The Issue of “Choice”

Addiction and Choice

Addiction is not a choice. No one chooses to be addicted. To be addicted is to be trapped in a cage of your own making. You can get out, but unlike any other ordinary cage, the urge to crawl back in is too powerful to resist at times.

Yet when you’re in, the door locks itself again, and you’re filled with regret. You want to get out, but it’s hard. When you’re finally out again, the urge to go back begins anew.

Like a special hell, addiction is not something anyone willingly signs up for. You find yourself struggling day in and day out, and your cage grows ever tighter. It was fun at first, but it becomes harder and harder to feel like you felt that first time around, and the way out becomes more and more elusive.

But why? Why do addictive drugs make us feel that way? What is it that makes people feel trapped, unable to escape, only to be sucked back in when they finally do manage to break away? Why is addiction not a choice? The answer lies in your brain.


Why Addiction Isn’t a Choice

Let’s start by understanding that the emotions we feel are strictly a result of chemical interactions in the brain mostly in response to our environment. When you’re feeling sad, melancholy, nostalgic, angry, happy, or in love, there’s a complex series of signals going off in your mind, with neurotransmitters going from brain cell to brain cell, communicating and making you feel. You, as a whole, function as a system, and that system is controlled by thoughts and emotions.

The brain is where these emotions happen, influenced in large part by external stimuli. When you see a puppy, your first instinct is to think of it as something cute. We feel this way towards most baby animals, but we feel this way the most towards baby mammals that look the most like other humans. Dogs are particularly wired into our subconscious because we’ve been domesticating them for millennia, but it’s all part of a greater need to protect the small and weak, so they can survive and thrive in this world.

Sexual attraction works much the same way. A combination of subconscious cues attracts us to certain facial shapes, body types, pheromones, and smells.

With anger, and rage, your stress levels go through the roof and if a threat is clear, then your adrenal gland sends you into a fight or flight response. This is common in response to sudden pain – in the moment of being hit, you see red, and your first instinct is to identify the source of the pain while the anger washes over you. Occasionally, some wires get crossed, thoughts turn dark, and our anger grows too strong.


Your Brain on Fun and Pleasure

Pleasure is one of the most important feelings. Our ability to feel good about something allows the brain to reinforce behavior, allowing us to highlight important things, and figure out what it is that we need to do again in order to feel that way. Exercise, good food, sexual activity, social status, and personal accomplishment are among a few different things that make us essentially feel good, boosting our self-esteem and confidence, washing away negative emotions, making us yearn to be a bigger part of the tribe, and giving us a sense of contentment. We crave to repeat those experiences, and we seek them out. In some cases, this backfires. For example, because we’re built to process simple carbohydrates as a quick fuel source, we generally crave sweet things. Sweetness is rare in nature, generally. But through industrialization, companies can capitalize on this inner need to consume sugar, by selling it to us in various forms, causing us to quickly gain more weight than we should.

Addiction is another such consequence. Very few specific compounds interact with the brain as though they were neurotransmitters, only that these compounds are much more powerful than what our body would ever produce, creating an otherworldly emotional and physical state known as a high. You’re overcome with pleasure and a sense of calm, while dopamine floods your brain.

Soon after that first high, you begin to want a second. It’s innocuous at first, and many can experiment with such substances and never develop a need for them. But if you’re in the wrong mindset, and crave to feel good, that first high quickly turns into a fifth, a tenth, a twentieth. There’s no specific number for getting addicted, but over time and somewhere along the way, it all clicks, and you’re stuck.

When you start taking a drug that is deemed addictive, it changes the way your brain processes pleasure. The first high doesn’t change much, but it lays the foundations for greater modification. You see, the brain is very adaptive. That’s one of its great strengths, because it allows us to survive under the most horrific circumstances, by pivoting and adapting to our surroundings. But when presented with something like an addictive drug, the brain adapts in the other way, by numbing the drug’s effectiveness – and, in the process, making everything else pale in comparison to the drug.

This is called tolerance, and with it comes withdrawal – the brain begins to rely on the drug as a regular occurrence and stopping causes you to experience unpleasant physical and mental symptoms, including nausea, fever, and irritability.


It Starts with Choice

People generally get addicted for two reasons: internal factors, and environmental factors. Internal factors are largely genetic. Some people are predisposed to getting addicted, because of the way their brain responds to certain substances. Others are simply more likely to get addicted because they’re more likely to seek out drugs to begin with, perhaps because of another condition like a major depressive disorder.

Environmental factors are everything else. A bad childhood, early trauma, loss and pressure, stress at work, a life in disarray, the need to fit in – there are many reasons people start using drugs, and most of the time, they start using as a choice. Some find themselves in truly terrible positions, where drug use is forced upon them by a controlling partner, but others find themselves in a mentally vulnerable place, where their judgment is clouded and the ability to think of the risks is diminished to the point where they don’t matter to that person, in that moment, for any given number of reasons.

That’s how it begins, but it always turns into the same thing – a cage, getting smaller and smaller.


Patience is Key

Drug treatment is largely based on successfully treating a person therapeutically, by giving them the tools to decide to stay sober long enough for their past to no longer haunt them. Time is what really treats an addiction – time away from the drug helps the brain recover, and it helps you set up a life that you won’t ever give up that easily ever again.

But it’s important to be patient, and to understand that there will likely be missteps and setbacks. This time, however, you have the choice to move past them get back on track no matter what happens.

What is an “Addictive Personality”?

Addictive Personality

Somehow, you feel like you always knew. You know how reckless they liked to be, how they felt a need to feel the thrill of life at every available moment. Or how they became easily obsessed with something, driven to perfect it, or find out what they wanted to know no matter what. In hindsight, their personality seemed to fit addiction perfectly – so much so that it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to know that they ended up struggling with it.

But that’s not how it works. While the concept of an addictive personality is popular, it’s also unfounded. Personalities don’t have much bearing on a person’s likelihood to get addicted – at least not in the sense that you might think they would.

Yes, there are factors that make addiction more likely. Yes, there are people with rough lives that go through every possible hardship and still come out the other end never having been addicted to anything. And yes, there are many people who easily find themselves interested and passionate about something, who then also find themselves addicted to drugs. However, in the larger scope of things, a person’s personality or passion doesn’t hint towards addiction – but other things do.


