In this post, we’ll explore the complex topic of addiction recovery. First, we’ll touch on what addiction really is—and what it is not—so we can set the stage for sections that follow. Then, we’ll highlight the all-important difference between getting sober and maintaining sobriety. If you’re considering addiction recovery, you won’t want to miss this post.
What is Addiction?
Addiction was once thought of as a moral failing, or a lack of willpower. Today, researchers understand that addiction is a complex neurological condition that starts in the brain. It begins with marked changes in brain function and leads to a few predictable behaviors. Specifically, someone suffering from untreated addiction will use their drug of choice compulsively, even if doing so causes harm. They often continue to use drugs, even though their addiction may cause:
- Financial problems
- Legal troubles
- Problems with interpersonal relationships
- Problems at work or school
Indeed, the addiction is often said to have taken over the person’s life, and to a large extent, this is true. No addict sets out to lose control. But as the individual abuses drugs, certain neurological changes occur in the brain, namely tolerance and chemical dependence. Then, once addiction sets in, using the drug to get high becomes a driving motivation. In a sense, it’s almost as if the individual can only feel happy, content or at peace if they’re using the drug.
It’s important to note, however, that while addiction is a chronic condition, addiction recovery is possible.
Many common street drugs are addictive. It’s possible to become addicted to:
- Many more
Another trait of substance abuse disorder, or addiction, is distorted thinking. People struggling with addiction often display thought distortions. Two such thought distortions are:
- All or nothing thinking. This is a very binary way of thinking in which something is either good, or it is bad. There is no middle ground.
- Minimizing the negative. This is a thought distortion in which the person thinks only of the upsides of a particular course of action and downplays the possible negative consequences.
As you might guess, addicts often display these thought distortions while suffering from withdrawal, or when their supply of their drug of choice is threatened. Because of chemical dependence, the addict’s brain has come to rely on the drug for the release of certain neurochemicals such as dopamine. Consequently, losing access to the drug can seem like a crisis-level situation.
This desperation can prompt risky or anti-social behaviors in some individuals.
During the addiction recovery process, the addict learns how to recognize and manage these thought distortions.
When Does Addiction Start?
While some drugs are extremely addictive in the short term, such as cocaine and heroin, it’s important to note that addiction does not set in right away. One joint or line of coke won’t make you an addict. But if you find yourself using more and more often, or using more of the drug than you used to, that is definitely a warning sign.
Having to use more of the drug to get high is a sign of tolerance, and tolerance is the first step on the path to addiction.
If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand that you may have to fight for your sobriety for the rest of your life. Addiction is a chronic condition, and there is currently no known cure. Fortunately, research into how addiction works has come a long way in the last 30 years. Addiction recovery is possible, and the treatments you’ll find in an accredited rehabilitation facility are research-based.
Why No Cure?
As of 2020, the aforementioned changes in brain function caused by drug abuse appear to be permanent for the most part. However, that doesn’t mean that future research won’t uncover ways to reverse these changes. For now, the best option for addiction recovery is to visit a rehab center. In-patient rehabilitation accomplishes two things:
- Medically supervised detox. Through this safe process, you’ll get the drug out of your system so you can start the recovery process.
- Counseling & therapy. As mentioned, you’ll learn powerful coping mechanisms such as cognitive behavioral therapy that will teach you how to recognize triggers and thought distortions.
Summary: As with other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, asthma or type 2 diabetes, treatment does not provide a cure. But you can learn to manage your addiction so you can remain in control. Addiction recovery is possible.
What Does Treatment Look Like?
Effective drug addiction treatment depends on the type of drug abused. For instance, the treatment regimen for opioid abuse differs from that of cocaine. In the case of opioids, medications exist that can help reduce withdrawal cravings. Consequently, medication is often the first step in treatment. However, for some drugs, like marijuana and various stimulants, there are no medications that help with withdrawal symptoms.
Depending on the drug you use, medications may be available to help you detox faster. However, note that detox alone is insufficient to prevent relapse. After detox, and after withdrawal symptoms have subsided a bit, the patient often begins therapy. It’s in this interactive counseling environment where the real work is done.
In addition, a quality rehab center will work with you to create a tailored treatment regimen. A one-size-fits-all solution rarely yields lasting benefit. Once you enter a program, the staff will work with you to create a regimen that factors in your:
- Drug use and abuse patterns
- Drug-related medical problems
- Drug-related mental issues
- Drug-related social problems
- Past emotional trauma
What Is Withdrawal?
When you give up a drug you’ve become addicted to, your brain will react by prompting you in various ways to resume using. This generally manifests as physical or mental discomfort and cravings. Withdrawal is no one’s best friend, but it’s a sure sign that you’re moving through the detox process.
Note: it’s always best to go through withdrawal under medical supervision. Attempting to do so yourself can be dangerous, as some individuals have immediately relapsed and subsequently overdosed.
When Should I Seek help?
