4- Mental Addiction
This page describes the mental components of the disease of addiction in particular to substance abuse, explaining why addicts are compelled to continue abusing drugs in the face of repeated and severe consequences. Once the disease has developed, an addict’s way of thinking becomes abnormal and they loose the power of choice and control.
- Addiction is a recognized disease
- Who is a chronic addict
- Mental addiction and it’s symptoms
- Ways to come out of denial
Addiction is a recognized disease
In order to understand how addiction has been proven to be a disease, we first need to understand the meaning of the word. A disease causes an organ, structure or system in the body to fail or function abnormally. In the case of substance addiction, the prolonged abuse of drugs adversely affects the brain’s structure, impairing its normal functions and making it dependent on drugs to function normally.
Depending on the drug and the method used to ingest it, the result may be euphoria, a boost in energy, or improved sleep patterns. Drugs can initially produce these effects because they affect our brain’s communication system. But prolonged use leads to the development of the disease of addiction, making us into chronic addicts as the brain adapts to the repeated use of drugs and ceases to function normally. Although there is increasing evidence that a similar process happens in the brain’s communication system with those suffering from behavioral addictions, more research is needed to confirm and clarify this.
Who is a chronic addict
Chronic addicts are people who abuse drugs persistently despite harmful consequences. Because the disease of addiction impairs the brain’s pleasure, reward, motivation and memory circuits, chronic addicts lose the power to stop – or even to control — their drug use. We then use drugs again and again to re-experience that initial euphoria, but eventually need them just to feel normal.
Not everyone who abuses drugs or alcohol develops the disease of addiction. The majority of people who have abused drugs or alcohol can stop on their own; they are still able to exercise will power. Why some of us become addicted and some do not despite the quantity or the length of time we use drugs is unclear. But those of us who develop the disease exhibit common symptoms, including an inability to stop by free will alone.
Mental addiction and It’s symptoms
There are two symptoms prevalent to the mind of those who have developed the disease of addiction. They are:
Obsession is an unwelcome, uncontrollable and persistent thought, image or emotion that takes over a person’s thinking. In our case, the obsession is with drugs, which we abuse despite the harm done to ourselves and those around us. This is because the feelings of euphoria created by drugs are intense – and we seek endlessly to recreate those first highs. As addicts, we become obsessed with finding and using drugs because the effect of drugs on the brain is — though unnatural — very powerful. Drugs produce the illusion that we are powerful and in control. We take drugs and suddenly find ourselves capable of doing things we normally fear. We feel ecstatic, carefree and confident to overcome any problem – and the brain likes these feelings, even though they are unnatural. It is this cycle that leads to our obsession.
One of our biggest obsessions as chronic addicts is our determination to prove we can manage our drug use and that we are normal. Very likely, the fact that we are powerless over our drug use is too hard for us to acknowledge. So we try all sorts of ways and means to prove we are in control of our drug use. If you are a chronic addict still fighting against admitting to your disease, ask yourself how many times you have tried using drugs in moderation and have failed. How many times have you promised yourself you would not use drugs, only to find yourself days later in a blackout or at the end of another run?
The second symptom prevalent to our minds is insanity. Insanity can be defined as thinking that is not whole, rational, logical, or based in reality. Our thinking becomes abnormal due to the powerful and unnatural ways in which drugs disrupt how our brains send, receive and process information. We therefore lose the ability to make sane decisions and judgments.
Our insane way of thinking leads us to harmful behaviors and actions that ultimately make our life chaotic. How many times have we fooled ourselves into doing drugs again, believing that this time we can manage them and that the results will be different? How many times have we abused drugs despite all the evidence we have of the destruction to our families and ourselves. Those around us see our behavior as crazy, but to us it seems normal.
There are certain insane thinking patterns and character traits common to most chronic addicts. Below is a description of some of them:
Denial is a defense mechanism we use to convince ourselves and others that we do not have a problem with drugs. We may not even be aware we are in denial because drug abuse has impaired our ability to think rationally. But being in denial keeps us in our addiction despite all the harm our drug use causes us and others. Those in 12 Step programs say that “addiction is the only disease that tells the sufferer that the disease doesn’t exist”.
Denial is our way of avoiding the painful reality of our addiction. Because we are too frightened to admit we have become addicts, we simply deny that there is a problem. Ultimately, denial enables us to live in a fantasy, a place that is familiar to us and where we feel safe despite how much pain we may be experiencing. Yet it is our denial that keeps us a prisoner to addiction. So long as this defense mechanism has us in its grip, we are like slaves to drugs.
The list of the types of defense mechanisms we use to stay in denial is long. Here are some of the defenses we use to keep our drug abuse safe:
i- Justification: Justifying to others or ourselves why we abuse drugs. “If you had a life like mine, you would use drugs too”.
ii- Rationalization: Giving illogical reasons for why we abuse drugs. “I need drugs to have fun and feel confident”.
iii- Blaming/Playing the Victim: transferring responsibility for our drug abuse and behavior to other people as an excuse to use drugs. “My husband treats me badly; I need to use drugs to put up with him”.
iv- Minimization: Refusing to admit how much and how often we are doing drugs. “I only use drugs occasionally; I can manage it”.
v- Intellectualization: Using faulty logic to convince ourselves and others that there isn’t a problem. “I need to take drugs to feel creative and do a better job”.
vi- Dishonesty: the truth about our drug abuse is a reality too hard for us to face, so we lie, distort the truth or leave out important details. “I don’t take drugs for pleasure; I need them for medical purposes”. “I don’t do drugs everyday — only on weekends”.
vii- Manipulation: We argue, tease, mock, con, etc. when confronted with our drug abuse. “I don’t use that much, and I can stop anytime I want”. “I don’t have a problem; you are the one with the problem”.
viii- Isolation: Keeping ourselves isolated from others so we can continue drugging.
