For whatever reason, some individuals discover that using drugs or alcohol offers irresistible pleasure or seductive relief from pain. So, they continue using substances to increase pleasure or decrease pain in what appears to be a straightforward solution to a problem: "If I’m bored, unhappy, stressed, worried, or just want to feel good, then using drugs does the job!" Now, if this were the whole story, there’d be no problem. But what seems like a gift from God can turn into a Trojan Horse with a killer inside, and here’s how it happens: As experimentation turns into substance abuse, the pleasure circuit of the brain – – the part of the brain that makes sex and eating extremely pleasurable to insure the survival of the species – begins to associate substance abuse with survival. You see, the chronic flooding of the pleasure circuit with drugs that look to the brain just like its own pleasure chemical, dopamine, tricks the brain into believing that these drugs are as necessary for survival as breath itself, which is how the brain becomes hijacked. This, then, leads to compulsive drug-seeking behavior because the motivation of the addict is similar to the obsession and desperation of a drowning man gasping for one more breath.
Of course, another breath will keep a drowning man alive, whereas drugs will continue to destroy the addicts who use them, which is the tragedy of addiction. As addiction progresses, addicts increasingly abuse drugs to try to cope with their mounting pain and problems, both the old ones from which they initially sought comfort and the new ones caused by substance abuse. Now, even the simplest sensual, emotional, or situational cues, called triggers, can instantly produce powerful cravings to continue abusing drugs despite horrendous negative consequences. Meanwhile, the "support system" of such addicts becomes composed of other addicts, perpetuating a sense of collective denial that masks the pain of their disintegrating lives. Unfortunately for addicts, they will develop tolerance to the drugs they abuse and then will need larger and larger doses as they try to recapture the pleasure or relief from pain they originally experienced, but to no avail. Instead, they become forever like dogs chasing their tails but never catching them.
And it gets worse! As the brain becomes increasingly hijacked by chronic substance abuse, addicts can no longer feel normal without the constant abuse of substances. At this point, they are compulsively drinking or drugging just to function. There is no more pleasure, no more high, but only desperate attempts to avoid their tremendous pain from which there’s no escape, which is the "living hell" of addiction. Recovery from addiction is not about willpower.
Rather, it’s about understanding the disease you have and using your mindful brain to outsmart your addicted brain. If you would like help in formulating a plan for recovery from addiction, then visit my website, serenityonlinetherapy.com to learn more about me and the services I provide. If you found this article helpful, please click the Thumbs Up button. And if you want to hear more from me, then subscribe to my blog, Counselor Carl. I will be publishing a new article every other weekend.
Until next time, and keep paying attention to your life.