Drug addiction has always been an issue – since we’ve discovered the wondrous effects of psychedelics, alcohol and natural stimulants, civilizations have at one point or another profited off drugs or struggled with their effects of intoxication and addiction. From opium to cocaine to mushrooms, history is littered with instances where people, great and small alike, have dabbled with and succumbed to the effects of extreme drug use. So why is addiction difficult to address? And why – to this day – do we struggle so immensely with addressing it on both an individual level and as a society at large?
There is no easy answer to solving the drug problem. We can’t just decriminalize or legalize it all, or clamp down even further and introduce even more pain and suffering into the system. We can’t force treatment upon everyone with the slightest symptom. There are many things we can’t do, and plenty of things we shouldn’t do. That only leaves what we should do: help each other, at the very least, on an individual level. And better understand what makes addiction difficult to deal with.
What Makes Addiction Difficult
What makes addiction difficult because it is rooted to our very concept of desire. When you want a drug so bad it’s like struggling to find water after days out in the Sahara, then you know that it’s more than just a little thing, or a passing phase.
A substance wormed its way into your brain, stole the thing that drives you to do anything, and subverted it to drive you to snort, drink, shoot or smoke something that has nothing to do with your emotional or physical wellbeing. Humans are complex, and the human brain is a very special piece of biology; but our behavior can often be predicted. When it comes right down to it, there’s a lot of hardwiring inside us that drives us to do certain things.
For example: the obesity epidemic isn’t just a matter of sedentary lifestyles, it’s the fact that companies have become better and better at creating high-calorie, low-volume foods that appeal to our intrinsic love for fat, sugar and salt. It gets hard to stay away from that once you’re hooked on it, and the effect is rapid weight gain.
Addiction is worse than that. Drugs like cocaine, alcohol, and even prescription painkillers enter the brain and interact with certain receptors in our cells, taking over the effects of other natural compounds and inducing unnatural states of happiness, mellowness, and euphoria. This doesn’t sound bad at all – except for the fact that it makes addiction difficult because:
- Most drugs are poison, either in the long-term, or due to a risk of overdose.
- Because of their effects on the brain, drugs force the brain to resist their effects, which leads to taking more drugs and rapidly increasing their dangerous side-effects.
- When the access to a drug runs out, you crave it more and more, until it’s all you can think about, greatly impeding you from doing anything else with your life.
Drugs don’t help you function, or improve your life, or help you deal with problems. They cause more problems, destroy your body and hijack your desires. Naturally, that makes them extremely difficult to address on an individual level. Sadly, it doesn’t stop there.
The Struggle to Stay Clean
Addiction isn’t a purely physical struggle. While much of it is rooted in neurochemistry, there’s more to the human being than just chemicals. Stimuli and how our brain receives and responds to such signals is one thing, but our experiences, thoughts, hopes and dreams contextualize these instincts and give them shape, form, action. Our behavior isn’t a perfectly logical flowchart, but an erratic roadmap through a topographically impossible piece of geography – and the emotional aspect of addiction plays on that map.
When addiction becomes acknowledged, grief and guilt are major and common emotions. When you recognize that you’re out of control and are verging on self-destruction, it’s hard not to be filled with remorse, self-loathing and anger. But these aren’t constructive feelings, nor will they help – instead, they further break a person down, destroying their self-esteem and reducing the chance of a major turn-around.
What people really need when they realize they have a problem is hope. They need hope that they can get better, and the opportunity to do so and break through what makes addiction difficult to sobriety.
But what makes addiction difficult makes this tough. When you do break through the initial withdrawal period and make it to early recovery, you’re hit with waves of reality. Not only are the cravings difficult to deal with, but depending on how long you’re been addicted, sobriety can be a real struggle.
Over the course of an addiction, people tend to use their habit to make themselves feel better, even when the addiction is the source of the pain (a job lost, a relationship broken, etc.). With that coping mechanism gone, dealing with life in a whole new way requires new ways to manage stress, be constructive, and even be positive. Many people struggle with this, and some relapse.
Relapses Can Be Discouraging
Relapses are not total failures. A total failure would be giving up on the idea of recovery completely, and simply waiting for this ride to run its course. But even after a relapse, you have every chance to get back into your treatment plan and try again.
No one wants to stay addicted. Saying “it’s okay” to a relapse won’t make someone feel that it’s great and fine to stick to their habit. It simply tells them that this isn’t the end, and they shouldn’t give up. Of course, without someone helping them realize this, many people struggle to stay optimistic after a relapse.
Loneliness & Addiction
Perhaps the biggest factor in the continuation of an addiction is the lack of connection to other people. A rudimentary experiment not too long ago showed that, despite its clearly addictive properties to rats, many rats would voluntarily quit using cocaine if provided with actual social and physical stimulation instead of a confined and solitary existence.
In other words, you’re more likely to struggle with addiction if you don’t have a life to live. And if you’re fresh off drugs and living sober, then learning to love life is critical to staying healthy.
These are just a few of the reasons why addiction is hard to address as an individual. Poverty, a lack of support, a harsh and broken prison system, the difficulties in finding quality treatment and the stigma attached to addiction treatment all help contribute to the issue both on an individual level and a societal one.
We may never completely eradicate addiction – and we won’t be able to drastically tackle it unless we fix many other issues in society first. It’s a long road ahead, but the least we can do is help each other out as individuals, and support one another in sobriety.