Can you recover from addiction? Are there any good reasons to put in the work required to do so? In this concise post, we tackle these questions, with a focus on solid, concrete reasons to break the addiction cycle. We’re talking real, tangible benefits of recovering from addiction in this post, not philosophical reasons to kick the habit.
So let’s get into it.
What is Addiction?
First, let’s lay the groundwork with a quick summary of just what addiction is.
Addiction is an extremely complex brain condition in which a person becomes chemically dependent on a substance. Substance abuse disorder manifests as compulsive use of a substance despite negative, and sometimes severe, consequences. Someone with substance abuse disorder has an intense focus on procuring and using their drug of choice, and this focus often becomes an obsession that takes priority over everything else.
In other words, an addict will keep using even though they know their habit is ruining their life.
Symptoms of substance abuse disorder are categorized into four broad areas. These are:
- Drug effects. This includes tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, described below.
- Risky use. Engaging in high risk behaviors to obtain or use drugs. Examples include sharing needles, taking another person’s prescription or engaging in anti-social behaviors such as stealing.
- Social Problems. Compulsive drug use may cause the individual to give up activities or relationships they once cared about. This may manifest at work, school or home and can affect any relationship.
- Impaired control. The person experiences a strong urge to use that they seem unable to control. Repeated attempts to cut down on the substance fail.
Tolerance & Dependence
As addiction takes root, complex brain chemistry changes occur in the brain. Most drugs produce a high by activating the brain’s reward pathway. This releases dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. But, over time, the brain becomes resistant to this signal from the drug. This occurs on the physical level as dopamine receptors become less sensitive.
The net result of this is that the person must take more and more of the substance to get the same high as before. This is known as tolerance.
While tolerance is growing, dependence tends to develop at the same time. If you can’t stop taking a drug you use regularly—and this can be caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or any substance—without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, you’ve become dependent on it.
Naturally, dependence is one of the main reasons that kicking a habit is so hard. Withdrawal symptoms are generally unpleasant.
Insight & Inaction
Someone struggling with addiction may have insight into their condition, but even then, they may be unable to stop using—even if they want to. Even after the addiction has caused problems with:
- Their health
- Their work life
- Their personal life and interpersonal relationships
One hallmark of substance abuse disorder is distorted thinking. These thought patterns manifest as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions can trigger emotions that can, in turn, trigger a desire to use drugs. Learning to identify and actively counter these distortions as they arise is a major goal of treatment. Examples of these cognitive distortions include:
- All or nothing thinking. The addict may see things in black and white only. A circumstance is either great, or it’s awful.
- Someone struggling with substance abuse disorder speaks in terms of ‘always’ and ‘never.’ They perceive a single negative event as if it is yet another link in a long chain of related negative events. When, in reality, these events have little or nothing to do with one another. Common overgeneralization self-talk goes like this: I always get picked last for the basketball team. Or, I never get a promotion. Overgeneralization requires confirmation bias. The individual ignores evidence to the contrary in order to focus on the claim they’re making. For instance, the person saying, ‘I never get a promotion,’ may ignore promotions they’ve earned in the past simply because that occurred at another job. Never mind that this fact renders their claim false.
- Mental filter. The addict may obsessively compare current events to an event that happened in the past. For instance, if their most recent vacation doesn’t compare favorably to that perfect vacation they had in 1993, then it was a complete waste of time. In this scenario, the person exhibiting mental filter will pick a single detail from the recent vacation and dwell on it, using that as a justification to call the entire endeavor a failure.
- Emotional reasoning. An addict may assume that their negative emotions are an accurate reflection of reality. This person tends to think in terms such as: I feel terrible about having to fly, so flying must be dangerous. Another common emotional reasoning thought pattern is: I am feeling angry, therefore, someone must have wronged me. Needless to say, this cognitive distortion puts the cart before the horse.
Note: everyone exhibits these cognitive distortions occasionally. They are not exclusive to people struggling with substance abuse disorder. However, people struggling with addiction tend to exhibit thought distortions more often that other folks.
7 Top Reasons to Kick the Habit
As we’ve seen, abusing prescription or illegal drugs creates changes in brain function. These changes occur over time and can be difficult for a person to spot. Developing an addiction isn’t a moral failing or character flaw—it can happen to almost anyone. Overcoming addiction is possible, but it requires willpower. It requires dedication.
In this section, we’ll explore seven solid reasons to seek help. As you read this list, try to be objective about how much of this applies to you. If you see yourself in any of these, consider getting help.
Recovery from addiction isn’t easy, nor is it a short road. But it’s possible, and the rewards are many.
#1 Nothing Changes if You Don’t Start Today
Your better future begins with making small changes that will add up over time. You can vow to make more beneficial choices this year. Once you prove to yourself that you can do it, your successes will begin to pile up.
You’ll see that small successes lead to big successes, and then, suddenly, you have motivation. You no longer feel like you’re pushing a boulder uphill. Things level off, and the boulder begins to move under its own momentum.
But to get to that point, you have to put in the grunt work. Sadly, there’s really no short cut around this. You must go through. But you can kick things off today, right now, by taking one action towards the path of recovery.
What is that action for you?
