Many people who have first hand or close experience with drug abuse are aware that addicts often use because they are chasing the high that they feel when experiencing peak effects of a drug. As a person becomes addicted to a substance, their brain becomes wired to be fixated on consuming more and more of the drug because the brain’s reward receptors demand that they constantly receive more of the drug that they are addicted too. While this is certainly a major factor in the way that addiction works, “chasing the reward” is not the only motivation that keeps a brain wired for drug use. Avoiding the negative feelings and emotions associated with coming down from a drug may be just as common a reason for a user to continue to seek a substance.
The Highs and Lows of Drug Use
One common quality that all drugs share is that they subject the brain and body to a series of peaks and valleys that create a level of physical and mental instability. When a person first uses a drug, or begins to experience the drug’s peak effects, they experience the high or reward that the brain is seeking. This high varies from drug to drug but may include feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and increased confidence. As the effects of the drug begin to diminish, the user may experience the early symptoms of withdrawal, which also vary from drug to drug, but may include depression, anxiety, lethargy, and headaches. These withdrawal symptoms generally become more severe as the drug’s effects continue to decrease, and the brain’s reward receptors send more signals that they wish to receive more of the drug.
Avoiding the Lows
Many people primarily associate drug use with the highs associated with it, because most addicts exhibit a desire to feel a high. Because of this, many friends, family members, and addicts themselves may not be fully aware that an addict is avoiding the emotional dips in well being just as much as they are seeking to find more of the high that is offered by a drug. In a study done with lab rats who were able to administer themselves cocaine, researchers found that the rats, who were able to express feelings of discontent, administered the drug during feelings of distress or sadness, as they began to stop feeling the high associated with the initial dose of the drug.
Lows May Be Unbearably Uncomfortable
The negative feelings associated with withdrawal lows may be so physically and emotionally uncomfortable that addicts feel they must continue to use in order to avoid them. To this end, addiction may often become a process of an addict attempting to feel “normal” or reach a type of status quo more than it is a constant attempt to reach the high that they may have sought at the onset of their addiction. Feelings of depression and physical illness can be so strong that it may be extremely difficult to resist the urge to use in order to stop undesired symptoms.
With Help, Lows Will Diminish
Withdrawal symptoms associated with drug use may certainly be difficult to endure, but they are by no means permanent. When an addict enters a treatment facility, they detox from the drug they are addicted to with the help of a staff of addiction counselors and specialists. In this environment, an addict can rid their body of the substance that is causing these highs and lows and they may finally begin to experience feelings of both physical and mental stability. As the lows disappear, so may the constant urge to use.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact us.
Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.