Addiction rarely happens right away. You might hear stories about someone who tried cocaine or heroin once and became addicted immediately. If those stories are true, they are rare exceptions. Usually, addiction develops gradually and by the time someone realizes she’s addicted, she’s already stuck. No two people have the exact same experience of addiction, but there are some broad similarities. You can break down the process of addiction as intricately as you like, but the following stages mostly cover it.
Use and overuse.
You can’t get addicted to something you never try, so the very first step is experimentation, followed by occasional use. Most people stop here without much problem. For a problem to develop, you have to continue to use or overuse. The initial uses give you a hit of dopamine. It’s widely believed that dopamine causes the pleasure associated with drugs and alcohol, but actually dopamine is associated with learning. The dopamine fixes a pleasurable experience in your memory. As you continue to use, you start to get a dopamine surge in anticipation of use, rather than during or after. This dopamine surge before using is what sets up your triggers. You learn where you are and who you’re with just before you get the pleasurable experience of using. Then later, these circumstances trigger cravings.
Tolerance and withdrawal.
If you use often enough, your brain starts offsetting the effects of the drug and you need to take more to feel the same way. Unfortunately, at this point, you go into withdrawal if you stop using and you feel worse than before. You have to use just to feel normal. You may no longer get any benefit from using but you still use just to avoid the pain of withdrawal. At this point, you may need professional help to quit, especially if you’re drinking heavily or using benzodiazepines, which both have dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
This is when you’re fixated on the drug to the detriment of everything else. You start canceling plans with friends, your work may suffer, or you might start spending money you don’t have. The difficulty at this stage is that you’re higher reasoning has been cut out of the loop. Drug seeking behavior has become a sort of reflex. You may even want to stop, but somehow you just can’t. Your brain thinks you need drugs like a thirsty person needs water. At this point, quitting requires commitment to a plan and social support. Willpower alone is not enough. You will either need to enter a treatment program, seek therapy, start going to 12-step meetings, or possibly all three to get sober and stay that way.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Recovery Ways is a leading addiction treatment provider with an excellent recovery rate. Our expert staff includes masters and PhD level therapists and board certified addiction psychiatrists. Our comfortable facilities will help to make your treatment as enjoyable as possible and our therapists use proven techniques like sensory integration and recreation therapy to help to engage the world without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Call us today at 1-888-986-7848 or email us through our contact page to learn more.