Nature, Nurture, and Addiction

Likelihood is not destiny. Statistics don’t spell fate. And no matter how much your life may be swerving in a specific direction, there’s always the chance it’ll go a completely different way. It’s important to note these things when likelihoods and statistics are discussed. This is not meant to serve as evidence that you or someone you know may end up addicted to a drug. It’s meant to help explain why some people are addicted, and others aren’t. And like anything, it can’t account for every case – just most of them.

All addiction risk factors can be roughly divided into internal and environmental. Environmental risk factors are everything and anything that we designate as “nurture” – from how a person was raised, to where they were raised, as well as the choices they made, the choices others made for them, and the choices no one consciously made that still affected them greatly.

Internal factors are largely biological, stemming either from family history or pure chance. Things like genetic conditions, rare birth defects, undetected diseases, or developing conditions gone unnoticed throughout an addiction or period of mental illness. Anything from chronic pain without an identifiable source to severe depression caused by an inborn hormone problem, like Cushing’s disease or hyper/hypothyroidism.

The things that are most likely to account for a person’s addiction are:

  • A person’s contact to drugs
  • Their likelihood to take them

Ultimately, it’s drugs that cause addiction, and the more someone is exposed to them, the more opportunities they have to try them. Age is a big factor, because younger minds are not just easier to pressure into drug use, but they’re also more susceptible to the effects of drugs. Someone with a healthy childhood and enough education might know better than to cave to peer pressure and take a substance they can’t identify or know is addictive. But even then, there is a certain age where no amount of parenting can account for the sheer need to fit in with other kids.

Then there are all the factors that openly encourage someone to try drugs, from disillusion and heartbreak to physical pain.

Most cases of addiction begin with a series of mistakes, for any number of reasons, from suffering to teenage misguidedness. No one consciously makes the decision to ruin their lives. Instead, they see a simple short-term solution to a nagging problem and are in no position to rationally weigh the risks. No personality specifically pushes someone to be more susceptible to a drug’s addictive properties. But personalities do play a different role.


It’s Not the Personality

Personalities don’t dictate how effective a drug is going to be in making someone addicted. But they do play a role in how likely someone is to take drugs. In this sense, an “addictive personality” is not hallmarked by passion or obsessiveness, but by apathy, nihilism, pain, and social distance. They’re more likely to try drugs out as a solution to their consistently low mood. Socially aggressive and insecure individuals are also more likely to take drugs, to drown out their anxieties and fit in.

Mental instability highlighted or hinted at through serious personality flaws can be a major sign that someone is at risk for not just addiction, but self-harm and unpredictable behavior. It’s important to seek help or get someone help if they’re struggling to be happy, with themselves or their lives.

But it’s important to distinguish symptoms of a potential mental disorder from “personalities”. Personalities are very complex and individual, and there is no proper consensus towards categorizing personalities in a way that is in any shape or form therapeutically-relevant. Even popular personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, are rarely if ever useful. However, people cling to such definitions because they simplify a very complicated topic, and allow them to fit into a group, despite it not actually existing.

Your personality is unique, fostered and created through a unique set of circumstances and individual factors. You share similarities with others, but no other person can be your splitting image. Personality traits exist, but we rarely follow them closely. While a person may be more likely to exhibit introverted behavior or act cholerically, it does not make them one or the other. Therefore, it is better to identify risk by looking at your family history and considering environmental factors.


Why the Why Matters

If you’ve never been addicted, then know that even if the odds are against you, you still have choice. You can choose to say no. You can choose to stay away. Without a history of drug use, it’s entirely in your power to completely avoid addiction.

If you’ve been addicted, then knowing why can help you figure out how to stop and treat your addiction. Like any condition, resolving the underlying cause can help in treating the symptoms. If your addiction is the result of pain and anguish, you must learn to address it head-on in a way that does not involve drugs. Therapy and addiction treatment can help you work through your issues and find a way of life that works much better.

The Hidden Signs of Addiction

Signs of Addiction

Addiction is not always obvious. It can be subtle, creeping up on a person over time – one day, they think they’re in total control. The next, they begin to doubt themselves, until eventually, the truth can’t be ignored.

The longer an addiction festers, the harder it is to reverse. Rather than being anything a person can just “snap out of”, addiction is a disease that takes hold in the brain and changes the way a person thinks. Months of abstinence, therapy, and concentrated will are necessary to help the mind heal and return to a healthy state. Until then, the symptoms of addiction get worse – from behavioral changes to physical ones.

An important tip for anyone with friends or family engaging in drug use – both the legal and illegal kind – is to watch out for potential symptoms of addiction. Hidden signs. Catching addictive behavior early on, staging an intervention and calling a professional for help can make the fight out of addiction much easier.

The trick is distinguishing between normal behavior and addictive behavior. Drinking a large amount of alcohol is not indicative of alcoholism, but frequent binge drinking and out-of-control behavior accompanied by a few other behavioral changes certainly point towards potential addiction. Similarly, many chronic pain sufferers need medication and take it often to relieve their pain – but it becomes a real issue when they begin to seek illegal alternatives to get their hands on more painkillers, or begin taking the drugs not against physical pain, but emotional pain as well, as rare as these cases are.

Addiction is an inability to stop using a substance or engaging in behavior despite clear consequences and severe self-destructive behavior. Someone with an addiction is dependent on the drug or drugs to some level, unable to stop using. Here are a few hidden signs of addiction to help you figure out whether you should be concerned about your friend or loved one.


Frequent Lying

Perhaps the simplest but most damning character change in someone with a developing addiction is the growing and consistent urge to continuously lie and cover up. As an addiction worsens, people tend to realize that their behavior is shameful or wrong, but they’re still battling internally with the idea of being unable to stop themselves – so they delay the inevitable by lying about their behavior, their drug use, and their whereabouts.

Part of an addiction is hiding your drug use while striving to function, but as the lies pile up, it becomes harder to keep up appearances and the façade begins to crumble. That can be very painful, especially for someone still going through the initial stages of denial – so much so that it drives them to further emotional depths. Addiction feeds on painful emotions, because they drive people to use to dull the pain. That, in turn, feeds things like shame and self-loathing, creating a vicious cycle that begins with a few excuses. If you find your partner or friend consistently lying about their whereabouts and activities, they may be hiding something as significant as an addiction.

