Whether its cigarettes or full-blown heroin, the majority of illegal drugs have a highly addictive quality. For some drugs, the problem is not with the drug itself, but the relationship that the mind forms between the drug and the body. Once the body becomes dependent on the drug, the problem with narcotics arises because tolerance to the drug begins to build up and this induces the user to up the dose, which often proves fatal.
Addiction creates the problems of drug use because once the cycle begins, the individual is unable to stop putting a foreign substance into their body. Psychology refers to this relationship to the drug as dependence. (1) Some individuals can stop using a substance for an extended period, but the majority of relapses occur after withdrawal symptoms have long passed. (2) According to neurology, this may occur because the amount of time an individual spends addicted to the substance often happens for years or decades. A similarly extended period is necessary for irreversible synaptic connections to change. (3) The issue with helping individuals who have already been taking drugs for a specified period is not necessarily overcoming addiction but preventing relapses from occurring as relapses often lead back into the cycle.
Some neurologists believe that synaptic alterations in the midbrain reinforcement system may influence the beginning stages of drug use while synaptic plasticity may create the subsequent drug usage in addiction. (4) Significant changes, including morphological alterations of the brain, accelerated brain aging, and development of neurodegenerative conditions contribute to the difficulty of quitting a substance because the brain is literally changing each time the individual uses. (5) Imagine trying to rewire your brain to stop drinking water, something your body and mind are used to consuming for as long as you can remember. The same idea can be used to express the difficulty of giving up a drug once one is hooked.
Withdrawal symptoms are what result from quitting the drug, and they are no walk in the park. Below is a list of some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced by users: (6)
It is no wonder that users fall back into their drug use when dealing with these multitudes of symptoms. What makes relapse dangerous is that the user thinks that he/she has the same tolerance to the drug they had before they abstained for a while, but the reality is that their tolerance to the drug has returned to normal. They end up using a higher dose than needed to achieve the drug’s effects and overdose. (7)
We need to find ways to prevent these overdoses from happening, and one of them is not letting the user go back to the place where they started their addiction because the familiarity of that place will bring them back into the mindset they were in when they were using drugs due to environmental reinforcers. Avoid the past to avoid relapse.
If you are growing concerned that you or someone you love may be developing a substance addiction, the Asana Recovery Center may be able to help. Call us at (949) 438-4504 to learn more about our alcohol and drug addiction treatment program today.
1, 6-7. Sdorow, Lester M. & Rickabaugh, Cheryl A. (Atomic Dog Publishing: Cincinnati, OH, 2006). Psychology 6th ed., 221.
2-4. Spanagel, R., & Heilig, M. (2005, December 1). Addiction and its brain science. Addiction, doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01260.x
5. Büttner, A. (2017, February). The neuropathology of drug abuse. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Volume 13, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154616301358?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor=&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9ae aa92ffb