Psychology of Addiction and Substance Abuse

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“We are what we repeatedly do.” The addiction soon becomes a part of the personality. And yes, it causes irreversible physiological and neurological changes that are hard to deal with. It’s hard both for those that suffer and those that suffer with them.

However, psychologists and therapists are coming to an agreement on what causes addiction and how to treat it. It goes beyond the borders of mere addiction. Knowing this can help you understand more about yourself and your emotions than you might think.

You know it’s not enough to just say quit it. It’s not enough to know that it’s wrong, what it does to you, that it hurts others as well. Actually, that only enforces the habit, as one feels helpless in these situations, and emotional responses such as shame, guilt, and anger follow. This only isolates the individual, making him or her bond with addiction all the more.

So what is the root cause of these behavioral changes and emotional responses?

Why can’t you change

As we’ve said, we are what we repeatedly do. So, don’t do what you don’t want to become, because you won’t be able to reverse it later on. This is due to the brain’s ability to shape and structure neuropathways called neuroplasticity.

In short, your brain rewires and creates a subpersonality recreated by constantly exercising one stimulus, one set of action. What happens is that you can’t erase it; you have to create another mechanism, another neuropathway that shuts the former one down or replaces it.

Relapse means something has happened to the mechanism that amortizes the other one, it has stopped working. Fortunately, this is also a means of changing your brain and recovering from bad habits.

Why won’t you change

The first thing we notice about addicts which makes them extremely hard to cope with is the resistance – to change or help. This leaves us frustrated so we back away. The fracture deepens, the problem deteriorates.

Everybody knows what’s right for them, but why do they choose to ignore it, why don’t they want to feel better? This is a simple question many still don’t know the answer to. But it’s pretty simple.

Addictive actions are in essence displaced emotional responses. Displaced because we feel powerless to change a situation, this causes anger we cannot express and substitute it for something that makes us feel more in control of our situation.

The inner torment either turns to self-harm or avoidance. And we’re not ready to give up on that behavior because we feel our basic problem is still not addressed and letting it go would seriously violate our boundaries. Substance abuse and TV addiction are just ways of silencing the inner conflict.

What can you do about it

A person suffering from substance abuse should find a way to reconnect with others. Portugal’s drug policy shows how social involvement, acceptance, and purpose help us give up our addiction.

Even recovery centers such as have come to implement holistic approaches, realizing that addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So what should one do in order to create an incentive environment?

  • Change the behavior that makes you feel helpless to something more power-charging. Address and confront the problems that make you feel weak.
  • Don’t avoid dealing with your emotions. Avoidance is the number one reason our sense of power and control declines. The more you avoid requesting your needs be met, the more you feel helpless and isolated.
  • Find a way to connect to understanding people. Rejection is what’s behind the shame, fear, and anger. Finding understanding people is crucial as judgment, criticism, discontent will only further the fear of rejection, but not make us quit.
  • Find a purpose. This is a good enough perspective for us to see how truly detrimental this behavior is. Because saying that it is and seeing that it is are two different things.
  • Embrace the power of touch. Touch is the most basic human need that reduces the feeling of rejection and isolation. Having someone hug you or hold your hand can help tremendously.

Even if you don’t have this particular coping mechanism yourself, the basic problem here has many ways of unfolding and understanding it can help greatly in dealing with various forms of anxiety and escapism as well; and hopefully, help you better understand the position of those who suffer substance abuse.

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