It is important to note that addiction does not transform a person into a monster or make them lie pathologically. It is easier to lie, and most people do when confronted with reality. But once they accept their condition, addicts are just as honest or dishonest as anyone else. It’s not so much the addiction that is causing the lies, but the fact that there is something to hide, especially early on.


Rapid Weight Change

Addiction can savagely tear into the body over just a few months, depending on the drug of choice. Some drugs are far more poisonous than others, but many addictions sadly lead to overdose. Before that happens, a drug (or drugs) can have several negative impacts on a user’s body, including organ failure, lesions and scabs from habitual scratching, dental problems, and rapid weight loss or weight gain.

Not all drugs are recognizable through physical symptoms, but stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines often lead to weight loss due to lack of appetite, while excessive alcohol leads to obesity and fatty liver before causing serious liver damage.


Mood Swings

A drug’s domain is, first and foremost, the brain. Drugs are psychoactive substances that pass through the blood-brain barrier, interfering with natural neurotransmitters by hijacking the receptors on your neurons. This leads to the many different effects each drugs have, from hallucinations to slurred speech, slow thinking and staggering, euphoria, etc.

Yet as the brain develops a tolerance to the drug and dependence kicks in, kicking the habit becomes harder and harder – until it’s not a habit, but an addiction. Personality shifts can occur as drug use becomes progressively worse, and the periods between highs become less tolerable. Mood swings, including symptoms of depression, correlate with heavy drug use because of the severe mental impact of addiction. They become most frequent right after quitting, for several weeks.


Evading Responsibility

As an addiction progresses, more time and effort go towards securing the next high. Criminality is higher among people with addiction because drug use often impairs the brain’s ability for critical thinking and risk-assessment – people see point A and point B, but don’t fully recognize the dangers lying between these points.

But long, long before drug use can lead to crime, it first leads to evading responsibility. It’s common for people with addiction to skip out on work or school, miss appointments, become tardy, and lose their ability to manage time, risk, and life in general.


Relationship Problems

Addiction is a selfish disease, insofar that it can make someone more concerned with their next high than anything else. It begins slowly and insidiously but builds up over time. One way in which this manifests is by introducing relationship problems and tensions due to constant lying, trust issues, and an increasing distance between the drug user and their partner. If your partner is going through lengths to hide what looks like a drug habit, it’s important to find ways to discuss help.

The beginning of an addiction is often far from any recognizably bad behavior. It all starts with one slip up, one mistake, or one moment when you decide to let loose – from there, a slippery slope opens to another excuse, another reason, another step down a dark road.

Most people who end up struggling with addiction don’t see the path until it’s too late, and the people around them often have no way of stopping them. If you think your loved one may be well on they way towards developing an addiction, talking over with them, and consider finding the best approach to get them the help they need.


Putting Together A Plan to Help Avoid Relapse

Planning to Avoid Relapse

Relapses are terrifying for most. Both the idea of a relapse and the dread felt after a relapse rank high among a recovering addict’s worst experiences, alongside hurting others and going through an overdose. While relapses are not always life-threatening, they can bruise and batter a person’s morale, and leave them feeling like their journey has been all for naught.

To overcome relapses and move past them  – and even learn to avoid them in the future – two things must happen. First, it is important to unlearn the fear of a relapse. Second, it is important to completely reframe and rethink what it means to relapse and see the experience from a different point of view.

To clarify: a relapse is when a recovering addict uses again, thus breaking their sobriety streak. However, it is far too easy to lose sight of why sobriety matters, and instead focus solely on the number on a chip or on a calendar. By taking a different approach to the meaning of a relapse in the grand scheme of things, a recovering addict can recover much faster and relapse less often.


Why Relapses Happen

Relapses happen for a myriad of reasons. Most involve stress. Everyone has a limit for how much they can take before they break, and for people in early sobriety, even the slightest burden can feel several times heavier due to the weight of staying sober. Relapses commonly occur early on not out of a lack of conviction or experience, but because it is the hardest part of the journey, especially without the right support.

However, relapses do not magically occur after some form of mental threshold is reached. While many events contribute to the build up of a relapse, there is always one specific event that triggers it. These triggers change, because most people have several. It could be something that reminds you strongly of the old days, such as a specific place or song, even something as simple as the route you take on your way to work. Or it could be something else that sets you off.

Before relapses occur, there are countless temptations and moments where the question – to use or not to use – comes to the forefront of the mind. This is normal in early recovery, when cravings are still at their strongest and the memory of being high is still freshly burnt into the mind. Cravings subside the longer the brain gets a break from drugs. Ideally, that break should last forever – but when it does not, drug use primes the brain for another session, thus making relapses doubly difficult to escape as they demoralize the patient and make it more alluring to use again.


Identifying Triggers

One way to start avoiding relapses is figuring out exactly what your triggers might be. This is mostly for the first few months, to help you focus on sobriety and minimize the chances of another relapse. Ideally, it should not take too much time to adjust to recovery and find a stable place in life. Sober living homes are ideal for this, as they give tenants a place to stay with responsibilities and communal chores, within a temptation-free environment.

Eventually, you can reintegrate triggers into your life without worry, although it is up to you to know when that time comes. Until then, consider what went through your head before the relapse. What memories and thoughts remind you most strongly of your time as an addict? What tempts you the most? What keeps you distracted the most?

Find a way to live your life without evoking excessive stress and unfortunate memories, at least for the first few months of your recovery.


Nurturing a Support System

Knowing what endangers your sobriety the most is helpful, but you cannot live your life tiptoeing around everything. There will be times when you must take a risk and risk getting hurt – from going into an interview looking for a new job, to asking someone out for the first time in a long time. However, you should not bear your burdens alone. Having a solid support system can alleviate a lot of pain – friends and family can help reassure you and give you hope, rather than perpetuating negative feelings and pity.

If you are not on good terms with your family and do not have any friends, it is high time to make some. A good place to start would be through group therapy, at meetings and other places where recovering addicts come together to support each other. This way, you can learn more about addiction through one another and find new and interesting perspectives on similar struggles and situations.


Back to the Basics

Sometimes, relapses are a result of going off-course from what recovery originally taught you. Most addiction treatment programs focus on helping addicts get back on their feet, which can involve anything from helping them build the confidence to get out into the world and find their place in society, to helping them discover new hobbies and pastimes to manage stress and find ways to fight the cravings.

