The Science of Addiction – What’s Really Going On?
Most of us understand that there is a science of addiction, but when it comes to the brain and the body, we tend to believe that we are in control of what happens no matter what. We believe that addiction is a choice and that the people who dabble in addictive substances are making a choice. While in a sense, this might be true at first, it’s important to know that there is also a science behind addictions, and that understanding that science can go a long way toward helping you deal with a loved one’s addiction.
What We Believe is Going on With an Addiction
Before we break down the science of addiction, we have to understand what we think is happening with an addiction. What we believe is often what we see and what our loved ones tell us. They will often say that they use substances or alcohol because they like the way it makes them feel. This is true. This is a fact, and it is why they started drinking or using in the first place.
What we don’t see or even know, because most people who struggle with an addiction won’t tell us is that at some point, they start getting desperate to use or drink. They aren’t really sure why this happens, but in their hearts, most addicts know when they made the transition from recreational user to an addict, and they know when they are hooked. What they don’t tell you is that they are scared.
This is about the time that they start looking for others who are the same way because they very simply don’t want to have to face the fact that they might be the only ones like this.
What a person who struggles with an addiction also won’t tell you is that they are afraid of life without their DOC (drug of choice), because they are afraid they will mess it up. They are simply afraid that they will fail, or can’t do it. This fear has a serious power over our loved ones, and it’s almost as powerful as the pull of the drugs that they consume and are addicted to.
At this point, what we believe is going on with an addiction and the science of addiction separate, and this is where we don’t really see things clearly.
The Science of Addiction – Your Loved One’s Reality
When a person struggles with an addiction, it’s easy to think that he is just getting high or drunk to be a jerk. When we see how he acts, and how he seems to be as a person, we begin to feel like we just can’t stand to be around that attitude when he’s high, but what we don’t see is that addicts are far less in control of their situations than we believe.
The cycle looks something like this:
- Recreational drinking or using starts. At first, your addicted loved one is simply using or drinking recreationally. He might hide the fact that he does it, but for now, it’s just to make him feel good. Most people don’t start out using heroin or meth, and they don’t start out needing to drink every single day. People often stay at this stage for quite a long time before things start to get difficult.
- The early effects of the DOC wear off. At some point in addiction, the original effects of the drugs or alcohol that are consumed wear off. This is called a tolerance, and it’s where your brain and body can handle much more drugs or alcohol than it did in the beginning. This is the start of a physical dependence.
- We begin to feel like we “need” to use or drink. With time, as a tolerance develops, we begin to feel like we need to use or drink. At this point, using or drinking is often losing its luster, but doing it, again and again, isn’t as much of an option as it used to be. This is when those who struggle with addictions stop thinking how fun it would be to get high and start thinking how much they need to get high. This is also where many people start their withdrawal symptoms.
- At some point, emotional attachment kicks in. This is where a true addiction begins because the user is emotionally attached their DOC. They cannot imagine life without it, it’s part of who they are, and it determines how happy and comfortable they feel in their own skin. The substance or alcohol that they consume day after day is like a shield to help them avoid thinking about life, and it does a pretty darn good job until it stops doing a good job, and still, like an abusive spouse, they keep it around because they’re in love with it. This is addiction
- Repeated attempts to stop fail. Now, if you think that your loved one hasn’t tried to live clean and sober on his own, you’re wrong. He just won’t tell you about it. Chances are, he’s tried to go through the pain of detox on his own and not been able to handle it. He might have even struggled with withdrawal symptoms and managed to clean it from his system for a while, and still, he relapses. Addiction is like that because it always calls to you.
You should also know that when it comes to the science of addiction, things get even trickier because once the physical need for drugs or alcohol subsides, it is an emotional thing, but your brain plays tricks on you. This is especially true during the early days when it learns that it can survive without the DOC, but it doesn’t want to.
Substances and alcohol affect the hormones and chemicals in the brain. We hear about dopamine, serotonin and all the other “feel good hormones,” and most things that cause an addiction affect these parts of the brain and body in some way. In the case of opioids, they attach to opioid receptors in our bodies. Why? Because we naturally make a small amount of opioids ourselves in order to cope with things like pain and stress. It’s what happens when a woman has a baby. Her body makes oxytocin to help her feel profound joy and comfort despite the pain of childbearing.
When you’re feeding these receptors, or any receptors in the body these chemicals, it makes it really hard for your brain and body to reject how good they make you feel no matter what. The logical part of your brain knows it’s not a good thing, but doesn’t know how to get free of it because that logical part is so small in comparison to the parts of the brain that “enjoy” the way the drug or alcohol makes them feel.
What We Now Know About Addiction
What we now know about addiction is that it is often a lifelong battle. Your addicted loved one, even when he chooses to get clean and sober, will likely still struggle with the urge to use or drink for a long, long time. For many, kicking the habit is something that kind of just keeps going until, finally, they manage it. Rehab or addiction treatment can help, but it might take years to be completely free of the addiction.
We also now know that almost nobody wants to become an addict. They don’t say they want to find some heroin and become a “junkie.” No one who struggles with an addiction deliberately sets out to ruin their lives and the lives of their families. This is a sad by-product of addictions and one that can have devastating effects.
Using the Science of Addiction to Help a Loved One
What we can begin to do is use the science of addiction to help a loved one that really needs to kick their habit. One thing that many families of addicts are doing is involving their loved one no matter what. It gives them a feeling of acceptance and purpose, and the hope is that with time, the addiction will diminish.
Another thing that families of addicts are doing is changing the way that they approach the using or drinking aspect of the addiction. They are choosing to insulate themselves, their other family members, finances and life, against the negative effects of the addiction, and they are trying to help their loved ones see that it’s not them, it’s the addiction, and that there is help to kick the habit when they are ready.
Many people are putting the addiction in the addicts’ hands, but when they are ready, these families and loved ones of addicts are turning to places like Elite Rehab Placement to help them get the addiction treatment that they really need. They are depending on the services that we offer to help them help their loved ones find addiction treatment that really works for them and gives them the fair chance that they really need to start living clean and sober.
Many families of addicts are taking the negativity out of the addiction and recovery process and are allowing us to help them with tough stuff like financing a stay in rehab, and working with insurance, so they can help their loved one focus on getting clean and sober, not on who’s paying the bill, and it’s working.
The science of addiction, and understanding it, is actually helping many families of addicts to heal themselves, and help their loved ones to have the courage to start overcoming their addictions one day at a time, and we’re helping many of them find addiction treatment options that can really get them on the road to recovery. Why not let us help you? Give us a call and see how your life and the life of your loved one can change today.