Sometimes, you can’t think straight, talk in complete sentences, or even get up and do the things you know you have to do. Functioning like a “normal” person is out of question, and what should be at the forefront of your mind has been pushed thoroughly to the back, while your primary occupation is, as per usual, this intense need for something that you’ve been struggling with for weeks, months, or even years.
Drug use and addiction are not the same thing, but for the millions of Americans who have struggled or still do struggle with substance abuse and addiction, the day-to-day reality of not functioning without your fix, and often not functioning with it, is terrifying. Much like most of life becomes terrifying. For those who have never been addicted, the simplest analogy is to think of addiction as a mental prison, an inescapable vice grip on a person’s mind and thinking. Responsibility and choice aren’t completely gone – after all, you can choose to get help – but your ability to act on your choices is limited by your ability to withstand the symptoms and cravings that come with abstinence, which are often overpowering, like thirst or real hunger.
Most Americans have tried illicit drugs, not to mention legal vices like alcohol and nicotine. Teens and adults in their 20s are most susceptible to drug use, and most who end up struggling with that is defined as a dependence issue end up getting addicted around this age. As their peers give up recreational drug use to focus on their goals, many find themselves stuck. It can take years or decades, but most eventually get unstuck. In fact, as they get older, many actually stop using even without treatment.
But others can’t. The difference isn’t the disease, but the circumstances. Addiction will truly grind your life to a halt, and unless the right set of circumstances help you age out of drug use, it takes the help of formal treatment to get you to the point where you can heal properly. Decades of research have led to the current hypothesis that addiction is a treatable disease, one that might be considered chronic in the way its symptoms can reoccur over time. But the right lifestyle and emotional support can help those who have previously struggled to get clean for years truly stay sober for the rest of their lives. By understanding how addiction changes lives, the way past the disease becomes clearer.
How Addiction Can Change Your Life
The difference between drug use and dependence is that when you’re dependent on a drug, you cannot go without it. This isn’t to say that you simply crave it all the time, but you actually cannot go through a day without seriously obsessing over your drug of choice, to the point that it begins to negatively impact your life.
At first, the impact might not even be noticeable to most people, or even yourself. At other times, the impact is hidden by another problem that’s eating away at your life, causing havoc as well. Anything from losing your livelihood to surviving one tragedy after another can lead a person through a cascade of emotional problems, with addiction being just one of many possible aftermaths.
But one way or another, addiction takes the place of many other things in life. It takes away relationships, choice, opportunities, and, most importantly, it gives the illusion of taking away pain. That alone is how most addictions continue to perpetuate themselves, through weeks, months, and years. It’s why addiction is most prevalent in teens and young adults, even as it continues to feed off them for years after. If you don’t have a way to cope with your pain, and if all other options are out, a drug can look like your best shot at feeling better. Instead, it makes things worse.
Making the Choice to Get Help
Regardless of how dependence begins, it always leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. Most people try to stay sober once they realize they’re addicted, and some do get sober, time and time again.
It isn’t easy or possible alone. Statistically, some people get clean and stay clean without professional help. But they still need help. It’s the support and love of friends and family that is necessary to help a person push through the hardest days, and the hardest nights. Beating addiction means staying sober over days, weeks, and years. But it starts with the choice to get help.
The reason help matters so much is because of how addiction affects the mind. Most people who struggle with physical dependence on drugs also struggle with withdrawal symptoms, severe cravings, and a series of emotional problems tied to their drug use. Drug use also takes its toll not just on the body but on the mind, cutting into a person’s cognition and increasing their drive to take unnecessary risks.
Drug use treatment, in essence, utilizes pharmacological and psychological therapy to help a person find their own way out of addiction. In the early days, that means providing them with the drug-free environment they need to stay away from drugs at their most crucial hour. Over time, that means providing them with the emotional stability and support to help them continue living a life without drugs, by learning to cope with stress and tragedy in a healthier way, processing old nightmares and working towards creating a better, more positive outlook for the future.
Relapse Isn’t Failure
It’s okay to fail and stumble. Enough has been said about failure being a path to learning, but not enough is said about how important it is to find a way to deal with the immense pain that comes from disappointing yourself or others. There’s no denying that if you are or ever have been motivated to stay clean, a relapse is incredibly demoralizing. Telling someone to just “get over it” won’t do much to help that.
That is why it is important to rethink the whole thing, instead. The true failure lies in giving up completely: in putting your arms up and deciding you won’t work on getting clean any longer. The real failure would be using a relapse as an excuse to argue that you simply cannot get clean. There are some things you should never give up on, and that includes your own life. Letting an addiction run its course can, and often does mean you’re signing a death warrant. Sometimes – especially early on – it’s okay to relapse. But it isn’t okay to give up on yourself.