If you don’t have experience with substance abuse, or even if you do, it can be hard to empathize with how individuals become addicted to substances and sometimes stay addicted. Learning how addiction onsets and how it alters decision-making can help you understand the difficulty and importance of overcoming an addiction. This knowledge can also help you work through the process of recovery if needed, understanding the disease you are dealing with.

What Is an Addiction?

Addiction or substance abuse disorder is a chronic disease that causes the need for specific substances. It is often described as a form of compulsion as individuals do not have a choice in their desire to use the substance. The initial use of a substance is fully a choice, but after initial use, future uses may be a decision that is controlled by this disease.

Addiction is considered to be chronic because it will only continue to grow unless it is halted. If an individual feels compelled to feed into the addiction, the need for the substance only grows stronger. Substance abuse disorder is extremely dangerous because of its decision-altering aspects. It can become challenging for people to interact in their daily lives without the substance being present, reinforcing the reliance on the substance without the person even noticing.

By the time many people realize they are struggling with addiction, the major aspects of addiction have already been set into play. This can cause immediate frustration for those who wish to no longer use a substance but feel physically obligated to.

Effects on the Brain

Addiction works by altering the function of our brain processes, creating a reward system around the use of the addictive substance. When taking the substance, the body releases a sense of happiness and pleasure, encouraging a person subconsciously to engage in the use of this substance again. During the enjoyable period after taking a drug, it can be tough to view to long-term consequences and potential aftereffects. Our brain associates the use with the pleasant feeling, not the negative aftereffects, reinforcing further use. 

The prefrontal cortex is the portion of our brain that helps us make decisions. When we take an addictive substance, our prefrontal cortex is altered, changing our viewpoints and the decisions we choose to make. This can make it extremely difficult for an individual with substance abuse disorder to control their impulses and maintain sobriety.

The use of substances can physically alter the brain, causing future decision-making to be beyond the person’s choice. To stop using the substance, an individual must deliberately alter their way of thinking to be able to avoid further use. The decision to recover is more than a choice; however, it is a process of altering your body’s response to the substance to no longer feel a need or desire for it.

Is It a Choice?

Many people wonder why individuals choose to try drugs initially if there is a potential risk of addiction. The truth is, not everyone ends up addicted to substances. It is easy for individuals to adopt the belief that addiction will not happen to them. Due to social pressure, the desire to have fun or to feel better, curiosity, trauma, or any other reason, many people decide to try a substance.

While many factors may lead to a higher chance of addiction, there is no firm way of knowing if addiction will become an issue for you or not. Addiction sets in after one use of a substance for some individuals and after long-term use for others. It can be hard to recognize the point of addiction with regular use because your body becomes used to having the substance.

Importance of Understanding

Understanding how addiction begins and the effects it has on your choices is imperative during the process of recovery. It can be frustrating for individuals to decide to recover and then struggle to break the cycle of poor decision-making. Learning and accepting that recovering from addiction is a process and usually will contain setbacks is essential to avoid becoming overly frustrated with the process. Use each setback as a learning opportunity and understand that recovery is not a straight line.

It is also critical to understand how easily substance abuse disorder can onset. This may encourage individuals to avoid initial use or to be extremely cautious with the use of any substances. Being aware of the potential risks of substance use and the ability of addiction to begin immediately can save you from reaching addiction in the future. Help spread this information to friends and family who may be considering trying a substance and ensure they are aware of the potential dangers involved.

Empathizing with those in addiction recovery can be difficult if you do not understand the process of addiction and how it onsets. Addiction occurs because an individual’s brain is rewarding the behavior of using a substance. This chemical response rewires the brain and alters the decision-making process in the person. While the initial use of a substance may be voluntary, the decision to continue using with substance abuse disorder is largely beyond the individual’s control. Recovery is a process of altering the body’s reaction to the substance and diminishing the body’s need to use it. Understanding how addiction works and the effects it has on an individual’s decisions can help you empathize with their disorder and avoid negatively viewing their choices. To learn more about how people reach the point of addiction, reach out to Dream Recovery at (949) 732-1960.

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