Addiction hijacks the lives of its victims. The disease is progressive and debilitating.
What is addiction?
It is a progressive disease, meaning it gets gradually worse when left untreated, that can be recognized by a loss of control over use (or a substance or engaging in a behavior), obsession with use (again, of a substance or behavior), continued use despite adverse consequences, denial that there is a problem, and a strong tendency to relapse even when abstinence is attempted.
The disease does not discriminate. All types of people from all walks of life are equally likely to develop addiction, and the drug, or behavior, of choice does not need any distinction.
In the words of one young recovering polydrug user, “The craving was just continuous. It was just like, if I was coming off speed, I wanted heroin. If I was coming off heroin, I wanted to snort cocaine. And if I was coming off that, I wanted to stay numb. I wanted to go from one drug to another.”
Why do people become addicts?
The ways individuals develop addictions vary, but whatever the route, the disease is the same and needs treatment.
The following avenues can lead people to addiction:
One way many people find themselves living the life of addiction is the result of being exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age.
As a 24-year-old marijuana smoker, now in recovery, puts it, “The friends I started hanging out with in school were pretty much the ones that were really rebelling and already knew about cigarettes and pot, and so we just started sneaking off and someone would have a joint of something that their dad left around.”
A little experimenting at a young age leads a lot of users to want more and more, and to eventually want a more intense high. Progressively, drug use escalates to the point of addiction.
In an effort to be cool, or to fit in with the right crowd, a lot of people give in and try substances or behaviors that they wouldn’t have tried on their own.
“A lot of my friends did heroin. I just wanted to try it. It was an experiment. I just wanted to see what it was like. It felt good for a little while; you nod off and you are half-dreaming,” recalls a 22-year-old heroin addict, and polydrug user.
Genetics/Family of Origin
Another is hereditary. If you grow up with parents who drink and use, then not only do you have it in your blood, but you also witnessed addiction in your environment.
One 37-year-old recovering alcoholic shared his experience: “I didn’t like the way my father fought with my mother when he drank, so I never drank a drop, not a drop, until I was 27. Then it was like a light got turned on and I tried to make up for lost time.”
In this addict’s case, he didn’t drink because of a learned behavior, he actually worked hard to steer clear of the drug that made his father into somebody he did not want to become. Eventually when he did expose himself to alcohol, the genetic component kicked in and he did not know when to stop.
“My mother was addicted to speed and heroin, and I grew up with it. Then I was taken away from her. I’d go and visit her, seeing her high, seeing her not high, seeing her high again, coming down the next time, back and forth. And then when I was 11 years old, she was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day. After that I didn’t have anything to look forward to, so I didn’t care anymore.”
Even when the trauma is not related to an addicted family member, trying to numb the pain and escape from the memories by getting drunk or high, created self-medication, eventually manifests into an addiction.
Other types of trauma can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, active military duty, loss of a loved one, or repeated physical danger.
In the professional opinion of Dr. Nora Volkow, “If you have a decrease in dopamine receptors that transmit pleasurable feelings, you become less responsive to the stimuli, such as food or sex, that normally activate them. When you don’t reward yourself enough, your brain signals you to do something that will stimulate the circuits sufficiently to create a sense of well-being. Thus an individual who has low sensitivity to normal stimuli learns behaviors, such as abusing drugs or overeating, that will activate them.”
Addiction will not get better on its own. Addicts need rehab and ongoing determination to heal and stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol.
All testimonies taken from the book Uppers, Downers, All Arounders by Darryl S. Inaba, Pharm.D & William E. Cohen.
Post by: Marissa Maldonado