The power of addiction is most often underestimated and misunderstood by the family of an addict. Cravings are the barrier and fuel for the addiction. Physiological and psychological symptoms occur due to the changes induced unnaturally in the brain and body.
Drug and alcohol use causes significant alterations in the primary physiological functions, such as hormonal regulation. Severe nutritional deficiencies (the companions of drug addiction) aggravate hormonal imbalance. Drug toxins linger within the body long after the individual has stopped using: these residual toxins explain withdrawal symptoms and can cause relapse after rehab.
These are reasons why the cycle of addiction continues, and why addicts can’t stop using without intervention and rehab treatment… even when they desperately desire to do so.
Fueling the power of addiction
The toxic effects of drugs and alcohol disrupt the hormonal system and essential functions within the brain. As an example of the latter, someone under the influence of alcohol can easily become aggressive or inexplicably emotional. Very typically, such person also shows poor judgment, and their motor skills are impaired.
Psychologically speaking, substance abuse also induces odd, erratic behavior. To the layman, it seems like a mental health issue. To the medical professional, drug toxins cause hormonal instability and changes in brain function.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the defining features of drug intoxication and addiction can be traced to disruptions in neuron-to-neuron signaling.”
Drugs alter the way people think, feel, and behave by disrupting the communication functions inside the brain and throughout the body. This is known as Substance-Induced Psychosis.
It can take several weeks, even months to repair these systems after the person abstains from drugs or alcohol. It also requires a tailor-made nutritional program to correct the hormonal imbalance.
Drugs Affect the Hormonal System
The endocrine system (hormonal system) is the body’s communication network. It is made up of specialized glands that release hormones into the blood.
Hormones are chemical messengers traveling throughout the body to all its different parts and signal the body to act in a specific way.
Hormones control the following physiological functions, and have psychological effects:
- Bone and muscle health
- Heart function and blood pressure
- Metabolism – how foods are broken down in the body to make energy
- Sexual development and reproduction
- Growth and development
- Immune system regulation
- Sleep cycles
- Appetite and body weight
- Attention, learning, and memory
- Stress response
Drugs and alcohol affect the way hormones are released into the body. When hormone levels are out of balance, the body does not function normally.
Alcohol triggers a rise in blood sugar, disrupts the normal absorption of nutrients, and causes a loss of testosterone in men and boys. Opioids cause a loss of libido, increase the risk of osteoporosis, and cause irregular menstrual cycles.
Both types of drugs change a person’s behavior.
Hormonal Changes: Impact on the Brain
Hormonal changes drastically impact cognitive function.
How does the medical profession define “cognitive function”? “[…] refers to the brain’s ability to process information about the world and includes thinking, memory, recall, mental flexibility, problem-solving and learning. Without all these functions operating properly, people can display abnormalities that may be diagnosed as diseases or disorders…”.
Drug and alcohol interfere with these normal functions by hindering the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. This affects several parts of the brain.
Science has shown for instance that drug and alcohol produce pleasure or euphoria within the brain’s reward center due to a surge in dopamine. The result is a powerful reinforcement of the connection between drug use, pleasure, and external cues linked to the experience.
Nutritional Deficiencies Fuel the Power of Addiction
Drug abuse creates nutritional deficiencies, leading to further hormonal imbalance. Drug toxins become an unnatural component of the physiological systems.
For instance, most drugs produce a vitamin deficiency. When the body does not receive the nutrients and vitamins it requires, the immune system is impaired and energy decreases (among other symptoms).
Psychologically speaking, a person under the influence believe they feel better. The extreme lows and withdrawal symptoms reinforce drug use because mind and body are “tricked” to think these substances are required to function normally.
Drug Toxins and Body
Drug toxins linger for a long time inside fat cells.
Our liver and kidneys detoxify our blood by changing drug particles, which are fat bonding. These particles are converted into more water-soluble particles and dispensed via urine and the intestines.
Unfortunately, only so much is processed, leaving an excess that builds up in the fatty tissue. The result is more drug cravings, further nutritional deficiencies, withdrawal symptoms, and hormonal imbalances.
As a result, an individual may have stopped using drugs for a couple of weeks or months, then quickly reverts back to regular drug use.
When the body requires energy, it goes to the fat stores. This is the case, for instance, when the heart is pumping faster. As fat is burned up, drug toxins are released back into the bloodstream.
A study examining exercise and THC concentration in regular cannabis users suggested for example that exercise may elevate blood THC levels by releasing dormant THC from fat stores.
Understanding the Power of Addiction
These reasons help families understand why their loved one can’t shake the power of addiction. This article seeks:
- To explain cravings and the uncontrollable desire for an individual to continue to abuse drugs or alcohol, even after a life-changing or potentially life ending event;
- To highlight the importance of knowing that drug-seeking behavior is often confused with mental health problems;
- To help understand why it seems impossible to have a sensible conversation with an addict regarding substance use and addiction;
- To stress how important it is to handle the physical effects of substance abuse through proper detox, withdrawal management, and nutrition before counseling and therapy; and
- To help understand that even if you believe the addict stopped using drugs on his/her own, they will likely relapse.
Breaking the Power of Addiction
There are but few alternatives to professional interventions to break the self-sustaining cycle of addiction. Trained professional interventionists know what to expect from the addict; they are familiar with the effects of drugs and alcohol.
Even if each family has its specific set of circumstances, intervention professionals know they face generally predictable behaviors.
A professional interventionist will implement a customized process to help the addict, based on the drugs used, and the situation at hand.
During the planning of an intervention, the professional at work will help family members to understand all of this and be in a stronger position to convince their loved one to accept help.
Drug and alcohol intervention not only helps get an addict onboard to enter treatment, but also enables the family to set boundaries that will stay in place and the person fresh out of rehab will be aware of and respect.