Addiction alters brain

Chemical dependency tends to alter the mechanisms of our brain, thereby changing the way we function overtly. These changes are suspected of creating the thinking and feeling distortions that lead to the compulsion to consume drugs despite the obvious negative consequences. Thus, the nature of addiction is that of compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. This “compulsive use despite negative consequences” observation has become part of an accepted definition of addiction. Many behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, eating, internet, etc. are also involved in bringing about changes in the brain.

Addiction is relapse-prone

Addiction is a “cunning, baffling, and a powerful” progressive disease. One of the most important steps towards recovery is total abstinence from alcohol and/ or drugs. This means, he/she needs to completely impede using any form of drugs, and not substitute the problem drug/chemical with another.

Cross-addiction and illusion of control

However, there is one major issue with sobriety in addiction - relapse. Because addicts and alcoholics are prone to any drugs/chemicals, it is important to understand the dynamics of “cross addiction.” Cross addiction, to explain in simple terms, means that if you are alcoholic or addicted to certain mood-altering drugs, you are potentially addicted to all and any mood-altering drugs. As your needs change, your drug of choice may change. The effects of the drug on your body can change over time as well. Other variables are often involved in an addict’s choice of drug. Consciously or unconsciously, other factors like availability, “social acceptability,” perceived lack of negative consequences, and cost, may be part of the selection process. Many people, in the process of trying to regain control over their life, chase an “illusion of control,” believing that the latest attempt at control (switching drugs) has and will have a lasting effect, and that control has once again been re-established. It has not. It is only a matter of time, usually a short amount of time, the addict may return to his ‘drug of choice’.

It has been said in the addictions field for a long time that certain people are “hardwired” for addiction, due to biology (i.e. genetics), and become addicted with first use of any mood-altering drug. The nature of mind/mood-altering substances and behaviors is that they make a person to act, think or feel in opposition to reality and hence finding an escape route from reality. When a person in recovery acknowledges the problems caused by the drug of choice and believes that s/he can safely use a different drug of choice, they are not taking into account the fact the “new drug,” like the “old drug,” will still operate in the brain in the same way(s). When an addict substitutes one drug for another they are not abstinent. His/her brain is still in an active state of addiction. Thus, someone who is addicted to one mood-altering drug is addicted to all mood-altering drugs.

Why abstinence is important

An addicted brain is qualitatively changed. Changing drugs of choice does not return an addict to a non-addicted state. An addicted person will continue to experience the same negative consequences of drug use. It is not possible to regain persistent control over drug use by changing drugs. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, the first step towards recovery is abstinence from any drugs or addictive behavior.