Drug addiction is extremely complex. Most people don’t understand why or how someone becomes addicted to drugs. This leads to the misconception that those who are addicted lack moral principle or are weak. The reality is, this is far from the case.
In fact, quitting using any substance when you are addicted takes more than just wanting to do so. This can be hard to understand, but drug abuse functions like any other dependency in that it alters brain chemistry.
How Addiction Works
Using drugs causes a temporary feeling of euphoria by flooding the brain with dopamine. This activates the “reward circuit” of the brain. The reward circuit is something everyone has; it’s the feeling of reward, which motivates a person to repeat behaviors that activate the circuit.
Drug addiction feeds off this natural circuit in the brain, leading to the reinforcement of using the drug by encouraging the person to repeat the act to achieve the euphoric feeling again.
As a person continues to use drugs their brain adapts by reducing the ability of the dopamine to be expelled. This reduces the high the individual feels, building a tolerance—so they will need more of the drug to get high. Over time, this can lead to dependence on the drug.
When someone is dependent on a drug, it’s hard to quit using it even when they want to get clean and stay healthy. This is why drug addiction can be difficult to overcome. It is important to remember this when you are planning to approach a loved one about their addiction.
Expressing Concern for a Loved One
The most important thing when talking with someone about their drug use is to show them that you care and are willing to listen, without judging them. This will make the intervention process more successful.
Drug use is often a sensitive subject for people who are struggling with it. The most important thing you can do is listen without judging them or trying to “fix” anything. Instead, try asking open-ended questions and understanding their perspective on why they chose to use drugs in the first place—or why they have not stopped using drugs yet!
If someone you know has recently started using drugs or if they have been struggling with their drug use for some time now, you may be feeling shocked and angry that this person could put themselves at risk through such risky behavior. It’s important not only for them but also for yourself that you control these feelings and avoid passing judgment.
People who are addicted to drugs need support, but they might not know how to get it themselves. You can help your loved one begin their recovery journey by learning about different treatment options with them.
Finding the right kind of treatment will give them the best chance of overcoming addiction and rebuilding their life. You can show them the path, but they must be the one to walk it.
Treatment for drug abuse is available in many different settings, from outpatient therapy sessions to long-term residential programs. The type of program that’s best for your loved one depends on his or her specific needs and goals.
Understand, however, that relapse is common. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that sobriety is a lost cause. If you have relapsed after treatment, seek out additional help from an addiction specialist or treatment facility that specializes in helping people who have relapsed from substance abuse.
If you or someone you love has a problem with drugs, call the National Drug Abuse Treatment Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also visit www.SAMHSA.gov to find treatment options in your area.