To understand addiction, we need to know what it is doing to us starting in the brain. Understanding the process helps us realize this is a chronic medical but treatable disease just like a cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Once drug use becomes routine and the brain begins to crave it, we are addicted.
Introducing drugs into the body
Initially, ingesting a substance releases the brain chemical, Dopamine. Dopamine causes a feeling of well-being or euphoria. Dopamine floods the pleasure center in our brain and from the first time we take that substance, the brain associates it as a reward. Taking the drug for the first time or two is a choice. When we begin to take the drug frequently, more dopamine is released and then the addict needs more and more of the drug. Now the person has become addicted and no longer has a choice of not taking the drug. It becomes an obsession and compulsion.
Obsession and compulsion
Obsession is when someone is fixated on finding, getting, and using drugs. It is the mind that has changed and is constantly focused on the end result of getting the drug of choice no matter what. You begin to lose interest doing things you have always done, like cooking or working. You start to have weight changes and sleeping habits change.
Compulsion is the physical need for that drug once it has been introduced and came to point of addicted. The body craves it. Without it, an addict is sick. Different drugs cause different symptoms, but bottom line they feel like they are going to die. That in turn feeds the obsession and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Changes in person with a drug addiction
Dopamine has several functions in the body and with drugs added, these are some issues seen.
First, the person will start to crave the drug more and more. It becomes a full time job just looking for, finding and doing the drug to get that euphoria feeling from the first high. In time, an addict has to do the drug just to get out of bed and function normally. Addicts begin to change circles of friends. They become moody and irrational. This is the end of the “good times”. They try to keep there addiction a secret for as long as possible.
Also, the physical body shows some signs, but not all on everyone. Skin changes, like blemishes, bruises, scratches and raised red areas are some. Some drugs cause a need to scratch due to an itch felt on the face, nose, arms and legs. Skin infections and vein problems also are issues. A yellowing of the skin is common with alcohol consumption. A grayish or pale look is also common. Of course, all drugs cause premature aging.
Behavioral Changes in an addict
Those that are addicted have to have their drug, will go to any lengths to continue their drug use. This means their behaviors change as well. This is where behaviors like selling drugs, stealing, lying, and cheating anyone they can come in to play.
Addicts become dishonest about where they have been or going. They make excuses for their actions Addicts will steal, cheat and manipulate anyone. They shift blame away from them and become agitated with little things.
Addicts become restless and impulsive when things do not go their way. Most will begin to isolate from their loved ones, have mood swings and anger management issues. This can make relationships they have deteriorate such as relationships with family, co-workers, boss, and friends. They may have to do criminal acts to get their drug of choice and end up in jail. All of these behaviors and actions show the downhill spiral of addiction.
The question is how far does the person have to go before they have had enough? In active addiction, it is common for jails and institutions to become part of life. Unfortunately we lose addicts to this disease as well due to overdose criminal engagement and secondary diseases that they cannot recover from.
Erratic behaviors and changes in personality have a big effect on an addict’s well-being. Like stated above, it is awful to not know when the addict will get to the point of having enough of the pain and misery associated with all the effects of addiction. This can be scary and overwhelming for the family or friend of an addict. But recognition is the key. Make sure you are surrounded by support. Reach out and feel free to ask questions or write comments if needed. If you think this sounds like your life and you are struggling with addiction, please feel free to leave a comment or question.