Putting Addiction into Perspective

by Anonymous | Thursday, Mar 28, 2024

It really seems easy to just look from the outside at someone with a substance use disorder and say to yourself, “Why can’t they just stop?” or “Don’t you miss your family? Don’t you want stability in your life?” It is so easy to see from one perspective, but have you considered the side of the individual with the addiction?

Abusing any kind of substance can bring about chaos for the individual and those around them. Many of our friends and family members struggle with different demons every day, and some of them do such a good job at keeping them contained and controlled for the sake of keeping peace in the family or environment… until they get out of hand.

My uncle truly is an amazing man. When I was little, he was the coolest person in the world. He told us stories about his many different jobs, the kinds of cars he used to have, and the good times he had with my dad when they were kids. As a child, it seemed like he had the life! How cool it must have been to be able to try out so many career paths and to be able to afford so many different cars! But after a few years, he faded out of my life and the rest of my family. My dad spoke about him less and less; hushed conversations about how he texted for money would ring in my ears from time to time. This all happened until he was no longer a topic of conversation in our home. But what could have caused this?

He has suffered from substance abuse issues since he was 13. He was able to keep it “under control,” but life got hard, and the addiction took hold of him and his whole life. His high tolerance for his drug of choice led him into many troubling situations. Having a high tolerance requires an increased dosage of the drug to feel the same effects. His many jobs and many cars were because his addiction was catching up to him, leading him to miss work, show up to work intoxicated, lose jobs, and get into car accidents. Many efforts on my family’s behalf involved trying to get my uncle the help they felt he needed. However, if an individual is not ready to commit to getting help or going to rehab, then it is so easy for them to fall into the cycle of relapsing and using all over again.

It is also extremely difficult to get someone with such an intense drug addiction to even want to seek help due to their declining levels of dopamine. Due to the drug of abuse constantly providing stimulation to the reward circuit of the brain, regular activities don't bring the same amount of pleasure or activation of the reward pathway as the drug of abuse does, hence why they turn to drugs over familial support or other activities.

Researchers call deficiencies like this a reward deficiency syndrome. Chronic addiction wears down the reward circuit and leads to a lack of pleasure and motivation for daily tasks, leading an individual to go deeper into their addiction. In the case of my uncle, it became obvious that he didn't want help; he stopped coming to family events, stopped reaching out, and just kept to himself until he got into trouble and needed help again.

Addiction can be perceived from the outside in, but when looking from the inside out, it is a dark hole of hopelessness that nobody can see except for those closest to the individual and the individual themselves. Next time you see someone or know someone with a substance use problem, support is always more helpful than telling them what is wrong with their situation. Help them identify and correct problematic behaviors or help them understand when they are having cravings or withdrawal symptoms, and have the goal of moderation and reducing harm. Rehabilitation and relapse prevention is not a linear path, but with the right steps and intentions, it is a journey worth embarking on.