Use what you learned while in treatment or talk to a professional and seek out outpatient treatment or sober living communities.


It’s Not Over

Find your triggers, get help from friends and family, seek out professional therapy, and understand what a relapse looks like. But that is not all. Your arsenal would not be complete without this vital piece of understanding: a relapse is not the end of the journey. Some people dread relapses and frame them as failures – testaments to your inability to stay clean no matter how hard you try.

This is the wrong approach to a relapse. The right approach is to brush off the dust and put one foot after the other into the stir-ups and ride off toward the future. Do not let a single relapse overturn weeks, months, and years of hard work.

It is not over. In fact, in most cases, it has just begun. Relapses happen early on in recovery, and recovery is a lifelong journey. With time, you will learn not to fear relapses, and see them instead as opportunities to learn more about your triggers, your addiction, and how best to deal with it. By learning from previous relapses, you gain the knowledge needed to avoid them in the future, and lose the fear created by tying your success as a sober person to your lack of relapses and mistakes.


The Top 3 Reasons to Get Help for Your Addiction

Get Help For Addiction

Addiction is not an easy disease to treat and manage. It is unlike many other diseases and conditions, to the point where there are entire debates and arguments held to discuss whether addiction should be labeled a disease at all.

Yet despite its dangers and widespread societal effects, it can be treated. But not alone.

There are only two options when struggling with addiction – get treatment, or don’t. And when you don’t, it’s likely that the addiction you’re fighting alone will send you to your grave.


1. It Will Kill You

While grim and stark, the reality is that roughly 21 million Americans use drugs compulsively, and the death toll caused by drug overdoses and drug-related accidents is rising. There’s a reason they call it the opioid crisis: drug abuse is killing more people than all cancers combined.

If you are addicted to drugs, and you refuse to seek treatment, then it’s highly likely that your addiction will kill you. And it is not a particularly quick process.

Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine strain the heart and breathing. Depressants like Xanax and alcohol can poison your body, cause seizures, and respiratory failure.

And heroin can leave you paralyzed, or worse. These drugs may cause minimal damage in the short-term, but taken over years and in high dosages, they slowly but surely damage the brain and other organs, leading to a myriad of painful conditions and diseases before death.

It begins in the brain, where an influx of dopamine and other neurotransmitters introduces the mind to a whole new substance. In the most unfortunate of cases, it only takes a few times for the dependency to kick in, and for the curiosity to turn into a need for more. Kicking the habit to the curb is not as easy as switching donuts out for kale, and that is something most people struggle with as well. We are not well-equipped to fight against our own brain, and it’s worse when the addiction is as hard-wired as it can be with drugs like oxycodone, methamphetamine, and cocaine.

Many people occasionally use drugs and never struggle with addiction. Some people use lots of drugs and don’t develop a habit. But that does not mean that addiction is easy to overcome, or something that can be left to stew until the very last second. The moment you realize you are fighting against a real physical dependency to substances, you must make a choice between choosing a longer and healthier life spent with the people you love, or an arduous and tragic battle against your substance use.


2. It’s Hurting Others

If you have any friends or family, then your addiction is sure to take a toll on them. There is a difference between hurting people and alienating your own family – members of an understanding family will do their best to help a relative through a difficult time, even through an addiction – but there are limits to what a family can take, and there are limits and boundaries between friends and partners.

Losing your friends and family to addiction is, in many cases, the last straw. We need others to depend on, and others who can depend on us. Accountability towards other human beings and security in knowing that there are people around us who can offer help and support when we need it the most.

An addiction can push all that away and create a miserable pocket of loneliness – thus making the urge to drink and use more powerful, to drown out the growing magnitudes of emotional pain.

Again, therein lies the importance of making the right choice. If you choose to get help, you can get ahead of the damage and find the professional support you need to tackle and manage this disease. But if it goes on with you struggling to stay clean, hurting those around you without meaning to, unable to stop, then sobriety becomes exponentially more difficult to achieve and maintain. Not only would you have to become clean for your own sake, but you would have to face the pain and shame of your actions in total sobriety.

The only way out is through – because any other way, like relapsing, will only make matters worse. So why is addiction so hard to break? Because despite being terrible for a person’s long-term health and wellbeing, it does wonders in the immediate and short-term. A high can make all the fears and problems go away, for a while. But the problem is that afterward, they are a little bit bigger than they were before.

What you do while addicted is not automatically excusable or inadmissible, but it can be understandable, and if you want to make it through this process, you have to find a way to forgive yourself and come to terms with everything you have done before you ask others to forgive you and give you another chance as well.


3. Being Sober is So Much Better

One big dread for many people facing the challenge of recovery is that sobriety ends up being nothing but an endless bore. However, that could not be further from the truth. Where drug use clouds the mind and glazes the eyes, being sharp and clean gives you the opportunity to experience life the way it was meant to be experienced.

However, sobriety is not a magic cure. It is simply the act of not drinking. This can give the mind and body time to heal from months or years of drug use, but sobriety is just the possibility of a better future, rather than the guarantee of it.

In fact, the term dry drunk refers to people in recovery who, despite their sobriety, continue to show symptoms of moodiness and aggression sometimes seen in addiction. This is because initially, sobriety is boring. And potentially frightening.

But sobriety paves the way to experiencing true and real joy again, without substance use. It is the path to being with others, creating meaningful and long-lasing bonds, and enjoying being within your own skin again. It is a path towards mental and physical health, wellbeing, and contentment. It is never a guarantee, but it is a solid chance, and if you are ready to take it then you’re ready to make the most of it.


The Myth That Marijuana Is Not Addictive

Marijuana Addiction

Cannabis is an Asian import, first cultivated in Central and South Asia, and common throughout Japan and China as an incredibly sturdy fabric. Cannabis, in the form of hemp, can be traced back up to 10,000 years – in other words, we have an incredibly long history with this plant. Yet its psychoactive properties were not well recorded until much later.

Today, it is estimated that about 147 million people – 2.5% of the world population – consume cannabis. Compare this to the 0.2% of the world population that consumes opioids, and it is clear that while marijuana may be overshadowed by the tragic overdose deaths caused by opioids at home, it’s a greater global threat. In comparison to both cocaine and opioid abuse, cannabis abuse has grown much faster, and talks of legalization bring up fears that the dangers of cannabis are being understated.