If you’ve ever wondered whether your use of drugs crosses the line, you’re not alone. Millions of people grapple with this concern every year. For some, they can indeed control their consumption through sheer force of will. Others are not so lucky, and this isn’t really their fault. Researchers now understand that genetics plays a large role in how susceptible someone is to addiction.
But the fact is, if you think you might be on your way to becoming addicted to a substance, then you may well be.
As mentioned earlier, one of the quickest self-assessments you can make is this: do you have to use more of the drug than you used to in order to get high? If you do, then you might be developing tolerance to the drug. Once tolerance sets in, the brain will adapt by becoming chemically dependent on the drug.
The drug, which it once viewed as a foreign substance, now gets viewed as essential. Researchers aren’t precisely sure why this happens, but it may be due to the fact that most addictive substances force the brain to release neurotransmitters like dopamine. The brain becomes accustomed to this, and over time, it begins to rely on the substance to trigger the release of these chemicals.
There are several self-assessments available online that you can take. Here, we will provide a brief example. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it may be time to start on the road to addiction recovery.
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug consumption? If you have, then you probably should. If you’ve tried to already but failed, then you may be struggling with addiction.
- Do people routinely criticize your drinking or drug use, and does that bother you? If you’re getting defensive about your drug use, then there might be something to it. If more than one other person is suggesting you should cut back, then it may be time to give it some serious thought.
- Do you go through a cycle of quitting and binging? Do you quit for a little bit only to resume use a few days, weeks or months later? Cycles of quitting and resuming can definitely indicate addiction. Especially if, when you quit, you tell yourself you’ll never use again.
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking or drug use? If your recreational use is really under control, then why do you feel guilty about it?
- Have you ever used a drug to get over the effects of a different drug? Or have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to ‘steady your nerves?’
If you suspect you may have substance abuse disorder, don’t wait—seek help now. Addiction recovery is possible, but you must take the first step.
What Does Relapse Mean?
Relapse does not mean that the addiction treatment failed. Because addiction is a chronic condition, relapse is possible. However, modern addiction recovery methods put an emphasis on relapse prevention, providing you with the tools you need to stay on top of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Sometimes, all it takes is to acknowledge the craving without judging it, the way you would watch a cloud float across the sky. At other times, it may take all your willpower to say—or indeed shout—no.
Relapse rates for addiction are quite similar to rates for other chronic diseases. That is to say, if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, you may experience relapse. For instance, type 2 diabetes was once thought to be irreversible. But more modern research shows that it can be reversed with diet and exercise. But if the patient then returns to their former diet high in refined sugar, the condition will return. Addiction is similar in that once you learn tools, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to manage your condition, you must actively use those tools to see benefit.
If you relapse, it’s an indicator that you need to see your doctor or other specialist to adjust your treatment regimen.
Common relapse triggers include:
- Psychological pain. People in addiction recovery may resume using to avoid facing unpleasant thoughts or emotions.
- People who have been through a drug recovery program may think they have addiction under wraps. They forget that addiction is a chronic condition and they let their guard down.
- Mismanaged or misdirected anger. An individual may relapse to avoid confrontation with others. Instead of confronting the issue or person head on, they drink or get high ‘to take the edge off.’ Before they know it, they’ve relapsed.
- A person might relapse because they’ve taken on too much. Deadlines, the expectations of a new employer or the desire to impress a new love interest can all contribute to a sense of overwhelm.
- Old friends. A person might relapse after reconnecting with past acquaintances who still abuse drugs. One joint won’t hurt, right?
- As a way to feel in control. Paradoxically, some people in addiction recovery relapse as a way to feel empowered. The thought process is akin to, I can do whatever I want. I am in control. Often, this goes along with overconfidence in that they are sure they can stop using at any time. Individuals with low insight into the fact that they have an addiction commonly fall into this trap.
- The individual sets goals that are not obtainable. When they inevitably fail to meet all of them, they put up their hands in frustration and use as a way to relieve stress.
Summary: a relapse does not signify the end of your addiction recovery. It is a bump in the road, but if you stay positive and remain dedicated to overall recovery, you can regain sobriety.
Two Things to Know
Before you embark on that journey, there are two things you should know.
- You may grieve. Addiction recovery can give you control over your life back. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have the odd pang of nostalgia. Some degree of grieving for your addiction is normal, and this may never go away completely. You may find yourself missing the lifestyle you led, and you should be prepared for this ahead of time.
- Becoming sober and living sober are not the same thing. As mentioned, detox is not sobriety. You shouldn’t go into rehab with the mentality that you only need to get the drug out of your system and you will be fine. If you embrace the idea of therapy modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, and if you are willing to explore any psychological issues that may be contributing to your drug use, you stand a much better chance of maintaining sobriety.
We hope this concise guide has helped demystify addiction recovery. Give it a share and consider The Hills for your addiction treatment center needs! We’re here to help you get on the road to addiction recovery!