There is a lot of confusion around the terminology of addiction – particularly the definition, and how people actually get addicted. The factors that determine addiction aren’t related to a person’s willpower or spirit – they are, however, related to a person’s emotions and psychology, as well as other outlined factors such as:
- Family history.
- Peer pressure.
- Anxiety and/or depression.
Anyone can suffer from addiction, in an emotional sense. One moment of particular vulnerability, one too many hits from the right drug, or the wrong thought process while handling something highly addictive like heroin can make you psychologically dependent, and develop a connection between pleasure and the substance in your brain.
A physical dependency can develop separately, through continuous drug use and the right factors. Some people are more susceptible to certain drugs than others, but a physical dependency always develops in the same way: first, through a buildup of tolerance, and then, through increasingly harsh withdrawal symptoms as one increases the dosage of each hit to overcome tolerance.
These are the primary to “types” of addiction – the physical dependency on a drug to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms, and an overpowering emotional craving for a drug to temporarily suppress negative thinking.
To better understand how drug recovery works, it’s important to understand the differences between how a drug addiction ensnares people emotionally, and how it can create a physical dependence as well.
Substance Use, Addiction, Dependence
Despite the correlation between the use of addictive substances, addiction itself, and physical dependence, there is a difference between all of these things. Some drugs, for example, are commonly used without much risk, long as responsible use is involved. Nicotine and alcohol are two examples. However, certain people are more susceptible to alcoholism and chain-smoking, which can lead to serious harm ranging from high irritability to road accidents.
Using a drug doesn’t constitute addiction – you can “try” certain substances, and not get “hooked” – but with certain substances, such as amphetamines or opioids, the risk of addiction on first usage can be quite high.
Dependence is when the feeling a drug creates is diminished by the brain – when you build tolerance to a certain drug rapidly, you fall into a trap where you have to take increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same feeling, leading either to an overdose, or a situation where you have to meticulously manage your withdrawal symptoms to lower your tolerance, and use careful scheduling to maintain your drug use and avoid an overdose – or do your best to quit the addiction entirely, through the process of medical detoxification under supervision, typically in residential treatment (also known as rehab).
Addiction itself is when the reward system of the brain – how you feel pleasure – is warped and usurped by the substance. The general theory of how it works is that, either due to the addictive qualities of a substance itself or due to certain individual peculiarities in how a person’s brain works, addictive behavior and substances create a link between the general concept of pleasure and the substance or behavior itself due to how overpoweringly good it feels to be in a state of inebriation, so much so that being outside that state isn’t worth it.
Due to the combination of stigma, the emotional volatility of addiction, and the common thread between addiction and the development of mental disorders, many addicts fall into a vicious cycle of using their drug or behavior of choice as a form of escapism, either to avoid the problems that their addiction and emotional dependence is causing, or to avoid pre-existing issues, like trauma and depression or problematic circumstances.
With the cycle of drugs as a form of coping for pre-existing issues or newly-created problems complete, addiction can be extremely hard to break. However, one particularly effective way to combat addiction and aid long-term recovery is personal growth.
Becoming Better Than Addiction
Physical dependence is initially broken through detoxification, and long-term abstinence. While the risk of addiction will remain in the form of relapse, the “urges” and the feelings of withdrawal will swiftly subside, in some cases more swiftly than in others.
Emotional addiction, however, is a bit trickier. Parting ways with a substance that causes long-term damage to relationships, career options, and your life in general might seem straightforward from a logical perspective, but emotionally-speaking we’re very short-term thinkers. Drugs provide a level of pleasure and escapism that can easily make most problems look insignificant or irrelevant, while continuously causing problems to pile up.
Abstaining from drugs through self-imposed rehab or residential treatment means isolation, and concentration. But after that initial phase, it’s back to living life in the real world – with real world responsibilities and issues, and the common threads of negative thinking, low self-esteem and, in some cases, residual shame. In short, life will become a lot harder without drugs, and the temptation to relapse can be high in the beginning. This is where personal growth is such a powerful deterrent. A common long-term treatment plan for addiction besides therapy is the use of hobbies to “distract” from addiction – but it’s more complex than that.
While willpower and emotional strength might not save you from an addiction, it can help you beat one. By fortifying your self-esteem, creating clear forms of accountability, and finding meaning and purpose in your passions and social connections, you can effectively replace addiction with the positivity of doing the things you love doing, coping with stress through healthy mechanisms, and creating the strings of responsibility you need to deny addiction and embrace sobriety – not just for yourself, but for others who might depend on you.
The path to rebuilding relationships, creating new ones and adding structure to your life through personal growth is a long one, but it is by far the most rewarding. The benefits are clear – you increase your own self-worth, create multiple ways to cope with stress and deal with issues in life, and you eliminate the dark, negative line of thinking that leads back down into the paths of depression, anxiety, and a potential relapse. It’s hard, but you don’t have to do it alone.