To avoid fearmongering and the spread of disinformation, it is important to set the record straight on what marijuana is and what it is not – how it can be dangerous, and why something as drastic as legalization has be considered very carefully, if at all.


What Marijuana Is and Is Not

Marijuana is psychoactive cannabis, a drug made from the cultivated leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant. The psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. While THC is the most common of its kind, there are other similar cannabinoids – drugs that mimic the effects of cannabis in the human brain, often synthetic in nature.

Marijuana refers to the plant-based drug circulated either as oil, in edible form, or for consumption through smoking. Out of all illicit drugs on the planet, cannabis is by far the most cultivated and trafficked drug in the world.

Marijuana is not a panacea or a wonder drug for cancer patients and sick children. Cannabinoids – often in the form of inert cannabis oil – show potential as therapeutic drug in combatting nausea and vomiting, especially in the late stages of terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Cannabinoids are currently available as a prescription drug and have been for years. However, while the isolated compound (THC) shows promise in regard to the treatment of select symptoms, the dangers of marijuana use – specifically recreational marijuana use – remain considerable.

Marijuana is addictive. While research has long suggested the possibility that marijuana does not produce physical dependence like other illicit drugs and prescription medication, more and more evidence is piling up pointing towards the fact that marijuana can result in physical dependence, both in animal and human studies.

Physical dependence is defined as a condition created by regular drug use, leading to symptoms of tolerance (requiring higher doses of a drug to achieve the same effect) and withdrawal (unpleasantness and sickness in response to stopping drug use). Physical dependence can lead to intense and powerful cravings in the absence of a high, and can massively impair a person’s ability to function, causing them to miss out on important responsibilities.

Examples of extreme cases of cannabis dependence involve losing track of time and substantially disrupting daily activities to look for or consume marijuana. Withdrawal symptoms involve mood swings, irritability, and appetite problems. Even among heavy users, the symptoms of a cannabis withdrawal are not particularly severe compared to other addictive drugs. However, their presence indicates that marijuana addiction exists and poses a threat to any who use the drug.


Realities of a Marijuana Addiction

Prolonged and excessive use of marijuana – recreationally or otherwise – can lead to a reliance on the drug to maintain a sense of normalcy and mood control. What might have started as a way to calm down after a hectic day or take the edge off a stressful situation can soon become the only way to ever be calm or maintain a sense of cool.

Long-term use comes with other dangers, including impairment of the brain’s cognitive functions (eating into a person’s ability to calculate risk, make decisions, process and integrate information, and retain memories). In mental health patients with symptoms of schizophrenia or psychosis, marijuana use can exacerbate the issue. Heavy smoking also leads to throat and lung problems, including bronchitis, lung inflammation, and more.


Marijuana as Prescription Medication

Even as a form of medication, cannabinoids are not to be taken during pregnancies, and just like any other addictive drug, cannabis use needs to be considered carefully rather than taken as a light mood-altering drug, or as a quick stress-management solution.

Marijuana has been legalized in one form or another in more than half of all US states, and other states are taking steps to consider the drug as a form of medicine, with considered uses including appetite stimulation, antidepressants, anti-spasmodic and anticonvulsant medicine, and glaucoma.

The future will involve cannabis as a form of medication – the question is how best to regulate it, and how best to educate people on the various dangers of irresponsible drug use – including cannabis.


The Most Harmful Myth

Of all myths – including the myth that marijuana is completely non-addictive – the by far most dangerous assumption one could make about this plant is that it is harmless. For one, marijuana today is completely different from marijuana fifty years ago, and utterly unrecognizable in comparison to the stuff smoked and eaten in antiquity.

In fact, the THC concentration of cannabis has shot up significantly since the drug has been getting more popular, due to specialized and fine-tuned laboratories working hard to create strong pot. From just around 3% in the 1980s, cannabis today has a THC concentration of roughly 12-13%.

Marijuana today is potentially addictive, can be harmful to the brain – especially the developing brain of a young adult under 25 – and while it may even prove useful to the field of medicine someday, it is still a substance to be approached with caution.


Treating Marijuana Addiction

Like other addictions, a marijuana use disorder can be treated effectively. Despite mild withdrawal symptoms, cannabis can still trigger cravings and is often a major coping mechanism for many people dealing with stressful private lives or work environments. A key part of treating the addiction is helping them find other ways to keep their stress in check. If you need help with cannabis addiction or any other form of addictions, feel free to contact us for the help you need.

Addiction Will Strain Your Relationships

Relationship Strain

Substance use has many effects on the human mind and the body. When a person imbibes, the drugs in their bloodstream make their way to the brain and begin to trigger a series of effects. Some substances make people drowsy or unfocused. Others help them achieve a higher level of mental and physical performance. And all illicit and controlled substances, in general, trigger the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, thus creating fleeting feelings of happiness, and euphoria.

Then it all goes away. And often, when it all goes away, people find themselves in a worse place than before, with the only immediately clear way out to be another ride through that series of feelings and emotions. For some, drug use becomes a way to escape reality, avoid problems, and live a happier life – but the long-term consequences are disastrous as the problems fester, and the drugs begin to take a toll on the brain and the body.

For others, addiction is a gradual and slippery slope, with no clear indications of anything dangerous until it is much too late.

But in all cases, addiction becomes a journey of loss. People lose their jobs, their family, and their dignity. And loneliness begins to seep in. Addiction will strain relationships, and often break them – but the break never has to be permanent. By understanding how addiction progresses and affects those around them, people can better understand the journey towards recovery, long-term sobriety, and a healthier and more satisfying life.


Addiction Will Become Your Relationship

The simplest way to explain why relationships are unsustainable during an addiction is this: your addiction will become your relationship. The one and only relationship you ever care about. Addiction knocks everything out of its path, culling your priorities and replacing them with a single most important task – fueling the addiction.

In the beginning, drug use might go from being an occasional habit to becoming a useful tool to cope with day-to-day stress. It helps you stay happy, blow off some steam, deal with problems. But as the addiction progresses, so do the problems – and the cycle grows. Eventually, the addiction trumps all. Including the relationships between you and your loved ones.

The good news is that it does not have to be that way, and there is always time to go back and fix things. It starts with recovery, and relearning what it means to trust – and be trusted.


