Overcoming addiction is a long and arduous journey. But what makes overcoming a substance abuse disorder particularly painful?
For those that are dependent on a substance, it tends to be the weight of withdraw. More often than not, people dread withdrawals so much, they continue with the negative impact an addiction has on them.
Throughout this article, we will explore substance abuse disorder, understand its impact on the brain and body, and how one can best overcome the challenge of becoming clean.
How Does a Substance Abuse Disorder Impact the Brain and Body?
The effects of a substance abuse disorder vary from drug to drug. In order to better understand this, we’re going to break down the most common forms of addictive substances:
Impact on the Body
Everything we eat, drink, inhale, and breathe in has a positive or negative impact on our bodies. Illicit substances may be fun for a short period of time – however, prolonged abuse will eventually take its toll.
These are just a few impacts that substances can have. Still, there exists far more – so, it’s always best to take anything with caution as one can never be too careful. Some of the impacts that certain substances have on the body are listed below by their individual type. ¹
- May contribute to an increased heart rate.
- Can cause lethargy, anxiety, or paranoia.
- May exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, or depression.
- When smoked, can inhibit lung capacity and worsen breathing difficulties, such as in the case of asthma.
- Give the user an unnatural increase of energy.
- Can overstimulate the heart and nervous system which can lead to heart attacks, seizures, or strokes.
- Based on the form of ingestion, cocaine can damage the nasal passages or the lining of the esophagus and stomach.
- If the drug is injected or “mainlined” via needle, it can lead to vein collapse as well as the contraction of other illnesses such as HIV or hepatitis.
- Can increase sensitivity to light, colors, sounds, and taste.
- Cause dehydration or overheating, with users reporting an overwhelming feeling of warmth while on ecstasy.
- Can inhibit the production of urine in large doses or prolonged use.
- Can make one feel overly alert, on edge, or paranoid.
- Reduces appetite and thirst.
- Causes higher blood pressure which over time can contribute to heart attacks or strokes. The risk increases when the stimulant is mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
- Risks of overdosing, contracting other dangerous diseases as well as tissue and organ damage.
- An overwhelming sensation of alertness.
- Increase sensations of itchiness.
- Increased sexual drive.
- May cause excessive sweating which can contribute to dehydration.
- Reduction in appetite or thirst.
- A rapid increase in heart rate and breathing.
- If snorted, increased damage to the nasal passages.
- If injected, increase in damage to veins, tissue, and organs as well as an increased risk of developing illnesses such as hepatitis or HIV.
Impact on the Brain
While our body’s play a major role in addiction, our brains are equally (if not more) impacted. Just as with physical addiction, psychological addiction varies from drug to drug.
Here are a few examples of the most commonly abused substances:
- Prolonged use can alter the brain’s processing and chemistry, making it more difficult to concentrate for longer periods of time.
- For those with actively developing brains, such as in the case of those in late adolescence, the use of marijuana is strongly discouraged as it has been shown to inhibit learning and retaining information.
- Can contribute to slower reflexes.
- Prolonged use has shown complications with specific mental health issues such in the case with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe depression.
- Increases the risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis.
- Mood swings can contribute to violent thoughts or actions.
- Indifference to physical pain can lead to risky or dangerous behaviors for the user and those around them.
- Increased irritability or agitation.
- In cases of overdose, increased paranoia, depressive-related thoughts, and hallucinations.
- Heightened senses relating to sights, sounds, color vibrancy, and taste.
- False sense of confidence or security.
- Increase in feelings of euphoria or connectedness with others.
- Rapid shifts in thought and behavior.
- Sensations such as feeling like one is floating or outside of their own body.
- In strong doses or overdoses visual or auditory hallucinations can occur.
- Increases in uplifted feelings.
- False sense of security due to heightened euphoria, which in turn can cause an increase in risk-taking behaviors.
- Extreme alertness can lead to paranoia, anxiety, and disorientation.
- Risk of dissociation given a stimulus overload.
- Mood swings.
- False feelings of pleasure, excitement, or joy.
- Agitation, frustration, or irritability.
- Disorientation leads to dizziness, clumsiness, or nausea.
- Sudden or severe headaches, sensitivity to light and sounds.
What Makes Overcoming a Substance Abuse Particularly Painful?
One of the most common and major concerns for those newly recovering addicts is whether or not kicking the habit will be a painful process. The answer most times is yes.
Overcoming a substance abuse disorder is particularly painful in a number of ways, which can include but are not limited to emotional distress, physical withdrawal pain, mental anguish, and bouts of extreme anxiety and depression. Long-term addicts may even have intrusive thoughts including those relating to harming themselves or others.
When one ceases continuing a substance that brought comfort, the body has to adjust from not receiving the daily dose of the addictive substance. That adjustment period can unfortunately bring about pain as the substance might have been dulling pain and withdrawing can cause reactions in the body that can also cause undue discomfort. ⁷
What are my Options for Substance Abuse Treatment?
