This is an extension of the previous post. In treatment, the client is detoxed — in other words the drug is removed from the body. Some people believe this and a recognition that addiction is a bad thing ought to be enough for a person to see the light and remain abstinent. The addict is over the withdrawal period, so the person shouldn’t crave the drug, right? Not necessarily. Once a person has gone through withdrawal and the drug is out of the body there’s the psychological aspect of addiction, which is very stubborn, overpowering and long lasting unless dealt with. Even when dealt with, an addict can experience craving long into recovery, although it’s usually fleeting. There’s also emotional turmoil and spiritual emptiness in most cases.
When a person is trying to stay off alcohol or some other drug after years of addictive use and many painful consequences of addiction, they have to deal with the damage or it’s almost impossible to recover. If the addiction is untreated, the experience of sobriety can be so painful that the person forgets the pain of active addiction and goes back to their drug of choice to ease the pain.
Psychological addiction manifests itself in the idea that the drug is necessary to function, although in reality the drug is causing most of the dysfunction in the person’s life. This strange compulsion to return to a drug that has been doing great harm is the powerful part of addiction that most people who have never been addicted can’t understand. They ask why the person returned to the drug after going to jail, losing a family, going bankrupt, etc. Don’t they know that the drug will continue to destroy them? This is from Alcoholrehab.com:
A craving can be defined as an intense desire for some particular things. It is the hallmark of psychological dependence. If the individual attempts to eliminate their addiction, or cut down on their usage, they will experience cravings. This desire to use again can be so intense that it completely takes over the person’s thinking. Even after the person has been many years away from alcohol or drugs they may still occasionally have to face such cravings. This desire to drink or use again doesn’t tend to last long, but it can be an upsetting experience – it could also lead the person to act on it so that they relapse back to addiction.
In the addict’s mind their drug, or drugs, of choice is what holds them together. In the addict’s mind it’s when they are without the drug, or drugs, that they have serious emotional and mental problems. This strange mental twist of addiction is associated with a powerful part of the brain — the psychological compulsion to drink or use after a period of abstinence can seem like the desire for sex or food. If anyone has ever gone on a diet and started craving chocolate or some favorite sweet dish then they can begin to understand the power of the mind to desire something that’s physically damaging. The addict has trained his/her brain over a course of years, something decades to depend on alcohol or some other drug, and the use of the drug is connected practically to every part of the addict’s life, so, yes, the recovering needs support in recovery, and the person needs to retrain the brain and give it time to “re-wire”.
I’ll write more next week about what we do in recovery to deal with the psychological aspects of recovery.