Addiction and Trust

Addiction is a brain disease, characterized by behavior that implies an inability to control one’s own drug use, as well as the compulsive need for another high, to the point of extreme risk-taking and uncharacteristic behavior. Sometimes, addiction can even lead to self-destructive or criminal behavior, due to a diminished level of critical thinking, risk-assessment, and problem solving. These issues are introduced by excessive drug use, which changes the way the brain is wired, and often damages brain tissue, thus affecting cognition.

As such, people have a hard time trusting addicts, and there is a strong stigma against both addiction and those who struggle with it. Rather than seeing it as a brain disorder, many see addiction as a personal and moral failure. This reflects on the addicts, who often have a harder time trusting themselves because of it and descend into self-loathing and depression.

Getting out of that hell begins with seeking help and involves eventually learning to trust one’s own self again. Recovery goes through a great many challenges and struggles, helping people heal both physically and emotionally, to move past addiction and live happy and healthy sober lives – one of the many challenges is reintegrating into the lives of others, by being social, making friends, and contacting family. But before that can be done, the patient must decide they are ready to trust themselves and believe in their own dependability and accountability. Programs presented at special facilities like sober living homes specialize in such concepts, by integrating social interaction and responsibility into the recovery program, through outdoor events and shared chores.

Once someone with a history of addiction can learn to trust themselves again, they begin to try and trust others – and open themselves to new relationships or try and fix broken ones.


How Relationships Can Make or Break Recovery

Nothing is without risk – but one of the greater risks in life is opening to a relationship with another person. Whether that means trusting your lover and partner with the most intimate details of your life or putting your life in the hands of a best friend, there is always a little voice that reminds us that trusting someone else means more uncertainty for the future.

When bad things happen, having a support system is crucial. Many recovery programs stress that a long life of sobriety must have an emergency plan for severe events and situations, such as tragic and sudden loss or other emotional rollercoasters. Friends and family make up the backbone of that support system, and the more people you must rely on in moments of crisis, the less likely you are to revert to drugs as a form of coping.

But in the worst-case scenario, it is your relationships that are the source of your emotional pain. In those cases, a relationship can indeed break rather than make your recovery, by pushing you back down into the dark pit rather than helping you stay out of it.


Know When You Are Ready

Being in a relationship with someone is a big deal. Romantic relationships and the kind of fraternal/sororal platonic relationships that last lifetimes are incredibly valuable to your emotional health. To be able to speak to someone in full confidence, have their full trust and give your own to them, is precious. To be able to comfort one another and be there as pillars of stability and support in times of great need, is precious. And if that all comes crashing down one way or the other, it can be a major crisis.

Every time you fall in love, you risk that pain. And every time you trust someone as much as a person can trust, you risk that pain. It is up to you to decide that you have come far enough in the recovery process to survive without drugs if you ever must face that pain and trust the other person enough to believe that you will never have to face that pain.

This is not an excuse for you to avoid relationships and social contact for the next few years, out of fear. Trying to be among people and make new friends is part of the recovery process – learning to trust other people is part of the recovery process.

But do so with caution. Understand the risks. Do not let a relationship grow faster than you might be prepared for and know when you are ready.


How Physical Dependence Works

Physical Dependence

Dependence refers to the inability to exist without something. The inability to go on without it. The inability to act without it. When you are dependent on something, you feel bound to it in a way that no physical bond can completely recreate. And that physical dependence can be terrifying.

For many who struggle with addiction, physical dependence is a daily reality, and a debilitating illness. However, like so many illnesses, it can be treated and overcome. But to do so, it is important to understand what it is, first.


Understanding Dependence

Conventionally dependence in addiction refers to physical and emotional dependence, or physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence describes the bond a drug forms with its user through changes in the brain. Pathways are “remapped”, and what used to be exciting or fulfilling fades away in the face of the next high.

Physical and psychological dependence both achieve the same thing: an addiction, one that often causes the user harm, and makes their lives miserable. Both are characterized by the fact that when someone is dependent, they cannot stop using even if it means hurting themselves or, potentially, those around them. Turning the situation around either takes a very sobering moment (a “rock bottom”, which is never necessary for recovery) or a realization that things are getting worse before they become terrible.

While physical dependence revolves around drugs and the brain, psychological dependence is different, but the two are tightly wound. In many ways, it is the difference between the mind and the brain.


The Mind and the Brain

The human brain is highly capable of adapting. Part of that means learning very quickly to get used to uncomfortable or strange situations, if they occur repeatedly. Even in times of distress, we can learn to eventually find our balance, and adapt. That ability to adapt – and thus, survive – is what helped us get to where we are today.

Of course, the system is not without its kinks and bugs. Sometimes, we misappropriate something bad for something good, and we feed a terrible habit. Psychological dependence is built on the basic idea that using a drug is beneficial, and our mind latches onto that benefit. A classic example is self-medication, where drugs become involved to drown out physical or emotional pain. In this case, drugs are the quickest and most effective coping mechanism – at the cost of being very short-term, with their own host of issues.

The mind latches onto the release, the fleeting moments without pain, and you begin to crave it. However, if you deny yourself the drug (and the origin of the pain has long since gone), then eventually that need will pass, and you will begin to feel again.

Physical addiction is somewhat more complicated, involving symptoms of withdrawal, and drug tolerance.


Your Brain on Drugs

Psychoactive substances – from coffee to much more illicit vices like cocaine – all function in a similar way. When consuming them, they enter the bloodstream and penetrate the blood brain barrier, feeding into your brain cells. There, these drugs mimic your natural neurotransmitters and latch onto receptors in the brain, thus causing you to feel a certain way.

Caffeine blocks melatonin, making you less sleepy. Melatonin naturally accumulates throughout the day and is meant to make you drowsy to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern. With the caffeine in coffee, you can block these effects for a short amount of time, elevate your heart rate, and perform without sleepiness. But it often comes with a crash after irresponsible use.

Illegal drugs and alcohol have stronger, more dangerous effects. But they all essentially hijack your brain cells and cause you to feel things you should not feel naturally. So, the brain tries to adjust. After a while, it begins to see these drugs as normal. And when you try to quit, your body reacts violently, and cravings kick in.

This reaction is called withdrawal. Overcoming withdrawal is the first and necessary step to detoxification and rehabilitation, but it can also be dangerous. Some drugs – especially depressants like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol – can cause near-fatal, and sometimes fatal withdrawal symptoms. It is best to undergo withdrawal under medical supervision.

