Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
How do addictive drugs influence behavior?
Addictive drugs influence behavior by interacting with the brain's reward system. This system is responsible for driving pleasurable feelings and motivating behaviors essential to human survival, such as eating and socializing. Addictive substances can hijack this system, leading to changes in behavior and brain function.
Here's a simplified explanation of how this works:
Alteration of Neurotransmitter Activity: Addictive substances often increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. One key neurotransmitter affected by many drugs is dopamine, which is closely associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Overstimulation of the Reward System: By increasing dopamine levels, addictive drugs overstimulate the reward system, often creating a sense of euphoria. This intense pleasure can lead individuals to repeat the drug use to recapture this feeling.
Development of Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the brain adapts to the increased dopamine levels by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the drug's effects are lessened, a phenomenon known as tolerance. This can lead users to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same dopamine high. This cycle can lead to dependence, where the brain relies on the drug to function normally.
Withdrawal and Cravings: When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms can occur as the brain attempts to rebalance itself. These can include negative emotions like anxiety and depression, physical symptoms like nausea or restlessness, and intense cravings for the drug.
Compulsive Drug-seeking Behavior: As the cycle of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and cravings continues, individuals may engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when faced with negative health, social, or legal consequences. This is a key characteristic of addiction.
Impairment in Decision-making and Self-control: Long-term drug use can also cause changes to other areas of the brain that impair decision-making, self-control, judgment, learning, and memory, further fueling the cycle of addiction.
Does a drug abuser lose empathy for others?
Chronic drug abuse can indeed affect an individual's ability to empathize with others, but it's important to note that this doesn't occur in every case and can depend on a variety of factors, including the specific substance used, the duration and severity of the abuse, and the individual's personal characteristics.
Drugs alter the brain's structure and function, including areas associated with empathy and social cognition, such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Over time, these changes can lead to decreased empathy, making it harder for individuals to understand or share the feelings of others.
Additionally, the lifestyle associated with chronic drug abuse can also contribute to a loss of empathy. As individuals become more focused on obtaining and using drugs, they may start to neglect their relationships and responsibilities, which can further erode their ability to connect with others on an emotional level.
Furthermore, individuals with substance use disorders often experience a range of negative emotions, such as guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression, which can make it harder for them to empathize with others. They might also become defensive or dismissive of others' feelings as a way of protecting themselves from these negative emotions.
However, it's important to note that these changes are not necessarily permanent. Many people who recover from substance use disorders are able to rebuild their capacity for empathy with time, treatment, and effort. Cognitive-behavioral therapies, mindfulness practices, and other therapeutic approaches can help individuals to improve their emotional understanding and empathy.
What is smart recovery?
SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a global community of mutual-support groups that provide a structured, scientifically grounded program to help people manage their recovery from any type of addictive behavior, including substance abuse and behavioral addictions.
SMART Recovery's approach is different from other recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, which are based on the 12-step model. Instead of focusing on the concept of "powerlessness" over addiction, SMART Recovery emphasizes self-empowerment and self-reliance. It promotes the ability of individuals to change their own thoughts and behaviors to overcome addiction.
The SMART Recovery program is based on principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing. It is designed around a 4-point program:
- Building and maintaining motivation: This helps individuals to build their motivation to change and avoid relapsing.
- Coping with urges: This gives individuals the skills to deal with urges or cravings as they arise.
- Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: This is about developing healthy thoughts, emotions, and actions in place of the destructive ones that can lead to addictive behaviors.
- Living a balanced life: This involves individuals identifying what they truly value in life and building their lives around those values, leading to satisfaction and fulfillment beyond their addiction.
SMART Recovery meetings, both in-person and online, are facilitated by trained volunteers and are free to attend, though donations are appreciated. The program also offers a variety of tools and techniques for self-empowerment and self-directed change, available in various formats such as handbooks, worksheets, and online resources.