For those who have never experienced addiction or don't understand the disease, they might wonder why an addict continues to use drugs in spite of obvious consequences. To an outsider it may seem like a voluntary act when an addict continually engages in substance abuse.
It can look like completely irrational behavior and they may believe the addict simply has poor self-control or a moral weakness. The reality is that addiction is a complex disease that beyond a certain point of chronic drug use eventually becomes involuntary.
It can be hard to understand why a person continues to abuse drugs even while they are destroying their lives but there are significant changes that addiction can cause in the mind and body that make it nearly impossible for an addict to quit without professional help. Even after suffering a number of significantly negative consequences a person with an addiction will involuntarily keep using due to the nature of addiction.
Addiction and the Inability to Moderate
Most addicts never have the intention of becoming dependent on drugs and will believe at the outset of their abuse that they can stop using on their own eventually. The longer a person uses drugs the more the chemicals will begin to make changes in their brain that make quitting particularly difficult.
Even as things start to go wrong and they attempt to cut back or moderate, it may be too late to make any changes to their behavior. An addict might lose their job, struggle with their financial situation, or ruin many of their relationships and still find that they are turning to drug use again and again.
The changes that drug use causes can lead to extreme difficulty in exerting control over their behavior. What characterizes addiction is the physical and mental inability to moderate your actions in any situation outside of professional care.
The only way for addicts to finally quit is to enter a treatment facility that will give them the structure and the tools that they need to manage their addiction.
Changes in the Brain that Influence Behavior
The reasons that a person may develop an addiction can vary for each individual. Some people may have genetic vulnerability or engage in drug use because of their social environment and cultural influences. Part of addiction is due to the effects that the drugs themselves can have on a person's brain causing dependency.
Almost all drugs create a sense of euphoria by releasing a surge of dopamine in the brain which is the chemical that causes pleasure. Their brain will respond to the flood of dopamine by producing less of the chemical or eliminating receptors.
Once an addict begins using drugs chronically they will develop a tolerance and find it difficult to experience the same rush of pleasure from the same amount they initially used. Their brain is producing less dopamine making it hard to feel any normal sense of pleasure or joy.
Without drug use, an addict will feel depressed and lethargic finding it hard to function. The changes in their brain are a major reason addicts continue using drugs and avoid the feelings associated with withdrawal.
Addicts may never have the same sense of pleasure that they did when they first started using but they will still find it impossible to quit or moderate because compulsion takes over and they are left with no choice but to keep using. The memory of the desired effect of the drug and the need to recreate it persist in spite of the many consequences they begin to experience.
Once an addict enters rehab they will have to start with a clean slate and eliminate all the drugs from their body. Eventually they can begin to rebuild their thinking and associations with substances with the skills they learn in treatment.