Tolerance is the after effect of the brain getting used to the drugs. As part of a natural effort to subdue the powerful effects of a high, the brain builds a resistance against a certain drug, metabolizing it faster. This often means dumping it through the liver at an accelerated pace. But that does not mean the side effects from taking too many drugs is also bypassed. Instead, tolerance often encourages people with an addiction to take more than usual, eventually leading to an overdose.

Breaking a physical dependence takes a proper addiction treatment program – and time.


Physical Dependence Takes Time to Heal  

Some say time heals all wounds. It is arguable whether that is profound or simplistic, but in the case of addiction, time plays a very big role in physical and mental recovery. While you can get quite a lot done with proper treatment, good rest, and a healthy diet, ultimately the greatest healer for the wounds of an addiction is time. And lots of it.

Within the first few months of abstinence and total sobriety, you can expect a lot of changes in thinking, mood, and memory. As time passes on – within the first few years – the effects of the addiction will have faded as much as possible, and any remaining mental scars will either heal very slowly, or not at all. Just giving it time can reverse most of the damage to the brain, and even completely rewire it back to normal, so the cravings become rare if at all present.

Getting there, however, to the point where the brain has recovered from addiction, is the big challenge. While therapy, medication and treatment can get you far, it is very difficult if not impossible to go all the way without some help. Recovery is an individual thing, and every choice you make must be your own, full of conviction. However, that does not mean you do not need help, or cannot ask for it. It is important to surround yourself with people you love and care about, and anchor them in your mind as motivation for your continued sobriety.

Friends and family can also act as a much-needed safety net, a support system to rely on in your darkest hour. Having someone to call – or even someone who can come over when you desperately need them to – can help prevent disasters and keep you sober at times when staying sober alone feels impossible.

It is also important to seek out other people in recovery. Certain experiences and thoughts can only be completely understood by people who have gone through addiction themselves. Thankfully, through group meetings and the internet, finding other formerly addicted people to talk to is easier than ever. You could try and make some new friends or find group meetings to attend.

There is no shortage of ways in which you can bolster the recovery process – and it is a good idea to try as many as possible. If it is possible, consider travel, or even moving to a nearby neighborhood away from old memories. Pick up new hobbies, try out new experiences, and invest time in the things that interest you and make you happy. By pouring your heart and soul into the things in life that matter the most and bring you the most joy, you will be able to live life without worrying quite as much about addiction, and in time, close that chapter of physical dependence off completely.


Sex Addiction: How Can You End Up Addicted to Sex?

Sex Addiction

Liking sex is every bit as natural as getting hungry. One of the many things we’re “wired” for as humans is to crave sexual attention and seek sexual action – but most of the time, we have sex not to procreate, but to build a bond, release tension and connect with others. Sex is as much a relationship tool as it is a way for us to pass on our genes, and sexual appeal and attraction is so universally important and powerful that it’s one of the most important lessons in marketing. Of course, not everyone likes sex –  but most do.

But just because it’s natural to like something does not mean it’s healthy when that interest turns into a full-blown debilitating obsession. Sex addiction, as a real diagnosable condition, is a set of symptoms and factors that does not make for a “fun” or “exciting” life, but for one filled with emotional hardships, financial ruin, and social humiliation.

Sex addiction is real – but it works differently than most cases of substance dependence. To understand how a person can be addicted to sex, you must understand how addiction works, what it is, and what it is not.


What Is an Addiction to Sex?

Sex addiction, also known as hypersexual disorder, is not included in the DSM-V, the definitive guide on diagnostic criteria for psychological disorders. However, that does not make it less real – it simply represents a challenge among academics to accurately describe and categorize this condition, especially in relation to substance dependence (addiction) and what we know of addiction and the brain.

Sex addiction exists, and research shows that it is in many ways quite similar to substance-based addiction in the way the brain reacts to sexual stimuli, cravings and thoughts of sex. Someone struggling with sex addiction (or a hypersexual disorder) does not just like sex or prefers one-night stands to relationships. They don’t just display a specific fetish or sexual preference. They are not diagnosed on the basis of their “kinks”. Rather, sex addiction, like substance misuse, is identified by the inability to control the compulsion to seek sexual thrill, no matter in what way the patient seeks it.

Sex addiction manifests in many different forms, but the common thread is how the addiction essentially robs the person of their ability to live their life. In general, people are influenced by their sex drive, both consciously and subconsciously – but we can inhibit these feelings to focus on other things in life, such as work, relationships, and our hobbies and passions.

However, a person struggling with a sex addiction will seek their sexual gratification at all times, in any way they can, often endangering their relationships and jobs in order to get off. Stories of serial one-night stands, office sex, public exhibitionism and more plague a sex addict’s life, not in the context of sexual adventurism, but an inability to stop themselves from going through with their disorder’s desires. Like any addiction, it can ruin lives – both for the patient and their friends and loved ones.


How Sex Addiction Can Manifest

Sex addiction is a broad term to describe a variety of different ways in which a person can be addicted to sexual gratification. Some people are addicted to porn, spending hours a day fantasizing and looking at pornography, going out of their way to acquire and collect more pornographic material, to the point that it drastically affects their relationships with others and their productivity as a person.

Other people get off specifically on exhibitionism/voyeurism or prostitution, not simply as a personal choice or career option, but because of a deeper and debilitating compulsion.

In sex addiction, the important diagnostic distinction is the psychological reason behind someone’s engagement in sexual activity, rather than the nature of their activity. While many forms of sex addiction include excessive sexual pursuits, these are not in-and-of themselves signs of an addiction. Signs of sex addiction include:

  • Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anger. Sexual addiction is often accompanied by mood swings, or full-blown mood disorders like depression.
  • Inability to maintain a steady relationship, and constant cheating. While sex addicts can experience love, their addiction will often trump their ability to stay faithful, leading to further shame and guilt.
  • Decline in social engagement and family communication.
  • Physical symptoms as a result of unprotected sex or dangerously frequent intercourse include sexual dysfunction, as well as STDs.

Like many other addictions, sex addiction can correlate with other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety and substance abuse. Whether these are factors in the development of the addiction, or caused/incited by the addiction, differ from person to person. Like other forms of addiction, both treatment and diagnosis depend on the specifics of an individual case.


