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If someone close to you has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you have probably had several conversations where you asked them to quit drinking or using. They may have even promised to stop, only to return to their dangerous patterns of substance abuse a few weeks or months down the road. You’re probably wondering why drugs or alcohol continue to exert such a powerful hold on them, especially when it’s heartbreakingly obvious to you that their addiction is harming your relationship and every other aspect of their life. To help you understand why addicts can’t just say no and quit drinking or using on their own, consider the following factors.
Withdrawal Symptoms Are the First Hurdle
Drugs and alcohol are depressants that suppress the brain’s production of neurotransmitters. When someone tries to stop using these substances, their brain responds by producing a flood of adrenaline, which causes withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and emotional, and include the following:
- Flu-like body aches and sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disrupted sleep
Even the most committed person can lose their enthusiasm for remaining sober when faced with these unpleasant feelings. In some cases, depending on the substance and how long they abused it, quitting cold turkey can cause dangerous and even fatal symptoms, leading to problems such as seizures and delirium tremens. These symptoms are one of the initial reasons addicts can’t just say no.
Addiction Changes Brain Chemistry
Another reason it might be difficult for someone to merely walk away from a drug or alcohol dependency and put it behind them is the way brain chemistry changes with addiction. A powerful neurotransmitter called dopamine is primarily the reason people develop a long-term dependency on drug and alcohol use.
Dopamine is responsible for stimulating the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. In the presence of drugs and alcohol, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, creating strong feelings of satisfaction that make it increasingly challenging to resist substance misuse.
As the addiction intensifies, people develop vivid memories connecting drug use with those rewarding sensations. Even those who have successfully gotten clean and have remained sober for a long time can still recall the sense of pleasure that their substances of use created. These memories can lead to cravings and an eventual relapse. Essentially, drug use hijacks the brain in such a way that addicts can’t just say no to their next fix.
Addiction Is a Chronic Disease
Now that you know more about addictive behavior and the physical and mental challenges that accompany it, you can begin to appreciate why it can be such an incredible struggle for people suffering from substance use disorder to quit without help. Even with professional detox, inpatient treatment and ongoing aftercare, there is no “cure” for addiction.
There is a persistent stigma that addiction only happens to people who have made poor lifestyle choices, or those who lack the willpower to create positive changes in their lives. However, medical research has proven that addiction is a chronic illness, akin to high blood pressure and cancer, and that it can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Just as you wouldn’t expect a loved one with diabetes to heal themselves through willpower alone, addicts can’t just say no and recover their physical, mental and emotional equilibrium on their own.
The good news is that, with the right evidence-based approach to treatment, people with substance use disorders can address the underlying reasons they developed an addiction and learn to manage their disease for the rest of their lives, using the tools and life skills they have acquired during their time at a rehab center.
Letting Go of Addiction at Beach House
If you can’t stand the pain of seeing your loved one struggle with substance abuse disorder any longer, Beach House is here to help. We guide people to freedom from drugs and alcohol with our proven treatment philosophy and commitment to clinical excellence. Make 2020 the year you and someone you care about discover effective drug and alcohol treatment that allow you to move forward in life. Contact us today to start the journey.