#2 Live Instead of Exist
If you’re living with untreated addiction, you’re constantly living in fear. You fear your supply running out, you fear withdrawal symptoms, you fear having to deal with people who just don’t get it. You fear. To a large degree, you live your life on auto-pilot, responding to the demands of addiction as they arise.
To say that this becomes a vicious cycle is an understatement. But when you decide to recover, when you decide to face the withdrawal symptoms and the chattering monkey mind that wants you to use, use, use, you start living life on your own terms. While it’s uncomfortable for a while, it’s also very rewarding. Rediscovering your agency can be extremely satisfying.
#3 Reconnect with Yourself
Who are you?
When addiction takes over, this gets lost in the shuffle. Who are you really? What’s your favorite type of music? Do you hate walking in the rain, or do you love it? Do you love the beach, or do you find sand annoying? When you start on the road to recovery, you rediscover these little things about yourself. As you reconnect with yourself, you find many small reasons to stay the course.
Recovering means reclaiming.
Recovery means no more blackouts. It means no more embarrassing attempts to hide your habit from people who know full well you’re using. Recovery means giving people a chance to see you instead of your addiction. But in order for that to happen, you must reconnect with yourself.
Moreover, one of the reasons drugs and alcohol are addictive in the first place is that they have a way of dulling psychological pain. They can make you numb to things you want to avoid, but that’s a double-edged sword. Drugs can also prevent you from feeling deep, genuine happiness and contentment.
True happiness requires you to process and let go of past trauma. You can’t do that if you’re always chasing a high. The two goals are mutually exclusive.
#4 Reconnect with Others & Forge Genuine Relationships
Recovery means forging or rekindling genuine connections with other people. No longer will you have to please other people just because those people can help you score or get you out of a jam. You get to pick and choose your relationships based solely on merit.
The friendships you forge post recovery can be some of the best relationships you’ve ever had. What’s more, as you progress on your recovery journey, you can become an inspiration for others. 12 step programs put a focus on 1-to-1 relationships. If you want, you can eventually become a mentor to someone else. You can share your insights and experiences to help someone else overcome addiction.
#5 Create the Future You Deserve
Addiction fosters isolation. You either surround yourself with people who are lost in their own chemical-induced dazes, or you avoid people who ‘don’t get it.’ But it’s hard to forge a path in this world by yourself. If you want to start a business, write a book or do pretty much anything else with your life, you’ll need to interact with other people constructively.
Granted, being an addict doesn’t mean you’re anti-social, and we don’t mean to imply that it does. But the fact remains, it can be hard to pursue a goal if you always have a bigger goal of getting high. Getting high will always have the highest priority.
You can’t create the future you deserve if your highest priority is to hack your brain’s reward pathway. To do so is to seek immediate gratification. But seeking immediate gratification is mutually exclusive to the goal of building a business, writing a novel or learning to cook. Those things require time and effort, and you won’t find immediate satisfaction.
#6 Rediscover Your Passions
In a similar vein, the road to recovery will allow you to rediscover your passions. What did you want to do when you were 15 years old? Where did you see your life going? Taking that trip down memory lane can be painful, we know. But if you’re considering treatment, that trip is well worth the effort. The opportunity to reclaim those lost passions is a stellar source of motivation.
Because addiction involves creating a shortcut to reward via the brain’s reward pathway, it leaves you bereft of passion. There’s little reason to pursue things that would be rewarding if you can just smoke a joint or shoot up.
What would you do if you could do anything? What would you accomplish?
#7 Protect Your Health
When you start pursuing your passions, you quickly realize that you need a sturdy vessel within which to do so. You need a body that will carry you through the next three, five, ten years and beyond. Seeking recovery will allow you to reclaim your health, which will make it easier to pursue your passions.
Recovering from addiction offers both mental and physical health benefits. On the mental side of things, you’ll learn to recognize triggers that create the urge to use. You’ll learn to recognize thought distortions that make you start to think about using. Once you’ve learned to recognize these, you can proactively counter them.
Of course, many people who struggle with substance abuse have found great relief in mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation can make you more aware of your thoughts as you’re thinking them. This meta cognition can, in turn, help you identify changes in mood before they impact your behavior. Remember, staying clean comes down to the actions you take or don’t take. Your habitual thoughts can impact your behavior.
On the physical side of things, giving up drugs will require you to replace the dopamine surge you got from those substances with other activities. One great alternative is vigorous exercise, which has been shown to release feel-good endorphins. The more you exercise, the more you’ll want to exercise. Will it be fun at first? No. In fact, you’ll probably want to quit. But if you stick with it, you can develop a positive exercise habit that can help you cope with cravings.
In 2010, over 38,000 people died from drug overdoses. Drug overdose deaths have only increased since then. If you’re concerned about your habit, don’t wait. Seek help now. You can put addiction into remission if you’re willing to do some hard work up front. You can do it. Join the thousands of people who gained control of their addictions, and reclaim your life.
If you’re trying to get addiction treatment for yourself or for someone you love, reach out to The Hills for comprehensive and caring treatment that will help patients detox and learn the skills to cope with their triggers and their addiction. You have options, let The Hills be one of them.