohol cravings are making decisions for them. Attempting to quit using an addictive substance outright causes intense physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms to manifest. It also causes aggressive, drug-seeking behaviors that most addicts cannot stop or control.
Addiction is currently recognized as a chronic, lifelong disease. In this respect, it can be likened to illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Although these issues can be treated and managed, any return to former behaviors will cause them to spiral out of control. Understanding what it means to be an addict makes it infinitely easier to assist people in getting the help they need.
The Stages of Addiction
It is only very rarely that addiction develops overnight. Although there are certainly drugs that can create the chemical conditions for addiction with just one use, most people develop addiction in a series of progressive phases. People start by simply trying drugs or alcohol out. They might use a substance once or twice with friends, or they may use it when going to parties or other special events.
On the path to addiction, this early, recreational use eventually becomes regular use. Some people start using their substance of choice every day. It might be how they unwind after returning home for work or how they numb themselves before leaving in the morning. Over time, regular use becomes abuse.
Drug and alcohol abuse are known for the painful consequences they create. Abusing substances causes people to lose many of their close relationships. Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to housing loss, job loss, and even the loss of minor children. Unfortunately, people who are in the “abuse” phase of addiction aren’t always deterred by these or other repercussions. In fact, they often assert that they have everything under control and that they can quit using at any time. Denial is a common characteristic among people with fast-developing addictions.
Addiction itself represents a major change that has gradually taken place in the brain’s chemistry and within the brain’s functioning. When addiction is full-blown, the neurological effects of prolonged substance abuse make it all-but impossible to choose differently. Struggles with willpower, lack of incentive, low self-esteem, limited pain tolerance, and severe anxiety can all be tied to substance-related changes within the brain.
In inpatient addiction treatment, drug and alcohol addicts are completely removed from their substances of choice. They spend their time in rehab on secure, closed campuses where they’re able to physically and emotionally heal from their substance abuse. When inpatient programs are long enough, many aspects of a person’s overall brain health have the opportunity to rebound. As they do, mood balance returns, motivation increases, and conscious, rational decision-making improves. Staying on track in recovery becomes easier.
It’s easy to blame addicts for their behaviors and mistakes. It’s also easy for addicts to blame themselves. However, when you understand the nature of addiction and the impact that it has on a person’s ability to make smart, beneficial decisions, it becomes possible to approach this disease in a compassionate and supportive way. Addiction has many possible underlying causes. In addition to changes within the brain’s chemistry and its functioning, addiction can often be attributed to:
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
- Unmanaged physical pain
- Unprocessed emotions such as guilt or grief
- Negative, early-life behavioral conditioning
- Past or current traumas
If you want to learn more about addiction or if you want help finding a reputable rehab center, we’ve got you covered. Call 833-820-2922 to speak with one of our counselors.