What is the difference between somebody who has spent their life totally able to dip into the use of alcohol or drugs and those who are tortured the moment they try to stop themselves indulging in their chemical stimulation? The answer is, we don’t know.
Many addicts have no idea that they are dependent on a substance or a particular behaviour. Quite common is the middle-aged soul with sleep problems. All too often they’ll drink about a bottle of wine or more each evening, which has slowly built up over a period of many years. They may insist they’re not alcoholics, and could give it up if they want to, and they only drink because they enjoy it. But when told that the biggest single thing they can do to improve their sleep patterns is to quit drinking for a while, they’ll make every excuse not to have to. They’ll continue to rely on the hope that more alcohol will help them to pass out earlier in the evening and make them drowsy enough not to notice when life’s important things are being washed down a drain.
More common is the soul who has been lost to hard drugs. There is often a debate about whether smoking a little cannabis will actually lead to the use of harder drugs. Not necessarily, is the answer, but almost every cocaine and heroin addict started off by using something which they believed was less addictive. It was only then that they moved on to ‘harder’ substances, perhaps to dull the pain of reality from which they had been trying to escape all along. Those two drugs perhaps demonstrate the difference between psychological and physical addiction, in the older definitions. Withdrawal from heroin will invariably lead to vomiting and many other physical manifestations, but withdrawal from cocaine will be a much more psychological affair, with anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and other symptoms, unless something is done to help the addict.
There is an interesting little chemical neurotransmitter called Dopamine, which is a useful substance in the ‘feel-good’ chemical division. It serves many purposes but it is intimately tied up with the reward/pleasure cycle which may be at the root of many addictions, particularly substance dependence. More research is needed to fully understand what is happening, but we humans are naturally programmed to seek out pleasure, and we need to keep looking for it once the addictive substance or behaviour has made a connection to our pleasure sensors. In addition to the usual list of substances, both prescription and non-prescription, there are many cases on record, of people becoming addicted to some oddities such as water, exercise, Internet shopping, sex, gambling, aerobic exercise, and many more, some quite bizarre.
There is one thing that all addictions share in common; they all came along after we were born, unless our mother was drunk or stoned for much of her pregnancy. If we once had a life without the addiction we can sure have that life again. There are now powerful tools available to therapists that may help addicts to lead better, happier, more fulfilling lives without any addiction at all. The reason anybody started down the addict path is usually very little to do with what keeps them on it, so it’s really a matter of plotting a path out of the addiction and dependent behaviour, and giving useful support during the process. Therapy does this at the same time as helping the addict to design and build a life that works for them, and which is so much easier and more rewarding than a life of addiction. Gain quick-link access to qualified therapists in your area with the Better app. Just talking to someone can really help if you feel you may have a problem with alcohol, drugs or other addiction.
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