B. Self-centreness / Selfishness
Another mental feature of the disease of addiction is what it does to us as people. Those around us may call us selfish, because it seems our only priority is ourselves, and all we seem to do is chase after drugs. They think we have a choice or are just doing it to experience pleasure. But when suffering from this disease, we have no choice but to be “selfish”, for we need drugs to survive and will put them before everyone and everything.
The great two-edged sword with us addicts is our grandiosity, our exaggerated sense of self-importance. When we first use drugs, we experience a sense of power and control. We believe in the illusion the drug creates and think ourselves better, smarter, special and more important than others. We are not content, nor take pleasure, in normal life, but want more and more. We believe we can succeed where so many others have failed; we strive for more money, more power, more and more prestige. We buy into the fantasy the drug creates of ourselves. Ironically it is this grandiosity that can prevent us from seeking help to recover. We may believe we are different from others, too far gone down the ladder, or that a 12 Step program may help others but not us because we are different — or special! This feeling about ourselves is referred to as “terminal uniqueness” in 12 Step programs. It is also said in 12 Step programs that low self-esteem and grandiosity are two sides of the same coin.
D. Radical change in personality when intoxicated
Another feature of how the disease of addiction distorts our way of thinking is how our personality radically changes when we abuse drugs. We may be the kindest people on earth, but when we put drugs into our system we suddenly become monsters. We lose our sense of morality and act in undignified ways. We resort to crime or unbecoming activities because the need to use drugs dominates our actions. We never know how we are going to react, what character we are going to become once we use drugs. The tragedy is that the disease of addiction has distorted our thinking. We believe the lies we tell others to protect our drug abuse. Dishonesty becomes second nature, making it difficult for us to face the reality of our disease. Many of us have to reach rock bottom before we can finally accept our disease. The pain caused by our addiction becomes so great that it breaks through our defense mechanisms. Sadly, many die before reaching this point because the truth is too hard to face.
Drugs damage our mind, so relying on our thinking is of no use if we want to stop. As chronic addicts, we don’t have the mental ability to help ourselves. Abuse of drugs has taken that power away. We need the help of a Power greater than ourselves if we want to recover. It is the belief and reliance on this Power that can bring forth a solution for our disease of addiction.
Ways to come out of denial
Breaking through denial is one of the biggest challenges any of us can face in seeking help and finding recovery. The thought of stopping our drug use may seem impossible to many of us, for by now our brains need drugs to function normally. But there is hope. Many of us have been able to break through this destructive defense mechanism by using the tools of this program, and are now in recovery.
Suggestions to help you come out of denial:
- The most important first step towards recovery is admitting that we have a problem. There is absolutely no way we can seek help if we are still under the delusion that we have the power to control or stop our drug use. Would you want to fix something that you believe is not broken? Your experience with your drug use and the damage it has done to your life usually show you if you have a problem. All you need to do is gather the courage to see your life for what it has become. Even if it’s too painful to acknowledge the full extent of your problem, a simple honest admission is enough to start the process of coming out of denial.
- If you think you may have a problem with drugs but cannot see it for the problem it is, ask your God – a Higher Power of your understanding — to help you recognize the truth. We have lied for so long to others and ourselves about the extent of our addiction, that now we believe our own lies and cannot tell them from reality. But a sincere call for help to any Power outside yourself shows you have reached a place of humility, a place where you have become ready and willing to want a way out.
- Working Step 1 (“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable”) can help us break through our denial. The strength we gain from understanding that our addiction is a disease and not a moral weakness can help us face the reality of our condition, rather than hiding from it.
- Unfortunately, many of us have to reach rock bottom before we are confronted with the truth about our addiction. Rock bottom is the lowest and most desperate place a person can reach, and each person’s bottom is different. Some of us reach this dark and hopeless place when we have lost everything, and may even welcome death as a way out. Some of us experience rock bottom when we lose our home, our family, our job, or our health. Whatever the circumstances, rock bottom is marked by reaching a place where we are woken up to the reality of how our addiction is destroying our lives. But we don’t necessarily need to hit rock bottom to come out of denial. There are many of us in recovery who have seen where the drugs were taking us and stopped before losing everything.
- 12 Step Fellowship meetings are great places for confronting and overcoming denial. Being among people who suffer the same disease helps alleviate the shame and guilt we may feel about ourselves. Seeing others who have recovered from addiction can bring hope into our hearts and make it easier for us to overcome denial and admit we are suffering from a disease over which we have no power.
- As difficult as it may be, try to challenge your thinking about your drug use. Try to drop the excuses you make to yourself and take a hard look at the reality of your addiction. Ask yourself: what has happened every time I have used drugs? Where have I ended up? Simply recognizing – and admitting to yourself — the damage and destruction drugs have done in your life is a huge breakthrough. Above all don’t forget you are not alone. The 12 Steps offer a solution for our disease. You can recover. With your God and the others in the program providing help and support, you can start your journey towards a new and free life.
- Bear in mind that coming out of denial is a process. There is a saying in 12 Step fellowships that we did not become addicts overnight, so we should not expect to recover in a day either. Addiction is a complicated and complex disease, and recovery from it is a long-term process. Some of our insanities and defense mechanisms stay with us long after we have stopped using drugs. It takes time and working the program for the layers of denial to peel off, as move forward in our recovery.