Identifying that you have an addiction and deciding to do something about it are two crucial steps on the road to recovery. However, it’s what comes after these oftentimes difficult steps where the real work comes in.
Substance abuse treatment is not a one size fits all approach. For most addicts, the first attempt to treat the disorder often doesn’t work. It can sometimes take many attempts but with the right mindset and support network, finding a treatment plan that works can occur. ⁸
For those struggling with dependency issues, it’s common that the addict undergoes some kind of psychological therapy. While it may not seem like it, addiction is a mental health condition first and foremost, therefore it’s only understandable that mental health counseling will coincide with an effort toward sobriety.
Private one-on-one talk therapy allows a patient to feel more open, honest, and confident in discussing issues and exposing vulnerabilities that may have contributed to a substance dependency in the past. Also, closed sessions can be a good way for those suffering to confront seemingly unrelated issues such as childhood trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which could be triggering the use and misuse of substances.
Group therapy options are common for those who are trying to pull themselves out of addiction. There are several reasons for this but the primary reason is that a group setting allows for a greater benefit of a shared purpose as well as a shared support network.
Group therapy sessions are often led by a mental health professional or a seasoned member of the group who has held their sobriety for the longest period amongst the group. In such sessions experiences are shared, accomplishments and failures are noted and there’s a greater sense of accountability amongst the members.
Group sessions can be extremely helpful and cathartic for members as they feel a sense of belonging as well as being responsible for others’ successes.
12 Step Programs
The most common form of shared sessions are those considered to be 12 Step Programs. These are made for addicts to not only become sober themselves but also help others gain sobriety as well, which in turn can strengthen their resolve. Such programs outline 12 steps for addicts to take to ensure that they have reached a place of sobriety and maintain that success for the long term. The largest difference between a 12-step program and day an individual path to sobriety is the shared mission to not only take responsibility for themselves to take the 12 steps but to coach and look after others to do the same. ⁹
Those starting out are considered sponsees, members who are looked after by more senior sober members called sponsors. Sponsors take responsibility for their sponsees, ensuring that they don’t partake in the substances that have led them to addiction and that they complete all twelve steps of the program to ensure their success toward sobriety.
Those that undergo the 12-step program never consider themselves officially or completely “clean” or “sober” but rather constantly in pursuit to keep themselves off of the substances that drove them towards addiction.
There are medications that exist to help ease the transition from addiction to recovery. Most of these medications curb cravings, provide certain chemicals to be delivered to the body and the brain during withdrawal periods, and can help ease withdrawal symptoms.
However, these will not cure addiction and they are supplementary to other treatment methods. As with any medication, users can turn to misuse thus it must be carefully monitored by a medical professional to ensure that the medication is being utilized in the correct manner.
Below we have listed just a few of the more common medications utilized by those trying to overcome an addiction. ¹⁰
- For alcohol addiction, medications such as Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the most common. While not a cure, they may be helpful for patients with prolonged addiction and can help curb cravings.
- For opioid addiction, medications like Buprenorphine, methadone, suboxone, and naltrexone are common. These are known to normalize brain chemistry, block cravings, and normalize brain-body functions.
Used during times of extreme drug use, and overdoses or to monitor a patient during difficult withdrawal periods. Detox centers are often short-stay facilities and are most commonly outpatient accommodations.
That being said, detox centers are often run by experienced staff, most of whom are either medical or mental health professionals or addiction specialists. Detox centers are often seen as a last resort, especially in cases where a patient has a long-term addiction, and thus becoming clean can pose risks to their overall health.
Outpatient Living Solution
Commonly referred to as “rehabs” which can be the most common accommodation that those often think about when considering sobriety, outpatient living solutions can be either or short stay or an extended living situation based on both the severity of the addiction as well as the needs of the patient receiving the care.
Addiction is a habit that is oftentimes easy to start but later becomes incredibly hard to break. While it may feel good or necessary to continue, ceasing can create real and lasting change not only for your physical health but also for your mental health.
And in the case of kicking an addiction, the old adage is particularly true: Nothing worth fighting for ever comes easy…
While it’s true the process may be painful, it’s worth it to stop and find a way to live without being beholden to a substance, whatever it may be. With the right support network, treatment plan, and mindset, the sky’s the limit.
Still have questions about how overcoming a substance abuse disorder is particularly painful?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you
¹ Victorian State Government of Australia: How Drugs Affect the Body
² Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: Marijuana
³ Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: Cocaine
⁴ Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: MDMA
⁵ Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: Stimulants (Speed)
⁶ Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: Meth (Ice)
⁷ Australian Alcohol and Drug Administration: Substance Withdrawal Symptoms
⁸ Partners in Health Management: Common Services for Substance Abuse Treatment
⁹ National Library of Medicine: 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview
¹⁰ Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration: Medications for Substance Abuse Disorder