It Is Treatable

Due to greater awareness and a better understanding of what the condition is and isn’t, more data on sex addiction in the US is available today than ever. But like most addictions, few people get treatment. Almost all feel shame and regret for their actions but can’t stop themselves.

Like any addiction, sex addiction can be treated. And like any addiction, the treatment used to help someone free themselves from their sexual compulsions is based entirely on the nature of their addiction, their personal and family history, and the circumstances and possibilities open to them. Treatment is not fast, simple, or universally applicable, requiring a professional diagnosis. However, you can get help at any local treatment center, and there are many professionals you can contact for help in your case of sex addiction.

The path forward will be difficult, and there might be times when you want to “indulge” due to stress, or emotional pain. That’s why it’s important to seek help not just from professionals at a clinic, but from your trusted friends and family. Help them understand that your condition is real and treatable, and that they can help you be the best you. Just as you have to go through treatment, the people who decide to stand by you and support you will have to learn more about your condition and how to help you stay strong.


The Point Of No Return

Point of No Return from Addiction

It stars off as a hobby, or a habit. Maybe it’s just a little something you do every now and again to take the edge off. Or maybe it’s helped you through a part of your life, and you know you need it to function. Regardless of what shape or form it takes, addiction is always a slippery slope, and most people only realize their habit has become destructive and has shackled them a long time after they reached that point of no return.

There is a moment when an addiction is born, and the brain clicks in just the right way. Understanding how and why is the key to defeating it – and freeing yourself.

But make no mistake. There is no going back to the past after that invisible point of no return. The person you once were is gone – but you can choose to become someone better.


What Is Addiction, Truly?

We are at a significant crossroads in the battle against addiction where the neurobiological condition of addiction through substance abuse has gone through decades of research and thorough analysis to arrive to today’s definition and understanding, while we still struggle to accurately define or explain addiction caused through repetitive harmful behavior.

Food, sex, and gambling addiction causes changes in brain chemistry similar to drug use – but because of their rarity, most definitions only focus on substance abuse and the impact it has on the brain, bringing about the neurological factors that put a person in a state of addiction.

In that sense, DSM-5 has recently included gambling as a form of behavioral addiction, suggesting that further research is needed for other common forms of compulsive behavior, such as internet addiction and sex addiction.

Yet our definition for addiction through substance abuse is quite firm – addiction is a brain disease characterized by an inability to stop craving and taking a specific drug, despite clear and harmful consequences and an understanding of them. Common symptoms of addiction include lying often to cover their habit up, denial, excessive risk-taking, diminished problem-solving and critical thinking, and career and relationship problems brought about by an excessive amount of time and energy spent seeking the next high, neglecting responsibilities and social duties.

Rather than a moral problem, or a matter of choice, the psychiatric community in the US recognizes addiction as a brain disease that changes the brain to think and feel differently, because of drug use. Understanding how these changes occur, and how people end up at the point of no return can help you better comprehend addiction and find a way to overcome it.


A Slippery Slope To The Point Of No Return

When you take an addictive drug for the first time, your mind may react very powerfully to it. Drugs bind to receptors in your brain’s cells, mimicking naturally occurring neurotransmitters. This causes your brain to send unique signals through your cells, telling you to feel happier and feel less pain through opioids, for example. However, these drugs are also often so powerful that the body immediately tries to adjust to them, getting used to their effects and diminishing their efficiency. In other words, it learns to metabolize these drugs quicker.

At the same time, continued drug use changes your brain’s chemistry, turning the drug from a foreign substance into a need. You begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, and powerful cravings approaching the point of no return. Each high is a little less powerful than the next, so you up the dosage. In a controlled environment, substance dependence can be treated medically and professionally. Yet out on the streets, one bad hit from a batch of heroin infused with something as deadly as fentanyl can kill you in minutes.

The point of no return – that moment when your drug use becomes an addiction – it’s different for everyone, and depends on several factors including gender, body size, mental state, genetics, and the drug you’re taking. Families with a long history of addiction are predisposed to develop a substance abuse disorder if exposed to drugs, while other people are resistant to one form of addiction, but not another.


The Difference Between Using And Addiction

It’s important to distinguish between using and addiction – but to emphasize the danger of using. Millions of people across the globe use drugs without developing a substance disorder – the most obvious example being the casual consumption of alcohol throughout the world.

Alcoholism exists anywhere where alcohol exists, but it’s always a fraction of the population. The same works for other drugs, yet with different figures. Not everyone who takes a drug is predestined to get addicted, either.

But that does not change the danger of drug use. Alcohol remains a poison to the body, and many struggle with moderate use, even if they don’t fit the bill for an addiction. Drugs like cocaine or heroin are stronger than a beer, but all forms of addiction can be equally dangerous, depending on the person and the circumstances.

Prescription painkillers caused today’s opioid crisis, but it’s not the patients who become addicted, but their friends and relatives. A very small fraction of people getting legitimate prescriptions for opioids get hooked on them, yet the overabundance of opioids on the street because of drug pushing has led to easier access to these powerful drugs.

The point is to understand that addiction does not happen immediately – it’s a gradual change, with a tipping point that is hard to come back from. We cannot see it coming, and we usually do not notice that we’ve gone over the edge until we’re deep in the abyss.


Getting Help

If you think you’re struggling with addiction, or you know you are but are hesitant to seek out help, stop hesitating. Realizing you have a problem is a big and important step, but you must gather the courage to open up about your problem to a professional and sign yourself into treatment. You can step back from the point of no return, you just need to take the first step.

Addiction treatment has come a long way – treatment facilities today address each patient individually, foregoing cookie-cutter treatments and instead utilizing careful diagnostics and probing to determine what kind of treatment you really need, and why.

Some people respond best to individual treatment, while others prefer group therapy. In some cases, art and music is the answer – for others, it’s pounding the pavement or hitting the weight rack. In some cases, medical assistance is absolutely required during withdrawal, and some people need medication to wean themselves off their addiction.

Some manage just fine checking in once a week with a professional to help manage their cravings and stay sober, while others check into a residential treatment facility to get away from it all and seek sobriety in a guaranteed drug free environment.

Your path will be unlike any other, and ultimately, you alone must walk it. But you can seek help and support from professionals, friends and family, to make sure that despite every little stumble and fall along the way, you’ll always get back up, ready to keep going forward.