Addiction is a cycle. When you’ve been using drugs or alcohol chronically, your brain comes to expect them. It adjusts to the floods of dopamine by lowering dopamine receptors, making it harder for you to feel pleasure from other, healthier activities. Additional changes in the brain—like alterations to the prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control and decision-making—also make it harder to stop.
At this point, many people end up in a cycle of using to feel okay, accumulating problems from their use, then continuing to pick up the substance to escape the pain caused by addiction. It can be a very hard cycle to break, but it is absolutely possible. An estimated 22.35 million people in the US (myself included!) are in recovery and living great lives.
Breaking Out of Addiction
The first step is recognizing the cycle you’re in, so if you’re reading this, you’ve likely already made it there. This may sound small, but it’s a huge thing; when you’re swept up in addiction, it can be very difficult to stop rationalizing and be honest with yourself.
Once you’ve realized that you’re in an addictive cycle, you want to set yourself up with as much support as you can. I decided to get sober a month in advance, and in that time I reached out to my friends, family, and therapist to let them know I might be needing extra help; I read as much as I could about addiction and recovery, so that I was as prepared as possible for what I was about to experience; I sought out a local support group for people making a big life change.
If you’re trying to come off opioids or alcohol, you might ask your physician if medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a good fit for you. MAT helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so that you can focus on building coping skills and making it through early recovery.
Addiction in Families
Another part of the cycle of addiction is that which shows up in families and sometimes communities. Trauma can be passed down through a process called epigenetics, in which changes in the environment affect the way a gene is expressed and can be inherited by future generations. Those who have experienced trauma may learn using substances to cope.
However, none of this means addiction is inevitable. Early education and prevention can help kids take another path. If you have a kid in your life who comes from a long line of addiction, you can teach them healthy ways to cope with strong emotions, so they are less likely to seek out substances when stressed. If you are in recovery, the tools you’ll learn are not only useful for you, but can be a good model for people around you.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you break out of the cycle of addiction. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.