Addiction is a disease. The brain is sick, and the way it works has been warped and changed. To break out of an addiction, you must consistently and vehemently oppose your desires and instincts – it takes time to dig yourself out of that hole, and most people don’t do it without help.
On this path to getting sober and staying sober, most people will encounter one challenge after the other. Like any disease, addiction requires treatment, downtime, and recovery. One of the worst roadblocks on the way to recovery is a person’s own guilt and shame – in a way, for many people struggling with addiction, they’re their own greatest enemy. This stems from the innate belief that, somewhere and somehow, addiction is your fault.
People who take drugs to begin with are at risk of developing an addiction. But very rarely do we take drugs while in our right mind. In some cases, people get addicted growing up around drugs and violence. In other cases, it’s a matter of self-medication and excessive stress – developing alcoholism from stress at work or strain in the marriage. In yet other cases, many teens find themselves slipping into addiction due to peer pressure, party behavior, and mistakes that they regret deeply later in life.
To understand why addiction isn’t your fault – and why it’s important to internalize that for a successful recovery – we need to go back into how addiction takes root to begin with.
Addiction In The Brain
Addiction is a condition marked by the repetition of behavior that was once enjoyable and is now a source of grief or pain. Despite the clear detrimental effect, an addicted person cannot stop themselves from going through with said behavior.
Repetition does not mark an addiction. Instead, it is the dangerous and negative side effects that simply do not discourage the patient that act as a telltale sign. For example, if you spend countless hours a week training and obsessing over your sport, then you are not technically addicted. You are simply dedicated. If you spend hours a day on the internet, but still lead a healthy life, you are not addicted. Millions of Americans own smartphones, carrying them on their person and compulsively checking them up to fifty times a day on average. Yet that does not mean the average American has an addiction.
Addiction occurs when behavior in the brain – sometimes compulsive behavior like gambling, yet usually behavior involving substance use – causes your brain’s reward system to become skewed. There comes a point when you want to stop but can’t – giving up an addiction brings about feelings of pain through withdrawal symptoms, and intense cravings akin to hunger and thirst. Addiction is also accompanied by tolerance, which forces addicts to up the ante on their addictive behavior/drug of choice to experience the same high/relief, and it is accompanied by a growing lack of interest in anything besides the focus of the addiction.
This change in the brain can be documented, and visually confirmed in brain scans. Thankfully, it can be reversed – but the process takes months and years of recovery.
Choice And Addiction
Choice as a factor in addiction has been the subject of countless debates. Many want to hold people accountable for their actions and see addiction and the guilt it brings as punishment for drug use, no matter how incidental.
While it is reprehensible, uncompassionate and short-sighted to morally judge people for their addiction, choice does play a role in addiction – both before and after. We choose to start using, even if that choice was a mistake we regret. And we must choose to stop using – and hold true to that choice for the rest of our lives.
You have the power to choose – and that truth should empower you to be stronger than the addiction and seek help on the days when it feels like too much.
After treatment, when early recovery is over, and the cravings subside, it is your choice to stay true to sobriety. Post-rehab programs like sober living help in this regard, by outfitting you with the tools you need to stay clean.
The Ineffectiveness Of Blame
For some people, the realization that their choices played into their current situation can be too much – it can drive them into a spiral of guilt, depression, and relapse. It is useless to pretend that choice plays no role in addiction – but it is just as fruitless to be paralyzed by blame, or guilt.
The only thing that matters is today, tomorrow, and the future – and you have the choice to help yourself or get help and continue fighting against your addiction no matter what choices you made in the past.
Your Responsibilities In Recovery
Responsibility in recovery begins the day you come out of rehab, clean and free from drugs. From that day onwards, you owe it to yourself and those around you to stick to your recovery.
Recovery is a different journey for everyone who goes through it. Some individuals do best with one-on-one therapy, while others need to be in group therapy for the most effective treatment. For some, their addiction is tied to childhood traumas and depressive symptoms going back decades. For others, they need to confront their past by cutting themselves off from old friendships and moving away from old memories.
For most people, now and again, relapses will happen. The relapse rate for common addictions – including opiates and alcoholism – is quite high. When and if relapses happen, it is your responsibility to get back on the horse and continue your recovery. Do not let a relapse discourage you from potential permanent sobriety in the future – and know that relapses are common in early recovery, as part of the lingering cravings in your brain.
With time, it will be easier to fight them – and eventually, you will have the support system and the surroundings to help prevent them completely. By embracing your responsibilities to yourself, and your accountability towards others, you can fuel your recovery with the knowledge that everything you do is important, for your future and the wellbeing of those you care about most. You matter – and your fight against addiction matters.