Why Drug and Alcohol Addiction Holds Such a Grip on Our Lives. If you’ve ever struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, or are close to someone who has, you know that there is an entire mindset that seems to go with it. It is estimated that over 76 million people are affected just by alcohol abuse, for example. The human mind seems to take on an infinite capacity for denial, and it is often not until life has become chaotic that one chooses to change. Even then, the chaos may not be enough to bring the reality of addiction into focus. It’s a stern reality that many find is one of the most difficult aspects of the mental state of addiction. And understanding why our brains behave like this is just one way to ultimately defeat such cycles of behavior.
Some signs of alcoholism — with similar signs occurring after other substance problems — include, but are not limited to:
– Blackouts, memory problems
– Trouble at work related to drinking
– Secretive behavior, isolation
– Lying about how much has been consumed
– Lack of interest in activities with others
– Financial problems, borrowing money, stealing
Never Ending Cycle of Positive Reinforcement
If you’ve experienced these symptoms, you may want to consult your physician about whether you might be experiencing alcohol addiction. Essentially, what alcohol and other substances do is closely mimic the way that our brains react to rewards. If you remember the feeling of getting up on a holiday morning while anticipating a present you got for being good, you can understand how much our minds invest in a feeling of appreciation for our good actions. What alcohol and other substances convince our brains of is that we are being rewarded — and who wouldn’t want to feel this way?
The difficulty here lies in the fact that for the mind, the feeling of reward presents us with the feeling that we would like to be rewarded again. What happens is a cycle of positive reinforcement that never ends, in a sense. We drink; we feel good; we drink again; we feel good again. It is only our brain’s capacity for tolerance of substances like alcohol that slowly reduces that feeling of reward: we must drink ever higher amounts of alcohol to attain it.
This is where alcoholism comes into the picture. When drinking one or two drinks no longer provides us with that feeling of “reward” — and when even drinking a six-pack of beer no longer provides that feeling — something very negative occurs. Our body not only begins to crave that feeling, but in fact we become dependent on alcohol simply to function. It’s a dangerous combination: One one hand, we are drinking or taking ever more toxic chemicals in, and getting less of a positive feeling out of the substance. This is physical addiction.
When Quitting is Almost as Dangerous as Continuing
Physical addiction is just one of the ways that alcohol and other substances make it so difficult to stop their use. When we no longer have the chemicals in our brains and bodies that alcohol and drugs provide, our bodies begin to go through withdrawal symptoms, and with chemicals such as alcohol, that can be extremely difficult. That is where assistance comes in, particularly with inpatient treatment, which provides close monitoring and help through this difficult period. This is important because in many cases, alcoholism has become so severe that the withdrawal symptoms can actually result in death. Some of the signs of danger include rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, kidney or liver failure, delirium, confusion, blackouts, seizures, and coma. These can be a medical emergency, so no one should attempt withdrawal on their own.
The mental addiction of alcohol and drug-use is also extremely difficult to cope with. Often use of alcohol and drugs comes from a lack of positive feelings. Those reward feelings we try to get through the use of substances, especially when we’re feeling depressed or anxious, might provide the only kind of relief — or might seem like the only kind of relief — available to us on a short-term basis. When we self-medicate, in other words, what we’re doing is seeking a positive mental state, often to overcome a negative mental state.
Why Self-Medication Doesn’t Work
In fact, the irony of a substance such as alcohol, when used to “treat” depression, is that alcohol is itself a depressant of the central nervous system. It’s essentially like playing a slot machine where the house is guaranteed to win: No matter how good we feel for the few hours where we’re drinking, we’re playing a game against time where we will end up feeling worse.
The mental addiction, with substances like alcohol, is a very difficult experience because it usually far outlasts the physical addiction. Well after our bodies have adapted to life without substances, we can find ourselves craving the substance, especially during times of stress or sadness. Learning how to manage such times in healthy ways is one aspect of overcoming drugs and alcohol that is crucial. What drugs and alcohol have in common is that they are short-term solutions which have catastrophic long-term effects. Positive coping methods such as exercise or meditation are long-term solutions which have extremely positive long-term effects.
We may not feel the instant gratification that we get from alcohol or a drug, but we find that after a while we just feel better. And this is just one reason that life can begin to feel good again when we learn how to move away from the toxic influences of drugs and alcohol.
It may not always feel that way because life has its ups and downs, but regaining the ability to experience life in a healthy way is the reward gained by entering an inpatient treatment program.